Burning questions for Wimbledon
EASTBOURNE, England -- Wimbledon seedings will be released on Wednesday (Rafael Nadal's placement is the one to watch) and the draw will come out on Friday. Beyond that, here are some questions to ponder with the grass-court major set to begin next Monday.
• Will Serena Williams experience a letdown? Having already conquered the toughest Grand Slam tournament for her to win, the French Open, Williams rolls into one she's won five times, tied for her most among the majors. Ask other players about the key to beating Williams, and they look at you like you're crazy. The field knows she's the best when she plays her best, and right now she's playing exceptionally well. Williams enters Wimbledon with a career-high 31-match winning streak, the longest single-season run on tour since sister Venus ripped off 35 consecutive victories in 2000. Serena's last loss came to Victoria Azarenka at the Qatar Open in mid-February. All of the signs point to Serena's winning her sixth Wimbledon title, collecting her 17th major and running her winning streak to 38. She dealt well with the pressure of being expected to win the French Open. Now she'll have to do it again.
• Can 2012 finalist Andy Murray go one step farther? Will this be the year we stop talking about the ghost of Fred Perry? In light of his win at Queen's Club last weekend and his charming -- well, Ivan Lendl probably wouldn't use the word "charming" -- turn during the charity exhibition for his best friend, Ross Hutchins, the London papers have reignited talk of Murray's transformation from a prickly Scot to a stiff-upper-lipped Brit with a soft side. That's not really a fair narrative to Murray, who has always been perceived by his countrymen as being far more surly and standoffish than he actually is, but I guess it's some kind of progress. His tears on Centre Court last year after he lost to Roger Federer in the final are still remembered around these parts and he could have even more support this year at Wimbledon than years past.
Murray will need all of that support, in addition to good health (he missed the French Open with a back injury), to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936. Nadal, a two-time winner, is fresh off a French Open title, he's won seven of nine tournaments this year and he surely wants to wipe away memories of last year's season-ending, second-round loss to Lukas Rosol at the All England Club. No. 1 Novak Djokovic won Wimbledon in 2011 and made the semifinals in 2010 and '12, while seven-time champion Federer would love to put his stamp on the 2013 season by successfully defending his title.
• Can Bob and Mike Bryan complete the Golden Bryan Slam? There isn't much the Bryan brothers have yet to accomplish in their legendary careers. But at 35, the twins could do something special if they can win their third Wimbledon title. By doing so, they'd be the reigning champions at all four majors and the Olympics. They will arrive at Wimbledon with an 18-match winning streak and eight titles this year.
• How will Federer do in his title defense? Federer, who tuned up for the All England Club by winning the Gerry Weber Open last week, can make up for a subpar first half of the season at Wimbledon, his best chance at any major. But can the 31-year-old's body withstand the rigors of a Slam? His semifinal loss to Murray at the Australian Open, in which the Swiss lost the fifth set 6-2, came after being pushed by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to five sets one round earlier. At the French Open, Federer survived a five-setter against Gilles Simon to reach his 36th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, but he lost badly to Tsonga in the semifinals. Grass is easier on his body, given his ability to play economically and keep matches short. Staying fresh will obviously be key for Federer.
• How will the American women fare on grass? It's officially time to stop lamenting the lack of young American talent behind Serena Williams. Fourteen U.S. women are already in the main draw -- the most since 2006 -- after Alison Riske was granted a wild card thanks to her semifinal run in Birmingham, England, last week. This comes on the heels of the Americans putting four women into the fourth round of the French Open, the most at a major since the 2004 U.S. Open. Depending on their draws, Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens, Varvara Lepchenko, Jamie Hampton, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Madison Keys all have a great shot at joining Serena in making good runs at Wimbledon.
• Can the American men catch a break? It's been a different story for the American men in 2013, but their games are well-suited for grass. It's just about execution and maybe a little luck from the draw. John Isner and Sam Querrey have both won grass titles, and their big-serve-and-forehand games are perfect for the surface. But neither man is coming in brimming with confidence. Isner just took a bad first-round loss to Evgeny Donskoy at the Topshelf Open, and Querrey lost a tough three-setter to Lleyton Hewitt in his second match at Queen's. The man with the most grass-court matches under his belt is Ryan Harrison, who qualified for this week's Aegon International and notched a good three-set win over Paul Henri-Mathieu in the first round.
• Can Li Na rebound from a disappointing French Open? One of the most exciting things about Li is that she's proved to be an all-court player, having won the French Open, made the Australian Open final twice and advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals twice. But the 31-year-old comes into Wimbledon in a state of flux. She started the year with a bang and looked to be back on track to challenge at the French Open after getting to the final in Stuttgart, Germany, but she lost to an in-form Mattek-Sands in the second round. A deep run at Wimbledon is doable. And let's not ignore how important it would be for the sport in Asia if Li maintains her relevance on the big stages. • What will Redfoo wear at the All England Club? Will the U.S. Open hopeful go wild and crazy with his traditional collection of sleeveless T-shirts and leopard-print tights when he arrives to cheer on Victoria Azarenka? Or will he pull an Andre Agassi and come to the All England Club dressed to bore? I say liven things up a bit, 'Foo.