Good morning, ugly Americans, and welcome to The Championships, Wimbledon, where hopes for a U.S. title are faint, but existent. The following is an occasionally irresponsibly hyperbolic preview of 20-odd players whose names you'll hear a lot over the next couple weeks, arranged from most to least likable to the uninitiated fan based on a complicated metric of actual win probability, recent Grand Slam play and ease of pithy talking points to drop to make you sound fancier at parties.
1. Roger Federer (Switzerland)
The Case For: There's a unique opportunity here, as a discerning sports fan, to cheer for a six-time champion without looking like a frontrunner. The player with the longest streak atop the ATP standings in history has fallen on what, for him, qualify as hard times, slumming it all the way down in the No. 3 slot. The man takes the court at the All-England Club each year wearing a custom-designed white Nike blazer featuring a crest honoring each of his Championships titles and shoes bearing his initials. If there were such a thing as poppable collars on tennis shoes, you can bet he'd be the first cat out there sporting them. He also threw a wrench in the Djokovic buzzsaw, something no other player has managed this season. The Maestro is down, but never, ever out, and Wimbledon, you might say, is his jam.
The Case Against: I will stop bringing this up when the talking people on my television stop bringing this up, but Federer's "slide" from world domination coincided with his marriage and subsequent new-fatherhood, and you will not hear a match go by this tournament without some pundit yammering passive-aggressively on about how his cute wife and twin daughters are selfishly distracting him from his game. There's also the matter of a groin injury that pulled him out of a post-Roland Garros tourney that was maybe half snit.
2. Andy Murray (Great Britain)
The Case For: Hometown hero! Sort of! (See below.) Is fresh off a Queen's Club title, during which he actually smiled, a little bit! As the 4-seed, is afforded a quarter that features neither Nadal, Federer, nor Djokovic.
The Case Against: Doesn't have the easiest draw path to the semifinals, and in possession of an astonishingly reliable choking streak, Murray's not the best under pressure, which comes very much in handy when the hopes of a nation are pinned on him every year around this time. (Fun parlor game: Watch for the moment the British press goes from calling him "a Brit" to "the Scot," the second anything begins to go wrong.
3. Li Na (China)
The Case For: The reigning French Open champ became the first Chinese singles player to even reach the finals of a Slam event this past January at the Australian Open, so you know she's got the chops, but from a pure entertainment standpoint, Li is hands-down the best interview in the women's draw.
The Case Against: She made her run to the finals in the past two majors without having to get past a Williams sister in either Melbourne or Paris. Can the flavor of the season compete with the big girls on the circuit?
4. Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
The Case For: Is Novak Djokovic. Has parents who wear airbrushed t-shirts with his face on them in the stands. Has lost one (1) match in 2011, against that Federer fellow up top in the semis at Roland Garros. Has beaten Rafael Nadal on clay this season, more than once, which isn't so easy, and is no slouch on grass either, with two semifinals berths and a quarterfinal under his belt in the past four seasons.
The Case Against: Will be playing a bit of a mindgame against himself at the All England Club, after chasing history and faceplanting in Paris.
5. Serena Williams (USA)
The Case For: Is Serena Williams. Has mown her way to four Wimbledon titles already, and a win here would make a streak of three. Practices in hot pink catsuits and it goes almost without notice because it's not even close to the most outrageous thing she's ever worn on the court. American!
The Case Against: Has had one hell of a scary medical year, between a cut on her foot that required surgery and weeks in a walking boot, and a life-threatening blood clot that also necessitated an operation.
6. Mardy Fish (USA)
The Case For: American, and boasting a degree of grizzle surpassed only by Robin Söderling himself.
The Case Against: Has never made it beyond the third round at Wimbledon, but as of publishing time, has already topped Marcel Granollers to advance past his first match, so we're on board, right? U-S-A!
7. Andy Roddick (USA)
The Case For: The very most American of the American men, in that he rocks Lacoste and is prone to huge screaming fits on the court, and we all sort of love him for it, until he loses, which he does, a lot. Has been a finalist in three Wimbledons, most recently in 2009.
The Case Against: And lost all three of those finals matches, and is nursing a busted shoulder at the moment. It'd be something to see him get past Murray in the quarters.
