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Hope that you relished reading our fortnight of French Open coverage as much as we relished writing it!  We thought that the clay season was a bit more eventful than usual this year, and we’re expecting just as many engaging narratives when the action shifts to grass.  Here are five (plus one, of course!) with which we seek to stoke your anticipation…

1)      Will momentum continue from clay, or rewind to Miami?  A dramatic contrast to the protracted wars of attrition waged on the red dirt of Roland Garros, the first-strike tennis played on grass typically favors those who excel on the hard courts.  Recently, however, the accelerating speed of the clay and the decelerating speed of the grass have diminished the gulf between them, aiding Nadal in his “Channel Slam” of 2008.  We imagine that powerful baseliners Stosur, Berdych, and Soderling will build upon their outstanding Roland Garros runs to wreak havoc at the All England Club, but they also shone on the North American hard courts.  Among those who might struggle to reproduce their recent achievements are clay aficionados such as Jankovic, Kirilenko, Ferrer, and Verdasco, while Radwanska, Bartoli, Roddick, and Ljubicic should rekindle their hard-court form after ineffectual clay campaigns.  A rare Spaniard who has preferred Wimbledon to Roland Garros is Feliciano Lopez, whose serve-and-volley style has led to several first-round losses in Paris but two quarterfinal appearances in London.  As the grass season unfolds, it’ll be intriguing to observe how (or whether) the clay season fits into the fast-court narrative that overshadows it.

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2)      Can the Andys challenge Federer and Nadal?  Three times falling to Federer in the Wimbledon final, Roddick has demonstrated that he can defeat anyone outside the top two at the All England Club.  The final of the ATP London event this weekend might provide an early indication of whether he can challenge Nadal as resolutely as he did the six-time champion a year ago.  (If Roddick had converted a relatively straightforward backhand volley at set point in the second-set tiebreak, he likely would have won the title.)  Even in the latter stages of his career, the American’s massive serve still enables him to hold comfortably and quickly almost every time, forcing opponents into tense tiebreaks where he’ll always have a chance.  We doubt that he could topple both Federer and Nadal in the same Slam; nevertheless, he might well derail a fourth Roger-Rafa final.  Once again bearing the expectations of a nation, Murray recorded a career-best Wimbledon result in 2009, although he has distinctly underwhelmed since February.  The Scot visibly drew motivation from his crowd support during his semifinal run last year and has handled the intense scrutiny as adroitly as anyone could have expected.  Should he receive a reasonably tranquil draw, one suspects that Murray will edge tantalizingly close to history again…only to fall a wee bit short again.

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3)      Will Serena and Venus contest a third consecutive final?  Even before the draw, we know that they’ll be situated in opposite halves, so nothing will be left to chance at the tournament that has been Williams family property for most of this millennium.  The presciently named Venus Rosewater Dish has been claimed by one of the sisters eight times in the last ten Wimbledons (only exceptions:  Sharapova in 2004, Mauresmo in 2006).  Still the mightiest servers in the WTA by a perceptible margin, they’ll win more cheap points than any of their opponents.  Don’t draw too many conclusions from their indifferent Roland Garros results, which have characterized their visits to Paris for years without detrimental influences upon their next tournament; in fact, those who know Serena and Venus claim that their French underachievements motivate them for the grass season.  Of slight concern is the wildly erratic form that Venus displayed not just on clay but in her hard-court tournaments this year.  If she runs into a determined, talented adversary early in the draw, she’ll be more susceptible to an ambush than Serena.  On the other hand, the sisters continue to possess greater maturity and experience than most of their rivals, a key factor in their stranglehold over the most prestigious title in the sport. 

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4)      Will one of the ATP’s towering servers go deep?  The conventional belief that a huge delivery can single-handedly win a Wimbledon title has been disproven over the past several years since Ivanisevic performed precisely that feat en route to the 2001 title.  Nevertheless, notorious ace machines such as Ivo Karlovic can ambush more heralded players at any given moment, as the Croat demonstrated when he upset Tsonga and Verdasco last year before falling to Federer in the quarterfinals.  The 2010 serve to watch might be the surging John Isner, who actually possesses a legitimate forehand weapon to buttress his monumental delivery.  This American also displays the quiet confidence and poise necessary to succeed at the All England Club (see Serena and Venus comments above), so don’t be surprised to see him carve his way a little further than his seeding would suggest.  Firmly checked by Nadal at Indian Wells, though, Isner will not duplicate Ivanisevic’s miraculous accomplishment. 

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5)      What should we expect from the WTA’s comeback queens?  Something unexpected, to judge from their rollercoaster 2010 campaigns.  Crossing and recrossing the line that separates bold from reckless, Henin began the year with exclamation points in Australia, faltered miserably in Indian Wells, rebounded in Miami and Stuttgart, fell on her face in Madrid (including a third-set bagel), and suffered a somewhat disappointing Roland Garros partly as a result of a brutal draw.  Wisely understating her expectations at this stage in her return, Justine won’t secure the elusive Wimbledon crown until she refines her newfound ultra-aggression and finds a more reliable service rhythm.  Sandwiching titles in Brisbane and Miami around disasters in Melbourne and Indian Wells, Clijsters relies more upon consistency than the shot-making panache rewarded at Wimbledon.  We’ll watch her Eastbourne performance with curiosity, however, to see whether Kim takes more risks in an effort to adapt her style to the surface.  The only former champion in the field other than the Williams sisters, Sharapova played her best tennis thus far of 2010 on her least favorite surface during her Strasbourg title run and her highly honorable loss to Henin at Roland Garros.  The Siberian siren has reached just one Slam quarterfinal since winning the 2008 Australian Open, but she appears to have regained her health (for now, anyway) and might well reverse her recent struggles at the All England Club with a second-week appearance.  A title is asking too much, however, because she would almost certainly need to defeat at least one Williams in order to win her second Wimbledon.

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5+1)  Which women will play on Centre Court?  Ever eager to fan the flames of controversy, British tabloids spun story after story around the Wimbledon organizers’ habit of scheduling attractive female stars for the marquee courts while banishing top seeds to the provinces.  (Somehow, we doubt that the WTA objected to that maneuver.)  The tournament responded rather cleverly by claiming that the order of play revolves around which players the fans most wish to see, thereby shifting responsibility onto the faceless multitudes.  Consulted on the topic, various male spectators supported the beauty-over-backhands decision.  Will the trend continue during this Wimbledon, regardless of the attention that it would draw, or will the organizers seek to pre-empt potential controversy by adhering more strictly to ranking in their scheduling priorities?  If the choice were ours, we’d compromise (always a good idea) and schedule the glamorous fan favorites on the show courts during the early stages before reorganizing the order of play around ranking once the action accelerated in the later rounds. 

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Aussie readers, take note.  We’ll be back soon with a player profile on somebody of whom you should be very proud.  😉

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