Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams
Fresh off equaling Bjorn Borg's six French Open titles, Rafael Nadal could match another of the Swede's impressive feats: winning on the French clay and Wimbledon grass back-to-back for the third time. "It's the toughest turnaround in tennis," says NBC analyst Mary Carillo, "but Nadal is something very special indeed." Borg did it from 1978-80, and the Spaniard took home both trophies in 2008 and last year. (Wimbledon coverage begins Monday at 7am/6c on ESPN2.)
Besides top-seeded Nadal, the other three French Open semifinalists, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray "will be the ones to watch on the grass as well," Carillo says. Djokovic, of Serbia, did not lose a match in 2011 until dropping the French Open semifinals to Swiss ace Federer. Scotsman Murray is still trying to win his first Grand Slam, while also becoming the first British player to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.
ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert says the top four seeds separated themselves from the rest of the field this year. "Rafa's played tremendous, Fed's got a track record, Djokovic has been on fire this year, and Murray just won [Wimbledon tune-up] Queens," Gilbert says. "So I think one of those four [will win]. I would be very surprised if it was anything further than that. I mean, some guys could make some runs, but winning this tournament will be one of those four guys for sure."
Defending women's champion Serena Williams took almost a year off because of health issues since sweeping the Wimbledon field last year. She returned at Eastbourne, a Wimbledon tune-up on grass, but lost in the second round. As a tribute to her four Wimbledon titles, Williams is seeded seventh.
Sister Venus, a five-time Wimbledon champ, made it to the Eastbourne quarterfinals before she was ousted by Daniela Hantuchova. The Wimbledon powers-that-be seeded her 23rd.
Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki, who has the world No. 1 ranking but has never won a Grand Slam tournament, is the top seed. She is followed by Vera Zvonareva of Russia and French Open champ Li Na, the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title. Russian Maria Sharapova is fifth, and Carillo says, "She's won it before and played some good tennis in Paris."
But the Williams sisters are the wild cards. Chris Evert, who has joined ESPN's broadcast team, says it "would be monumental in my mind if Serena [Williams] pulled off a win" at Wimbledon. "I don't know how it's humanly possible for someone to take a year off like that and have gone through what she's been through physically with her ailments and really hasn't had a tremendous amount of practice, really a one‑tournament warm‑up," Evert says. "It would almost shock me if she did, but knowing Serena and the way she's come back before, you can never count her out."
Evert adds that while Serena "gets all the press," Venus will come into the tournament very quietly. "She does the job and she still has the best — I think of the two, she has the better Wimbledon record. And she loves grass and she plays great on it. She's definitely in contention also."
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