Wimbledon preview: get ready for green and white

It’s that time of year again. Get ready for strawberries and cream, preposterously outlined linesman jackets and chair umpire microphones that look as if they need to be biopsied. Oh, and those Slazenger balls that are supposedly hard as bricks, and the charming way that the grass around the baseline starts out a shade of green befitting summer and slowly erodes into the dull brown of the underlying earth. It somehow speaks to the fleeting nature of summer, the way that all beautiful things must come to an end, as indeed, the tournament will be when the grass is worn out. It’s the only tournament where the surface is totally different from match to match, where the surface and the ball movement change with how much and what types of play have transpired. That’s right, friends and readers. It’s time for the fortnight of Wimbledon.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the draws. On the men’s side, things appear to be quite balanced. Somewhat unusual is the fact that world number two Novak Djokovic is the top seed, receiving the nod over currently top-ranked Rafael Nadal. This likely means that the Serb is expected to go farther than the Spaniard, which makes sense considering Nadal’s subpar outing in London last year (a first-round exit). Expect the two-time champion to come out strong. History has shown that when he does get past the first few rounds, he’s increasingly tough to beat (Since 2006, if he has made it past the second round, he’s either made the final or won the tournament).

Djokovic will be looking to get his first major title of the year and to reclaim his number one ranking, but look for Nadal to keep that, as he has almost no points to defend at this tournament. Djokovic has to make the final to stay even on points from last year, and to win the tournament to pick some up. I doubt that he will be tested much until the quarterfinals, where he would potentially get Tomas Berdych or Ernests Gulbis, whom he bested in the semis in Paris a few weeks ago.

Defending champion Andy Murray (man, it feels weird to say that), will also have a pretty clear path to the quarterfinals. I doubt anyone in his section will give him much trouble before a matchup with David Ferrer in the quarters, and even then, assuming he’s played well enough, the Spaniard has never advanced past that round anyway. The grass doesn’t favor his game, as the low bounces engendered do not allow him to track down nearly as many balls as he can on hard or clay courts.

Stanislas Wawrinka will look to avenge a poor outing in Paris, though he’s never been beyond the round of 16 in London. He’ll be looking to conjure some magic like he did in Melbourne against Djokovic, and if he does, not even the big-hitting American John Isner should be a challenge for him, assuming they meet in the fourth round. The possibility of an all-Swiss quarterfinal exists, should Roger Federer go through his section as the number four seed. Federer has confidence, but will he actually have what it takes? Probably not, but it’s fun to entertain the thought. Federer would get Julien Benneteau, the Frenchman who has given him fits occasionally over the years, but he always seems to summon something extra for Wimbledon, which explains his being seeded according to his rank and countryman and third-ranked Wawrinka being seeded fifth. I do think he makes the quarters, however. He won one of his favorite events, in Halle, Germany, leading up to Wimbledon, and looks fit, having rested through the rest of the tune-up tournaments.

If there’s one seed out of place, it’s Murray. I have to think he’s only so high because he’s the defending champion. He did well to reach the semis in Paris, but really didn’t look great doing it. I don’t think he stands much chance of defending his title, quite frankly. Rounding out the draw, we have the possibility of Kei Nishikori meeting Milos Raonic in the round of 16, a fascinating matchup from a tactical standpoint. Raonic clubs the ball, Nishikori is one of the most tactically sound players out there right now. More on this if it happens. Interstingly, Nadal would get Czech Lukas Rosol in the second round in theory. You might remember him as the man who eliminated Nadal, shockingly, in the second round in 2012. I think it’s quite likely that Nadal will be thinking revenge.

Andy Murray's Wimbledon might be over early thanks to shaky recent play.

Andy Murray broke a 77-year drought for British men at Wimbledon last year. As the third seed this year, don’t expect much from the Scot.

My prediction? Watch Nishikori, but don’t be shocked if you see the usual suspects of Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer in the quarters and semis. I think Nadal will take the tournament. It’s tough to break old habits, and so far, nobody has given me reason to in terms of picking men’s tennis matches.

On the women’s side of things, the question on everyone’s mind is: how will Serena look in returning from an embarrassing first-round exit in Paris? She might get Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, whom she lost to earlier this year, in the third round, and could see Canadian upstart Eugenie Bouchard, fresh off a semifinal appearance in Paris, in the fourth round, before what seems like an inevitable matchup with Maria Sharapova in the quarters. Angelique Kerber stands in Sharapova’s way, and Kerber is no pushover. But if I were a betting man, I would put money on Williams making the semis with yet another lopsided thrashing of her erstwhile “rival,” Sharapova. Of course, it could be time to start wondering if Williams can still play at the level that we’ve expected of her since 2011. This will be an opportunity for her to answer a lot of questions, as although she has retained the number one ranking, the pack is nipping at her heels. She’s won several titles this year, but is looking to retain that form on the biggest stage. Look for her to trounce her early competition.

Expect the same from Simona Halep. I cannot wait to see what the Romanian youngster has to offer on the grass of the All England Club. With her playing at her best, I don’t see anyone outside of Williams or Sharapova stopping her, and she wouldn’t see either of them until the semis. This leaves plenty of time to learn the grass and get experience before facing either the woman who beat her for the title in Paris or one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.

Victoria Azarenka is back in the draw, which is great for the women’s game but terrible for women like Garbiñe Muguruza and Dominika Cibulkova, who now have to deal with her. She’s twice made the Wimbledon semifinals, and will be hungry to regain her match sharpness. Look for her to be rusty, as she’s been out for several months with injury. Her quarterfinal opponent would likely be Sara Errani, Svetlana Kuznetsova, or pretender Agnieszka Radwanska. I don’t think she’ll have any problem getting to least good position to contend for the title. The interesting thing about women’s tennis is how totally unpredictable it is. Sure, there are plenty of favorites. But when someone else crashes the party, it’s usually someone totally out of the blue and thus very hard to predict, so really, the only thing to remember is that predictions mean very little.

Li Na will be looking to avenge a poor defeat in Paris as well, though London may not be the best place for her to do that. She’s never been past the quarters at the All England Club, and is in the same quarter as 2011 champion Petra Kvitova, as well as Sam Stosur, Venus Williams, and Sloane Stephens. She’s certain capable of reaching the semifinals, where I’m confident she would fall to Azarenka, but still, take a wait-and-see approach with Li. Believe it when you see it, because if women’s tennis has shown us one thing, it’s to expect the unexpected.

Keep it right here for updates and enjoy the action.