Print and Go Back espnW.com: News & Opinion

Sunday, June 19, 2011
Five men's storylines to watch at Wimbledon

By Abigail Lorge

Greatest vs. greatest?

Defending champion and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the best clay-court player in history, arguably the best player of his generation, and Roger Federer, considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, headline the Wimbledon marquee. They have met three times at Wimbledon -- always in the final. Federer won the first two of those meetings, in four sets in 2006 and in five sets a year later. Nadal was the victor in the legendary 2008 final, prevailing 9-7 in the fifth set as darkness fell. The pair could potentially meet in a fourth Wimbledon final this year, as the top-seeded Nadal and No. 3 seed Federer are on opposite sides of the draw.

Nadal, who defeated Tomas Berdych in straight sets last year to win his second Wimbledon title, is fresh from a victory over Federer in the French Open final. The Spaniard's triumph in Paris gave him the sixth Roland Garros trophy and the 10th Grand Slam title of his career. Nadal, 25, seeks his fifth title in the past six Slams -- an incredible run dating back to last year's French Open -- but he has a tough draw: he could face dangerous Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in the third round.

Federer is seeking his seventh Wimbledon championship, which would tie the record for owning the most men's titles in history. The mark is currently shared by William Renshaw (doesn't ring a bell? He played during the 1880s) and Pete Sampras. Although Federer, 29, has not won a major since the 2010 Australian Open, the Swiss magician's genius is most evident on grass, and his quest for a 17th Grand Slam singles title should be aided by his fairly gentle draw.

Djokovic aiming for title

The No. 2-ranked Novak Djokovic won 41 consecutive matches to open his 2011 campaign. The stellar run included four victories over Nadal, three victories over Federer, plus a second career Australian Open title. But while the 24-year-old Serb is fitter than he's ever been, grass is his worst surface. The two-time Wimbledon semifinalist might have to beat Robin Soderling in the quarters and Federer in the semis to reach his first final.

Murray mania runs wild again

The long-suffering Brits are like the Cubs fans: they've endured seeing that no man from the United Kingdom has claimed a Grand Slam singles title since Englishman Fred Perry won Wimbledon in 1936. The supremely talented Andy Murray is expected to end that drought, but he has yet to win a major. The sometimes surly Scotsman, now 24, is 0-3 in Grand Slam finals, without winning a single set. Murray won Queen's Club, the grass court tune-up, and is playing his best tennis entering Wimbledon. But the No. 4 seed might have to go through Nadal to get to the final, and there's the question of whether the voracious home crowd support will prove to be a benefit, or a liability.

Juan to watch

It's not easy for a 6-foot-6 player to sneak by unnoticed, but under-the-radar Juan Martin del Potro is lurking as a dangerous potential fourth-round opponent for Nadal. The lanky Argentine with the lethal forehand upset five-time defending champ Federer to win the 2009 U.S. Open. Del Potro then reached a career-high ranking of No. 4, before right wrist surgery prematurely ended his 2010 season. Del Potro, 22, now recovered and ranked No. 22 in the world, is a good sleeper pick.

A tall tale

Last year's 11-hour, 183-game first-rounder between American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, which Isner won 70-68 in the fifth set, made tennis history. It took three days to complete. Incredibly, this year the pair drew each other once again in the first round. Assuming he can get past Mahut in fewer than three days, the 6-foot-9 Isner has the game to make a run at the second week. The North Carolina native and former University of Georgia star, currently ranked No. 46 in the world, pushed Nadal to five sets in the first round of this year's French Open.