Wimbledon draw: Good news for Djokovic, Sharapova; bad for Federer
Novak Djokovic was the big winner when the Wimbledon draw was released on Friday, as he finds himself on the opposite side of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. The placement makes for an uneven draw but it should create an action-packed second week, assuming the Big Four takes care of business in the early rounds.
On the women's side, soft draws for both Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka could give us an exciting semifinal between the two, and the winner will almost certainly face Serena Williams in the final. You can view the men's draw here and the women's draw here. Looking at the brackets, here are five winners and five losers as we prepare for the start of the tournament on Monday.
Novak Djokovic (No. 1 seed): The Serb got unlucky at the French Open, where he had to play Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. Fortunes are reversed this time around. With Nadal and Federer both landing in Murray's half, Djokovic would have to face only one of those three to claim his second Wimbledon title. His toughest challenges could come from Tommy Haas in the fourth round, 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals and either David Ferrer or Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals. Of the four, Haas is probably the most in-form, after pushing Federer to three sets in the Gerry Weber Open semifinals a week ago. Meanwhile, Ferrer lost in straight sets to Xavier Malisse in the first round of the Topshelf Open this week, and Berdych and Del Potro both lost in the quarterfinals of the Aegon Championships last week. Djokovic has never beaten Haas, Berdych or Del Potro on grass, though he's played all three on the surface only once or twice apiece.
Maria Sharapova (No. 3): Sharapova probably breathed a sigh of relief after being placed on the opposite side of the draw from Williams. Aside from a tricky first-round match against big-hitting youngster Kristina Mladenovic, who is ranked 39th after starting the year 76th, Sharapova isn't likely to be challenged until the semifinals, where she could see Azarenka. The other top seed in her quarter is Sara Errani, whose game doesn't translate on grass. Former Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli, who is struggling with injury and illness, is her projected fourth-round opponent. Her stiffest challenge might come against possible quarterfinal opponent Caroline Wozniacki, who had a good warm-up week in Eastbourne. But Sharapova is much more comfortable on grass than the under-powered Dane.
Agnieszka Radwanska (No. 4): Chances are slim that the 2012 finalist repeats this year, given that she's in Serena's half. However, Radwanska's soft draw looks built for her to make the semifinals. After a first-round loss to Jamie Hampton at the Aegon International this week, Radwanska will be able to find a rhythm on grass through some easy early-round matches at Wimbledon. She opens against Yvonne Meusburger, gets Timea Babos or Mathilde Johansson in the second round and could face an out-of-form Mona Barthel in the third round. Just take a look at the seeds in her section: Li Na, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Barthel, Nadia Petrova, Roberta Vinci, Dominika Cibulkova and Klara Zakopalova. That quarter is prime for an implosion, and Radwanska should be the last one standing.
David Ferrer (No. 4): The Spaniard has the type of draw he needs to advance to his fourth straight Grand Slam semifinal (and first at Wimbledon). He has won four consecutive matches against potential quarterfinal opponent Del Potro, including a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory in last year's fourth round of Wimbledon. Ferrer didn't inspire a lot of confidence with his opening-match loss at the Topshelf Open, but it's hard to see how he'll be tested early at the All England Club. He opens against Argentina's Martin Alund, who is playing his first career match on grass. Ferrer then gets either Roberto Bautista Agut, who's also playing his first career grass event, or Teymuraz Gabashvili, a Russian qualifier who is 4-10 on the green stuff. His toughest test might come from 16th-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber, who made the quarterfinals last year.
Victoria Azarenka (No. 2): It's imperative for a high seed who comes into Wimbledon with no warm-up events to get a few easy matches under his or her belt, and Azarenka's draw definitely allows for that. She's vulnerable to big hitters, but her section is full of grinders who don't have the weapons to overpower her on a good day. That could change in the quarterfinals if Petra Kvitova can get on a roll. But Azarenka has a nice path to the semifinals.
Roger Federer (No. 3): The defending champion could have used some help in the draw after a disappointing first half of the season. Instead, he might have to go through Nadal, Murray and Djokovic to win his 18th Slam title. One of the keys for Federer is to get to the quarterfinals without expending too much energy. As far as that task goes, he could meet Lukas Rosol (who upset Nadal last year) in the third round and then the big-hitting, soft-drop-shotting Jerzy Janowicz, who can do some crazy things if he's in the zone. Ultimately, getting through the other members of the Big Four in back-to-back-to-back best-of-five matches seems like a near-impossible ask for Federer these days. He's going to need some help from the field.
The Brits: For those conspiracy theorists who think the draws are rigged, let the 2013 Wimbledon draws shut them up for a while. On one hand, the second-seeded Murray lucked out in not having to face both Federer and Nadal in the quarterfinals and semifinals. But he's still in their half, and will probably have to go through two of the remaining Big Four to win his first Wimbledon title. Things aren't rosy for the British women, either. The hometown No. 1, Laura Robson, drew No. 10 Maria Kirilenko in the first round, and Great Britain No. 2 Heather Watson gets a tough one against Madison Keys.
Sloane Stephens (No. 17): If you aren't American, you probably didn't let out a gasp the minute Hampton's name was put next to Stephens' in the draw. In the grand scheme of things, it's an absurd first-round match. Hampton will be inside the top 25 and the No. 3 American after making the final in Eastbourne this week behind victories over Radwanska and Wozniacki. If this run had come last week in Birmingham, it's entirely possible that Hampton could have been seeded at Wimbledon. Instead, she'll take on Stephens and one of them will be out after the first day. It's particularly tough on Stephens, who hasn't played any grass lead-up tournaments after a fourth-round appearance at the French Open. She'll have to be ready from the first ball against Hampton, who is brimming with confidence. Li Na (No. 6): Speaking of confidence: It's hugely important for Li, but after a bad loss to Elena Vesnina in Eastbourne, she's not exactly full of it. And now she's potentially drawn the two dangerous floaters in her section. Li could have a second-round match against Simona Halep, who has won nine consecutive matches and is set this weekend to play her second final in a row. If Li passes that test, she could oppose Daniela Hantuchova, who played some of her best tennis to win the Birmingham title last week. It won't be easy for Li to match her career-best quarterfinal runs in 2006 and 2010.