The Wimbledon draw is out, and the big news is that John Isner and Nicolas Mahut will not -- I repeat -- will not meet in the first round for the third consecutive year. But each of them has a very winnable first match, so they could clash in Round 2. Some things never change, right?
A burning question on the eve of Wimbledon was a familiar one: Who will get No. 3 Roger Federer in his half of the draw, No. 1 Novak Djokovic or No. 2 Rafael Nadal? Given that these big three have won 28 of the past 29 Grand Slam events, the question is significant. It turned out to be Djokovic.
However, there's no real reason for Rafa fans to throw a party; the draw gods determined that in exchange for seeing rival Federer's name in the top half of the draw, Rafa gets a lion's share of the dangerous servers in the bottom half. On grass, that's cause for serious concern.
So let's look at six storylines spun out by the men's draw:
Can anyone threaten Djokovic before the semis? Given that Nadal has made serious inroads at Djokovic's superiority the past few months, Djokovic is under some stress, and he gets no respite in this draw. He needs to hit the ground running.
Some guys get qualifiers, lucky losers or runny-nose, wild-card kiddies in the first-round. Djokovic faces former No. 1 and Grand Slam champ Juan Carlos Ferrero. Mostly likely, his next opponent will be the brash and talented youth Ryan Harrison, and crafty, skilled Czech veteran Radek Stepanek could be the guy who answers the bell in Round 3. How Djokovic gets out of the blocks may tell us much about his chances going forward.
Can Rafa survive the shelling? Nadal's obstacles to a sixth consecutive appearance in a final are the most obvious and dangerous ones in the grass-court game -- the big servers. They also happen to be the guys most feared by Nadal on any surface.
Nadal has two lefties in his quarter who can rain down the aces and service winners right off the bat in flashy and talented (if unreliable) Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil and (potentially) Feliciano Lopez in Round 3.
Also in Rafa's half: serving fools and seeds Mardy Fish (No. 10) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No. 5) and Juan Martin del Potro (No. 9), and two of the most dangerous low seeds in the tournament, Milos Raonic (No. 21) and Kevin Anderson (No. 32).
Does Federer still have it? It seems a shame to raise the question that won't go away, but this is what happens as an athlete begins to see the sunset of his career. Although anything is still possible at age 30, those big disappointments (Federer's relatively meek loss to Djokovic at the French Open) and small surprises (the loss to Tommy Haas in the Halle final last week) take a toll and are telling.
Federer is too wise to be worried about whether he might get Rafa in the semis, but given a choice, he probably wants to be right where he is. But if he can get past a potential upset-maker in Michael Llodra (they could meet in the second round), his biggest worry before the quarterfinals likely will be Isner (No. 11).
Federer's quarter is loaded with talented, highly skilled players such as Julien Benneteau, Xavier Malisse, Donald Young and Gilles Simon (seeded No. 13) -- the kind he chews up and spits out. I can see him making a big statement and making it all the way to the final.
Is anyone ready to break the stranglehold of the big three? Well, yes. On the other hand, the likes of Tsonga, del Potro and Tomas Berdych (No. 6) have been ready for a long time, but only del Potro has been able to make good on the promise, mastering Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final.
Recent form suggests that Tsonga, who upset Federer in the quarters here last year, and Berdych, the runner-up in 2010, have the best shot. In any one event, it seems that if the triumvirate is to be broken up, Wimbledon is where it will happen.
Will there be joy on Henman Hill? Now that he's pretty much been demoted from big-four status, Andy Murray once again will be the great British hope at Wimbledon. Once again, he probably will lose to Nadal, who eliminated Murray in the semis in three of the four majors last year. But here's the interesting part: Murray also could run interference for Nadal, taking out Anderson and Raonic with that still-terrific service return.
Is this Roddick's last chance? You may not like Wimbledon's insistence on using its own seeding formula in addition to the ATP rankings (the other three majors seed strictly based on ranking), but look at it this way: If Wimbledon capitulated on that one, Roddick would be unseeded (he's ranked No. 33) and could meet, oh, Federer in the first round.
16-14 in the fifth, anyone?
Roddick, who was elevated to No. 30 on the seeding chart, has been struggling this year, with opponents including Mr. Ankle, Mr. Hamstring and Mr. Age. Closing in on 30 years of age, he's struggled at Wimbledon since forcing Federer to that 16-14 score in the final of 2009.
But that great history (three runner-up endings and a semi) will help Roddick, and the draw gods were pretty kind to him. He starts with British wild card Jamie Baker, and his first significant obstacle might be No. 7 seed David Ferrer, who's no giant on grass. Del Potro in the fourth round isn't the worst fate, either.