Tuesday June 12th, 2012

LONDON -- The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, Wimbledon tuneups kick off with Rafael Nadal getting right back in the swing at the Gerry Weber Open, and

Queens: The only thing looming larger than the thick grey clouds hovering over the AEGON Championships at Queen's Club in London is if this wet weather will even allow for this tournament to be played to completion. I spoke to a few tournament workers this morning and let's just say they were more hopeful than optimistic, doing their best to ignore the weather reports coming in from The Met Office. Given major events of the next 45 days, the players have been understandably cautious with respect to stepping foot on any slick grass. Even a light drizzle in London could be enough for the players to head to the locker room. The first day of play was rained out completely on Monday and play finally began today, though an hour and a half late. Andy Murray leads the field here and he's going for his third title in Queens, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga anchors the other half of the draw as the No. 2 seed. The tournament has historically seen an ample army of Americans in the draw, but with Mardy Fish recuperating and John Isner taking a much-needed break, the only State-siders here this year are four-time champ Andy Roddick, 2010 champion Sam Querrey, Bobby Reynolds, and Ryan Sweeting. Interesting to see if Roddick can make a good run here and get his confidence up for Wimbledon.

Potential matches to watch: David Nalbandian vs. Vasek Pospisil (first round), Ivo Karlovic vs. Lleyton Hewitt (first round), Andy Murray vs. Nicolas Mahut (second round), Andy Roddick vs. David Nalbandian (third round), Marin Cilic vs. Marcos Baghdatis (third round).

Halle: I confess, I have a soft spot for any tournament in Germany, a country that has seen a significant loss in major tournaments (Hamburg, Berlin) despite its stout tennis history. But to see that Halle's Gerry Weber Open has surpassed London's Queen's Club as the premiere grass court lead-up is jarring. Halle, a small town in western Germany, wasn't exactly a tennis hotbed in 1993 when the ATP granted Gerhard Weber's request to launch a grass court even there. Weber's coup? Convincing Roger Federer to make it his sole grass court event in advance of Wimbledon. Federer, a five-time champion, signed a lifetime contract with the tournament in 2010 and this year the tournament will welcome Roland Garros champ Rafael Nadal, who, yes, has not withdrawn despite winning the title on Monday. Nadal caused quite a ruckus last year when he announced he would play Halle instead of Queens in order to avoid the UK's onerous tax laws. Could we see the first match on grass between Rafa and The Fed since their 2008 Wimbledon epic? And who could play spoiler to that much-anticipated rematch? Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic sure do seem like the likely candidates.

Potential matches to watch: Tommy Haas vs. Bernard Tomic (first round), Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Mikhail Youzhny (second round), Rafael Nadal vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber (third round), Milos Raonic vs. Roger Federer (third round).

Birmingham: A tournament that used to see the likes of Maria Sharapova, Li Na, and Ana Ivanovic in the draw, is noticeably weaker this year. No. 27 Francesca Schiavone is the top seed (seedings were done before the post-Roland Garros rankings were released), with last year's champion, Sabine Lisicki, at No. 2. One player to keep an eye on is Melanie Oudin. She made it through qualifying and beat No. 51 Sorana Cirstea on Tuesday, notching her best win in over a year. She could get a third round clash against her training partner, Christina McHale. Wild card for Baker: Come on, Wimbledon, do the right thing. The tournament announced an early set of wild cards going to David Goffin, Tommy Haas, Lleyton Hewitt, Yaroslava Shvedova, Virginie Razzano, and a small battalion of Brits, including Heather Watson, Laura Robson, and James Ward. With a few left to give, here's hoping the All England Club find it in their hearts to usher Baker into the main draw. I mean, "Brian Baker" totally sounds British, right?

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