8. Robin Söderling (Sweden)
The Case For: Wears our unofficial crown of "Hemophiliac Grizzly Adams" despite being neither a hemophiliac nor, as far as we know, a bear tamer. Most likely to show up to a major tournament sporting three-day stubble even as he dons crisp tennis whites. Don't box Söderling in, man.
The Case Against: Is hanging out at the other end of Novak Djokovic's quarter, and is historically sort of awful at Wimbledon, with just one trip past the fourth round (in 2010).
9. Venus Williams (USA)
The Case For: As Venus Williams, needs no introduction or excuses. The five-time champ is a contender even poking way down in the twenties seeds, and has already dispatched her first-round opponent with relative ease. Fresh off a win at Queen's Club, so conditioning shouldn't be an issue.
The Case Against: Reinjury might be an issue, after Williams was forced to withdraw from the Aussie Open with a psoas injury and missed Roland Garros entirely.
10. Rafael Nadal (Spain)
The Case For: Is very, very good at tennis. Has two Wimbledon titles, including the 2010.
The Case Against: Is just so gosh-damn unlikable and personality-free in every other aspect of the game, isn't playing on his strongest surface, and bores us to sobs with his ubiquity. Is only in the top ten by the grace of winning all the time at everything.
11. Gael Monfils (France)
The Case For: Already through to the second round. Has bouncy, electric playing style that always seems to baffle the stodgy crowds at the All England Club. Stunning hair, and a comfy spot in the tourney's easiest quarter.
The Case Against: History. This is only Monfils' fifth Wimbledon, but he's never made it past the third round on any try.
12. Lleyton Hewitt (Australian)
The Case For: 2002 champ. Brings along with him a hooting, hollering Aussie entourage to every major, and as seen above, we weight heavily in favor of players whose very presence confuses the locals. Will probably play pro tennis until he falls over dead.
The Case Against: Looked like he wanted to fall over dead in his first-round Australian Open loss this year, and skipped Roland Garros altogether. Will presumably draw Söderling in the second round, if he makes it that far.
13. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)
The Case For: American, and the player most likely to show up for a lawn tennis tournament in eye black.
The Case Against: Has just one trip past the second round in her entire career here, and will draw Li Na in the second round this year if both advance today and tomorrow.
14. John Isner (USA)
The Case For: Is Wimbledon famous, and gave Nadal quite a game on his home turf last month.
The Case Against: In Federer's quarter, and in danger of hype fatigue thanks to some too-clever tourney organizers.
15. Juan Martin Del Potro (Argentina)
The Case For: A big lumbering friendly giant of a player on a comeback tour.
The Case Against: Hasn't even played at Wimbledon since 2009, and has never made it past the second round.
16. Vania King (USA)
The Case For: Not a strong one, but she made her second-ever run to the third round at Roland Garros, and won doubles here last year, so she's got good grass moxie.
The Case Against: If she makes another third-round berth here, No. 2 Vera Zvonareva will presumably be standing across the net.
17. James Blake (USA)
The Case For: Here's one American athlete who rocks the bald and sweatband with grace, LEBRON.
The Case Against: A tough first-round match against No. 32 Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.
18. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France)
The Case For: The tourney's other BFG amde a surprising run to the quarters at Wimbledon in 2010. Has made it at least to the third round in every major tournament he's played since 2007.
The Case Against: An ugly flameout at Roland Garros has to be weighing heavily. If he wins out, will have to play Federer to advance out of his quarter.
19. Vera Zvonareva (Russia)
The Case For: A finalist here last year before falling to Serena Williams.
The Case Against: Will she be an afterthought with the resurgence of both Williams sisters? Like World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, has never won a major.
20. Melanie Oudin (USA)
The Case For: The prelude to her storied quarterfinals run at the 2009 U.S. Open was a fourth-round trip here.
The Case Against: Is going to have to rely on something besides her shoe deal to get her by eventually, and draws the formidable (if currently strangely vulnerable) No. 18 Ana Ivanovic in Round 1. Might we suggest, in her place, cheering instead for her oft-overlooked countrywoman and potential second-round opponent, the magnificently named Coco Vandeweghe, instead? C'mon, y'all, it's her first Wimbledon! U-S-A!