LONDON – Five things to watch at Wimbledon today, Day 1 of the grass-court Grand Slam tennis tournament:
Federer, Murray, Nadal get started: Three of the men who comprise what’s often referred to as tennis’ Big Four are scheduled to play today. Seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, who won the 2012 title, will be up against Romania’s Victor Hanescu in the first match of the year on Centre Court. Andy Murray, last year’s runner-up, will renew his bid to give Britain its first male champion in 77 years by taking on Germany’s Benjamin Becker (best known, if at all, for beating Andre Agassi in the American’s last professional match, at the 2006 U.S. Open). And Rafael Nadal, twice the champion at Wimbledon, will play his first match at the All England Club since last year’s surprising second-round loss, facing Belgium’s Steve Darcis. The No. 2-seeded Murray, No. 3 Federer and No. 5 Nadal all wound up on the same half of the draw, which is why they all start on the same day, prompting this wisecrack from No. 1 Novak Djokovic, safely ensconced on the other half: “Well, I think it’s going to be a great Monday for tennis.”
Sharapova lets racket do the talking: Two of the women other than top-seeded Serena Williams given any chance of winning Wimbledon this year are 2004 champion Maria Sharapova and two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka. Sharapova will follow Federer onto Centre Court for a first-round match against 37th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France. Sharapova, seeded third, helped add some extra juice to the tournament with a verbal jab in response to comments attributed to Williams in a recent magazine story. Azarenka, seeded second, will open the Court 1 schedule against 106th-ranked Maria Joao Koehler of Portugal, who is making her Wimbledon debut and only has won two main-draw, tour-level matches anywhere.
Young Americans face off: There are two matches that both pit a pair of young American women against each other. The most intriguing is 17th-seeded Sloane Stephens (who beat Williams en route to the Australian Open semifinals in January) against 25th-ranked Jamie Hampton (who beat 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to reach the French Open’s fourth round this month). Stephens is 20; Hampton is 23. While their match will be last on Court 18, the last match on Court 10 will be 70th-ranked Christina McHale against 147th-ranked Alexa Glatch. McHale is 21; Glatch is 23.
Old champ in action: The last man other than Federer (seven titles in the last 10 years), Nadal (two) and Djokovic (one) to win Wimbledon was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. The former No. 1-ranked Hewitt also won the 2001 U.S. Open, beating Pete Sampras in the final. Hewitt is now 32 and ranked 70th after a series of injuries derailed his career. But Hewitt knows his way around a grass court: His seven tournament titles on the surface are tied with Boris Becker for the fifth-most in the 45-year Open era and second to Federer’s 13 among active men. Hewitt could present some problems on Court 1 for 11th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka.
Nadal’s nemesis and others to keep an eye on: With such a full slate scheduled for today – all told, 64 singles matches – there will be plenty of places to find something interesting. The guy who shocked the tennis world a year ago by eliminating Nadal in five sets under Centre Court’s closed roof, Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, will be out on Court 19. John Isner, the 18th-seeded American forever linked to his all-sorts-of-records-breaking 70-68 fifth-set victory over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010, will be in action on Court 14. And Mahut – whose first ATP title came at the age of 31 by beating Wawrinka in the final at Rosmalen, Netherlands, on Saturday – will be on Court 5.