Wimbledon truly a grass-court special
Wimbledon is but one of the four grand slams, but it always has felt like about half of the tennis season.
In 14 days, reputations are hurriedly made and ruined, rising stars anointed, fading greats eulogised, and narratives accelerated, condensed and spun into history.
Certainly, a factor's in Wimbledon's unmatched impact is its place on the calendar, at the end of the six weeks when world club football is mostly quiet.
The comfortable mantle of tradition wears well, too.
"Gentlemen" and "ladies" dress in white, advertising is banned at court side and Fred Perry's statue is always on the lookout for the next British men's champion.
Also compelling: the quiet dignity of the place, the sprawl of manicured grass and the potential thrill of finding on an outside court, as I did nearly three decades ago, an ingenue. In my case, a young Steffi Graf on Court 7.
Too, the bang-bang immediacy and speed of grass-court tennis brings to mind a couple of hundred gunslingers staring down each other until only a victorious pair are left standing.
Wimbledon seems more intense than the other majors and also more meaningful. It is fair to wonder whether a player is really a star before he or she plays in a final at Centre Court.
Peering from the starting point of two 128-player draws, it seems daunting to predict where this tournament is going. Except, of course, in the final stages on the men's side, where the "Tyranny at the Top" remains unchecked. On the women's side, you can make a case for a dozen winners. You can be sure of a memorable tournament; they all are.
Rafael Nadal The Spaniard has three consecutive victories over Novak Djokovic, all on clay, and is giving signs he will carry that domination on to grass.
Novak Djokovic This is not the 2011 version of the Serb, but he is still very formidable. He beat Nadal in their only 2012 match not on clay, the Australian Open final, but that seems long ago now.
David Ferrer The clay-court specialist has as many titles this year (four) as does Nadal or Roger Federer, and he just won on the grass of s'Hertogenbosch.
Roger Federer Arguably the best in the world for six months through March. Since then has lost four times, including to Andy Roddick and Tommy Haas.
Andy Murray Perhaps he's hurt, but he hasn't got past the quarter-finals of his past five tournaments.
David Nalbandian The tempestuous Argentine was last seen kicking a barrier at Queen's Club and bloodying a line judge. That's like a 10-game losing streak in the court of public opinion.
The most to gain?
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga The big-hitting Frenchman has been primed for a breakthrough for several years. Wimbledon is the best and most likely place for him to make it.
Andy Roddick A last hurrah for the 29-year-old US slugger? Just won at Eastbourne, and he will be remembered more fondly with one more deep run here.
James Ward Son of a taxi driver, trains with a MMA fighter and (at No 173) is the highest-ranked British male not named Andy Murray.
Maria Sharapova Won three of her past four tournaments, all on clay, her weakest surface. Seems all the way back from the 2009 shoulder surgery.
Agnieszka Radwanska She has gained three titles this year as well as a reputation mental toughness.
Serena Williams Hiccup at the French alarming, but she is 27-3 this year with two titles.
Victoria Azarenka Hasn't won since Indian Wells, losing since then to Sharapova but also to Dominika Cibulkova and Marion Bartoli. Still battling her temper.
Caroline Wozniacki The world No 1 a year ago, she hasn't won this year, is 22-12 and has lost to the likes of Lucie Safarova and Kaia Kanepi.
Venus Williams Slowed by an autoimmune condition. Her last title was in 2010. She has not survived the quarter-finals in five events this year.
The most to gain?
Laura Robson The 18-year-old Briton can become the nation's Next Great Hope if she survives a few rounds.
Julia Goerges The gregarious German, 23, has flirted with grand slam relevance for a year.
Kim Clijsters Her retirement is only months away and a run to her first Wimbledon final would be a great story.
So, whom shall we see kissing silverware the weekend after next?
In a reversal of the 2011 finals, let's say Nadal over Djokovic on the gentlemen's side, Sharapova over Petra Kvitova on the ladies'.
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Updated: June 24, 2012 04:00 AM