Will Murray repeat? Can Federer win No. 18? Wimbledon burning questions
With the start of Wimbledon less than a week away, here are a few storylines to keep in mind.
How will Andy Murray deal with the pressure to defend? A British man has not won the Wimbledon singles title since ... last year. With that joke out of the way, let's get down to business. After ending the drought, Murray now will be expected -- at least by the casual British fan -- to repeat the feat. You know, because it's easy to forget that it took 77 years of heartbreak to snag that victory.
For his part, Murray has dealt with the pressure of playing at his home Grand Slam incredibly well. Playing at Wimbledon has always brought out his best tennis -- he's never taken a step back in his results from year to year -- and he has to be confident after a semifinal run at the French Open. His body held up well in Paris, and Wimbledon's seeding formula is set to bump him up two spots to No. 3, meaning he won't face either No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic or No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal until the semifinals.
Adding to the intrigue of his Wimbledon title defense is his hire of coach Amelie Mauresmo. The pair have made it clear that it's on a trial basis through the grass-court season, and that they're still just getting to know each other. However, the Frenchwoman knows what it's like to feel the pressure of playing at a home Grand Slam. Mauresmo didn't always handle that pressure well at Roland Garros, but her willingness to be open about it could help him.
Can Roger Federer win No. 18? It's been two years since Federer won his last Grand Slam title, at Wimbledon in 2012. That four-set win over Murray under the closed roof gave the Swiss a record 17 majors and the No. 1 ranking, allowing him to surpass Pete Sampras for the most weeks at No. 1.
After a wash of a 2013 season, Federer started strong this season, reaching the Australian Open semifinals and winning his first hard-court title since 2012, at the Dubai Championships in February. He then reached the finals at both Indian Wells and Monte Carlo. However, his opening-round loss to Jeremy Chardy in Rome and fourth-round loss to Ernests Gulbis at the French Open were disappointing.
After losing to Gulbis in Paris, the seven-time Wimbledon champion said his mind had already switched to grass.
"When I'm healthy, like I have been now for the last six to nine months, clearly I can also decide the outcome of the matches more than I could last year," said Federer, who defended his grass-court title at the Gerry Weber Open last week. "So I'm very excited about my chances for Wimbledon."
Can Serena Williams redeem her season? She's the No. 1 player, and no one has won more titles than she has this season (three). But the numbers say she's fourth best in 2014, behind Maria Sharapova, Li Na and Simona Halep. Williams would acknowledge herself that this has been a disappointing year. Serena spent the last two seasons proving that she could virtually run the table if she was fit and motivated, but all great champions will tell you it's all about the Grand Slams, and this year Williams has underperformed. She lost to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open and then suffered the most lopsided Slam defeat of her career at Roland Garros, losing 6-2, 6-2 to Garbine Muguruza.
There's been an air of fatigue around Williams this season, which she admitted to after losing to Jana Cepelova at the Family Circle Cup in April. A dip in physical and mental energy is understandable after what was arguably the best season of her career in 2013, but if she's going to pull herself out of it, she has to do it at Wimbledon. No player is better built to win Wimbledon than Williams, a five-time champion who last won in 2012. She possesses the best serve in the women's game, combined with her baseline power and speed around the court. She looked on her way to winning last year when she was upended by a zoning Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round.
Will Novak Djokovic snap his streak of five Grand Slams without a title? The Serb has lost to just three players this season: Nadal, Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka. If not for his arm injury during the clay season, it's likely he would be going into Wimbledon with the No. 1 ranking. Given his remarkable consistency Djokovic feels like the No. 1 player in the world much of the time, but he's let countless Slam titles slip through his fingers. He's made the final of three of the last five majors, losing twice to Nadal and once to Murray. His recent futility at the majors is the reason Boris Becker was brought on, and that partnership hasn't delivered yet.
Can Rafael Nadal survive the first week? Nadal made the Wimbledon final for five straight years in which he competed, winning twice, and then lost before the third round the last two years. In 2012 it was No. 100 Lukas Rosol who played the match of his life to knock out the Spaniard in five sets in the second round. Last year it was No. 135 Steve Darcis winning in straight sets in the first round. With his opening-round loss to No. 85 Dustin Brown last week in Halle, Germany, Nadal has dropped his last three matches on grass. He's particularly vulnerable in the first week when the grass is newer and slicker, and he's still adjusting his game to the surface. If he can get through the first week the courts will be chewed up, and his confidence should be high.