Can Roger Federer turn back time?
WIMBLEDON, England -- And now, the sense of urgency grows greater.
Roger Federer, who turns 31 in August, has failed to win a Grand Slam singles title in each of his past nine attempts. Wimbledon 2012, which opens Monday, represents his best chance going forward, most experts agree, to win a major. Maybe his last reasonable chance?
"I am dreaming of the title," Federer conceded Saturday. "There is no denying that."
Federer meets Spain's Albert Ramos on Monday.
Federer's still-astonishingly versatile game plays best on grass. That's why he's won six titles at the All England Club and is looking for a record seventh. But he's considered a relative long shot here because No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Rafael Nadal have won the past nine majors since Federer triumphed at the 2010 Australian Open.
But here's the tantalizing thing: Federer could turn back time with a win. All three players, provided they win, can leave Wimbledon with the No. 1 ranking. And for the past eight years, the winner at Wimbledon has finished the season as the top-ranked player.
"It's up to somebody else to break that [Djokovic-Nadal] mold," Federer said. "I hope I can do that. I played two quarterfinals now the last couple years. I want to do better. I have to do better at this event.
"It's exciting times ahead. I fancy my chances here and at the U.S. Open."
In a fortnight's time, we'll know if Federer indeed had one more major in him.
No. 2: Can Maria Sharapova double down on the Euro Slams? The past six majors have been won by six different women. During her long comeback following career-threatening shoulder surgery, Sharapova dreamed of returning to the top of tennis. She probably didn't envision a triumph at Roland Garros; still, she managed to win on her least favorite surface. Wimbledon, which she won as a 17-year-old, is more her cup of tea, and momentum, finally, is with her. "I think everybody knows the meaning of this tournament for me, ever since I was a young girl, how special it was," Sharapova said Saturday. "I certainly hope I can achieve the success I had many years ago here." She meets Anastasia Rodionova on Monday.
No. 3: Is Djokovic really the favorite? The notorious British bookies think so; his odds of winning are 13-8, while Nadal is at 9-4. With his victory at Roland Garros, Nadal beat Djokovic for the third straight time. But all of those came on clay, and -- get this -- Nadal hasn't won a title off the dirt since Tokyo 2010. Djokovic, for many reasons, is a better player on this surface than on clay. His first win at Wimbledon a year ago, he said, gives him confidence coming in. "I'm playing with more self-belief on this surface, which is the rarest surface we have now in sport," he said Sunday. "I realized my dream last year. I played a perfect tournament." Djokovic plays Juan Carlos Ferrero on Monday at 8 a.m. ET.
No. 4: Which Serena Williams will show up? This might be the biggest puzzler of the tournament. There are times -- remember that great clay run in the spring? -- when she looks like vintage Serena. And, more often in recent years, there are matches when she is inexplicably awful. It's still hard to fathom how she lost to Virginie Razzano in the first round of the French Open after leading by a set and 5-1 in a second-set tiebreaker. Here's her motivation: A win here would give her 14 majors, tying Pete Sampras.
No. 5: Is Mardy Fish healthy enough to make an impact? Fish and his team are probably the only ones who know for sure. After completing the season of his life -- at the age of 30 -- Fish's body rebelled. He had surgery for a heart arrhythmia but has been practicing for a few weeks. Here's hoping he's mentally prepared for the Grand Slam grind on grass as well.
No. 6: Is Sloane Stephens for real? She blew into the fourth round at Roland Garros, a blast of fresh oxygen for women's tennis in America. Sustaining that success -- as Melanie Oudin understands all too well -- will be more difficult. She doesn't have awe-inspiring physical skills, but she seems to have the mental makeup to handle the journey. She's got a tough draw; if she advances to the third round, Germany's Sabine Lisicki could be waiting. Sharapova would be next.
No. 7: Will David Nalbandian hold it together? Historically, temper has been an issue for the Argentine, and his meltdown at Queen's Club became a YouTube must-see. Dressed in white at the All England Club that reeks of decorum, Nalbandian should be on his best behavior.
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No. 8: Will Petra Kvitova defend her title? Or even give it a spirited go? Since her breakthrough here a year ago, the Czech has given checkered performances in the Slams. Like Venus Williams, though, her game flourishes on grass. "I'm trying to not think about defending the title here," she said Sunday, "but I'm sure it will come to my mind when I step on the court. I feel very well, and I can't wait to step on the court again."
No. 9: What will those U.S. wild cards do? Brian Baker and Oudin were granted wild cards into the French Open and caused a bit of a stir. Oudin even managed to win a warm-up on grass -- her first WTA title -- and Baker qualified his way into the main draw here.
No. 10: Can Kim Clijsters go deep? Her victory tour, the last season before she retires for a second time to continue adding to her family, hasn't gone well. Injuries have been a problem. For what it's worth, she's never reached the final here at Wimbledon.
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