Five burning questions for Wimbledon
Serena Williams (above) has played exactly two matches since winning the Wimbledon title on July 3, 2010 -- but pick against her at your own peril. (AP)
With the 2011 Wimbledon Championships beginning Monday (7 a.m. ET, ESPN2), SI.com's tennis experts field five of the most pressing questions surrounding this year's tournament.
1. How will Novak Djokovic rebound from his first loss of the season?
JON WERTHEIM: Good question. Djokovic was the story in tennis through Memorial Day. Now he comes to Wimbledon, on the heels of a dispiriting loss, with no tune-up match play on his least favorite surface. He's become a contender to win any event he enters. But, especially with grass underfoot, I put him at third behind Nadal and Federer.
S.L. PRICE: If his knee trouble is nothing more serious than wear-and-tear, he'll look at the loss as a blessing in disguise and go deep into this tournament. He'll lose here, but tear through the hardcourt season and be the favorite at Flushing Meadow.
RICHARD DEITSCH: Like a pro. The Djoker said it himself in February: "Wimbledon is the most important tournament of the year for me." The lack of titles on grass concerns me but there's no way he doesn't reach at least the semfinals. After that, it gets tricky. I saw a great stat from Doug Robson of USA Today: The last time a player won Wimbledon as the first grass-court title of his career was Andre Agassi in 1992.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: Nobody wins 'em all. I'm more concerned about Djokovic's decision to skip the tune-ups on his least favorite surface than any residual self-doubt from his French Open semifinal loss to Federer -- a match he very nearly forced to a momentum-shifting fifth set from two sets down.
ANDREW LAWRENCE: He more than anyone cautioned that the streak couldn’t last forever. His grounded perspective should serve him well in the long run.
2. How far will Serena Williams progress after nearly a year off the tour?
JON WERTHEIM: I think she wins it. She has a singular talent for shaking off rust, for finding her game after extended absences. Especially on grass. Especially with a day to rest between matches. Especially with a guarantee that she won't face a top-20 player until the fourth round. Especially given the alternatives. In a winner-take-all, high-stakes match between Serena and, say, Caroline Wozniacki or Vera Zvonareva, I know who I'm taking.
S.L. PRICE: She'll win four matches on her Serena-ness alone, and then the layoff will catch up to her.
RICHARD DEITSCH: The WTA should be embarrassed by this answer: She might win this tournament. The field is so weak -- especially with Kim Clijsters withdrawing -- and Serena has a history of playing herself into shape during tournaments. She'll be there the second week, and we'll see if someone (anyone!) has the mental fortitude to knock her out.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: I'm proud to say I've never been guilty of doubting Serena. Not even at the 2007 Australian, when she arrived unseeded and ranked 81st, played herself into shape over two weeks and put the smack down on Sharapova in the final. But something's different here. She looked badly out of shape in her two matches at Eastbourne, even drawing a warning from the umpire at one point for taking too much time between serves. Anyone in the top 20 who can extend the match beyond the two-hour mark will have an excellent chance at knocking her off, which doesn't augur well for her repeat hopes. That a loss after an 11-and-a-half-month layoff would come as such a surprise is only to her credit.
ANDREW LAWRENCE: No athlete has made a bigger mockery of the “comeback” trope than Serena. If she doesn’t win Wimbledon, she’ll certainly win the U.S. Open -- provided she steers clear of the Munich bar scene on her way back home, of course.
3. Is Andy Roddick's window for a Wimbledon title closed?
JON WERTHEIM: Closed, not weatherstripped? Open a crack? It was two years ago that Roddick, of course, came with a game of winning the title. But the successes since have been few and far between. He comes in with little momentum after a dismal loss to Andy Murray at Queen's Club. You dial in your serve, you catch some breaks from the draw dieities, you catch a top player on an off-day and anything can happen. But to use Roddick's phrasing, he's just not really "in the conversation" right now.
S.L. PRICE: Yep.
