WITH NOVAK, ROGER, Andy and Rafa all in top form and Serena on her fifth tour at No. 1, the slams are beginning to resemble an endless loop of Groundhog Day. Fortunately for fans, some outspoken aces are looking to write new storylines at the All England Club this year. Latvian player Ernests Gulbis recently told a French newspaper that the top four men aren't just dominant, they're boring. "Tennis today badly lacks characters," he said, adding that tennis should be more like boxing with "war, blood, emotion." No word on whether Floyd Mayweather is ready to pick up a racket, but in the meantime, there are plenty of plot stirrers to watch at Wimbledon.
The New Cover Girl
Although the 19-year-old Brit has yet to advance to the quarterfinals in a slam, Robson has a convincing serve and enough natural power to suggest the second coming of Maria Sharapova. And she has the buzz factor to back it up, with more than 178,000 Twitter followers and a cadre of gawkers hanging around practice courts for a chance at an autograph. SportsPro and Eurosport recently ranked her the 40th most marketable athlete in the world, ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Anderson Silva.
An Olympic silver medal in mixed doubles (with Andy Murray) last year helped propel Robson to the ranks of international It Girl, though her rise hasn't been without bumps: Her first-round French Open loss to Caroline Wozniacki showed a lingering hangover from her split with coach Zeljko Krajan, who said she lacked maturity. But she's the youngest player in the top 50, and the Paris debacle should give her fuel to shine in front of Wimbledon fans ready to believe the buzz is back in British tennis.
The Headline Head Case
Tennis fans have had their eyes on Tomic for years -- not just because he has what it takes to break the top 10 but because his personal life demands to be rubbernecked. And lately the young Aussie's saga has gotten weirder and darker. In April 2012, he begged to have his overbearing father-coach, John, thrown out of the Sony Open by telling the chair umpire, "He's annoying me." At the U.S. Open last August, he looked so listless under his old man's gaze that some accused him of tanking his match with Andy Roddick. Then he was stripped of his driver's license in January after speeding in the Gold Coast in his yellow Ferrari -- license plate sincity -- while on probation for several other driving offenses.
But that was nothing: In May John was charged with assault for allegedly head-butting Bernard's hitting partner, Thomas Drouet (pictured near left), who later claimed he'd witnessed the elder Tomic punching his son in the mouth and said Bernard was being held hostage by his father. The 20-year-old then retired with a hamstring injury down two sets in his first match at the French Open -- a tournament from which his father had been barred.
Wimbledon can't arrive soon enough. When he's not distracted, Tomic can take down anybody with his backhand slice. And with grass being his favorite surface, the tournament is his shot to prove he can create as much drama on the court as off it.
After years of Rafa-Roger, the door is open for another epic on-court rivalry. Enter these national heroes, who, like Federer and Nadal, provide a thrilling study in contrasts. Nishikori, from Japan, doesn't generate a ton of torque on his serve, but he has the fastest legs on the men's circuit. Raonic, a Canadian who stands seven inches taller at 6'5", lumbers a bit but leads the ATP in first-serve points with his booming serve. (He had 24 aces in his second-round match at the French Open.)
The two provided a preview of the future in the final of the Japan Open in Tokyo last October, when Nishikori slew Raonic in a fast-moving three-setter. Afterward, Raonic, now 22, tipped his hat to his year-older foe, saying, "He's always been a very hot prospect."
Nishikori, who left home at age 14 to train in Florida, is one of the tour's wealthiest athletes thanks to a flood of Asian sponsorships, including a naming-rights deal that requires him to be called Nishikori/Nissin in the Japanese press. But Raonic inspires his own national fervor, earning Canada's highest ranking ever: No. 16, one spot behind Nishikori. And because these two will be jockeying for years to come, the next time they meet will have the feel of history in the making.
The Drama King
You'd have to raid the cast of Scandal to find anyone who can rival the Polish 22-year-old's flair for the dramatic. When a key call in a first-set tiebreaker failed to go his way at this year's Australian Open -- his first slam as a seeded player -- he dropped to his knees and began screaming as if James Lipton were in the ump's chair. Then there was his shirt-ripping Hulk impression at the Italian Open after he upset eighth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and rose to 23rd in the ATP rankings -- up from 152 a year ago.
"I hate pretending; I'm always myself," Janowicz told reporters in February. He also blasted Federer as "full of himself" and claimed Novak Djokovic "is a false one." At 6'8", Janowicz covers the court better than any other big man on tour. The question now is how his high-emotion ways will play in the buttoned-up courts of the All England Club.