Here are the top topics at Wimbledon, the grass-court Grand Slam tennis tournament that begins Monday and ends July 7:
Hard to imagine anyone having been a bigger favorite to win a Grand Slam title than No. 1-ranked Serena Williams is at Wimbledon this year. She comes in as the defending champion; she’s on a 31-match winning streak, the longest single-season run in women’s tennis since her older sister won 35 in a row in 2000; she’s 74-3 since the start of Wimbledon a year ago. Williams has claimed three of the past four major titles to raise her career total to 16 — two shy of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
WHO CAN CHALLENGE WILLIAMS?
There are, to be sure, other women capable of walking away with the trophy from the All England Club, starting with Maria Sharapova, who won the title in 2004 by beating — you guessed it — Williams in the final. But although Sharapova put up a fight in this year’s French Open final against Williams, she didn’t represent much of a hurdle and has lost the past 13 times they’ve played. Petra Kvitova, the 2011 champion, seems to have the grass game figured out; No. 2-ranked Victoria Azarenka is a two-time semifinalist; Agnieszka Radwanska and Marion Bartoli have been the runner-up. Still, hard to imagine any of them beating five-time champion Williams if she’s healthy.
FEDERER’S BID FOR EIGHT
Until this year’s French Open, no man had won eight titles at the same Grand Slam tournament. Rafael Nadal got No. 8 in Paris, and now Roger Federer can try to match that accomplishment at Wimbledon. Federer is the defending champion, and he’s still as good as it gets on grass; he ended a 10-month title drought by winning a tuneup tournament on the surface at Halle, Germany. Wimbledon is the major tournament that people figure he’s most likely to win if he’s going to add to his record total of 17 Grand Slam titles.
MURRAY AND 1936
Andy Murray is no doubt tired of hearing the name “Fred Perry” and the year “1936” — and we all will hear those words over and over again, so long as he keeps winning matches during the fortnight. Murray again will try to give Britain its first male champion at Wimbledon since, well, you-know-who in you-know-when. A year ago, Murray became the first British man to reach the final since Bunny Austin in 1938, then lost to Federer in four sets. Then Murray won the Olympic singles gold medal at the All England Club, beating Federer in the final. And in September, at the U.S. Open, Murray became the first British man in 76 years to win any Grand Slam singles title. He pulled out of the French Open with a back issue, but won the grass title at Queen’s Club, so all appears fine.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Nadal and No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic have combined to win 11 of the most recent 13 Grand Slam titles. Those two plus Federer have collected 31 of the past 33, and when you add in Murray (who won one of the other two), that quartet sure seems likely to produce this year’s champion at the All England Club. Djokovic won Wimbledon in 2011, and Nadal has two titles plus three runner-up finishes; neither played a tuneup tournament on grass, but that might not matter. Will be worth watching how Nadal, who’s seeded fifth, fares a year after his surprising second-round loss to Lukas Rosol, who was ranked 100th at the time.
THE “OTHER” GUYS
There are other men capable of making deep runs and maybe pulling off a significant upset in the second week — Grand Slam runners-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, and good servers Marin Cilic and Milos Raonic all come to mind — but really, who are we kidding here?
POUND FOR POUND
All of those face-to-face lobbying efforts by the top men in the sport are paying off in a big way at the Grand Slam tournaments. The total prize money on offer at Wimbledon is jumping about 40 percent from 2012 to 2013, going from 16.1 million pounds (about $25 million) to 22.6 million pounds (about $35.5 million). And the men’s and women’s singles champions will each earn 1.6 million pounds (about $2.5 million) this time, rising from 1.15 million pounds (about $1.8 million) last year.
RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY
Weather and forecasts are always popular conversation topics in England, and that only increases during the tournament known simply as “The Championships.” While long-range predictions are for a dry first week, even if rain does arrive, the retractable roof on Centre Court allows for play — and there are plans to add a movable cover for Court 1 by 2019. If the roof on the main stadium is used, it surely will reprise the debates of 2012, when there was much discussion about altered playing conditions indoors for Nadal’s loss to Rosol, and Federer’s victory over Murray.