RICHARD DEITSCH: Yep. Roddick has great history here, especially his all-time final against Federer in 2009. But his days as a major title winner are over. There's just too much talent ahead of him, especially with Djokovic emerging as near-unbeatable.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: I'm picking Nadal to win it all, but I'm not one of the many who have preordained the men's tournament a four-horse race. Roddick's recent form is spotty (see: last week's desultory loss to Murray), but his results have typically been strong here. Maybe I'm sentimental, but if the serve is clicking I could see a repeat of 2009's spirited run.
ANDREW LAWRENCE: Call me crazy, but I think he’s at least got a chance to knock No. 2-seeded Djokovic (whose footwork on grass is still a work in progress) and No. 3-seeded Federer (who had to serve out of his mind to pip Roddick for the ‘09 Wimbledon title). If Nadal falls early -- big if, there -- our Great American Hope’s got a chance.
4. Which players outside the Top 10 are worth keeping an eye on?
JON WERTHEIM: As for the women, Venus obviously tops the list. Sabine Lisicki is a dark horse. Kaia Kanepi. Julia Goerges. Svetlana Kuznetsova. If a male other than the Big Three -- much less the top 10 -- were to win, it would be a considerable surprise. But keep an eye on Florian Mayer, a hard-serving German. Also another German, Philipp Kohlschreiber. And, provided he avoids three-day matches, John Isner.
S.L. PRICE: For the men, Alexandr Dolgopolov. The mesmerizing Ukrainian made the quarters of this year's Australian Open; few players are more imaginative or entertaining. For the women, I'll go with the whole nation of Germany, as represented by Andrea Petkovic, Julia Goerges and Sabine Lisicki.
RICHARD DEITSCH: Well, Venus Williams, for starters. I think she has one last run at Wimbledon, and I think it comes this year. Keep an eye on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who should improve in her fourth Wimbledon. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is dangerous at No. 12 given his success at Queens this year and his quarterfinal run at Wimbledon last year.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: Besides Venus (who turns 31 today!), Sabine Lisicki outed herself as a dangerous floater by winning last week's Birmingham tune-up. Social-media icon Andrea Petkovic seems poised for a breakthrough after two straight quarterfinal appearances at majors, though it warrants mention she's never won a main-draw match here. For the men, John Isner's plucky showing against Nadal at Roland Garros bodes well for a deep run, particularly if the serve is dialed in. Richard Gasquet has the talent to match his 2007 run to the semis if the head complies. Janko Tipsarevic could make noise in Murray's quarter with potential matches against Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick (whom he upset at 2008 Wimbledon and the 2010 U.S. Open).
ANDREW LAWRENCE: On the men’s side, France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who lost to Andy Murray in the Queen's Club final, is gaining momentum; and Canada’s Milos Raonic has a game -- weapons-grade serve, forehand -- that can do serious damage on grass. On the women’s side, there are these two sisters -- Williams, I think is their last name is? Definitely worth tuning in ...
5. After semifinal runs in 2009 and '10, will Andy Murray finally end Great Britain's drought of 75 years without a men's Grand Slam champion?
JON WERTHE'IM: Doubtful. But it's always good fun when he comes in to Wimbledon playing well, stoking the hopes of the host nation, starved as they are for a champion.
S.L. PRICE: Yes. Murray turned around his season with a great showing in Paris, on his least favorite surface and a bum ankle, no less. He comes to Wimbledon abrim with confidence and, though he'll be throughly scrutinized by the British press, will be under a bit less pressure because of the recent form of Fed, Rafa and Djokovic. If ever the fates seemed to be lining up to end the Curse of Fred Perry ...
RICHARD DEITSCH: Winning Queen's is a confidence booster and I liked the run to the semis in France before Nadal knocked him out, but Murray hasn't shown this year that he can knock off two of the sport's three-headed monster (Nadal, Djokovic and Federer) in the same tournament. Look for a semis exit again. At least the Brits got a Royal Wedding.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: I love his chances here; he's my second pick after Rafa. Everything just feels right. Still, he'll likely need to scale Nadal in the semis before getting a fourth crack at that elusive maiden Slam.ANDREW LAWRENCE: