The fortnight has begun! Perhaps tennis's two most celebrated weeks kick off Monday morning (ESPN2 coverage starts at 6:30 a.m. ET). Here are 10 matches to track as Wimbledon's first day unfolds.
1. Women's 1st Round: No. 18 Jelena Jankovic vs. Kim Clijsters (Court No. 1)
A two-time Wimbledon semifinalist, Clijsters is playing in her final Wimbledon after announcing she will retire later in the year. She has won three of the last seven slams she has entered, but injuries have prevented her from maintaining any sort of momentum. Since the beginning of 2011, she has won the 2011 Australian Open, lost in the second round of the 2011 French Open, missed Wimbledon and the U.S. Open (where she was the two-time defending champion), advanced to the semifinals at the 2012 Australian Open and missed the French Open. Just last week, she withdrew from the semifinals of the Unicef Open in Holland to rest a strained stomach muscle. When healthy, she is still one of the three or four best players in the world; unfortunately, she's never healthy and currently ranks 47th because of the simple lack of matches.
A full-strength Clijsters has a significant advantage over Jelena Jankovic, the former No. 1 who seems to have established residence between about 15th and 25th in the WTA rankings. Clijsters has won seven of eight head-to-head matchups and 15 of 20 sets. They haven't faced off on grass since 2005, Jankovic's first on the tour.
2. Men's 1st Round: No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic vs. David Nalbandian (Court No. 1)
Court No. 1 is apparently the place to be on Monday. Before Nalbandian's assault-on-line-judge temper tantrum, this matchup would have been notable simply because Tipsarevic got an unlucky draw, forced to face a 2002 Wimbledon finalist who has found his form. The two have split two matches in 2012 -- Nalbandian won in three sets at Indian Wells, Tipsarevic in two sets at Miami -- and assuming Scotland Yard doesn't decide to charge Nalbandian with assault mid-match, this could be a wonderfully even affair. This is all quite unfortunate for Tipsarevic, the 28-year old from Belgrade who has reached a career high with a No. 8 ranking.
3. Men's 1st Round: No. 6 Tomas Berdych vs. Ernests Gulbis (Centre Court)
In February 2011, Ernests Gulbis was the No. 21 player in the world. But since winning the ATP Farmers Classic in Los Angeles last July, he has failed to reach even a tournament quarterfinal and has lost 17 of his last 22 matches at the tour level. The 23-year old has a fun, aggressive game (and the personality to match) when he is on, and Good Gulbis could be a ferocious matchup for former Wimbledon finalist Berdych on Centre Court. Odds certainly favor an easy Berdych win, but pay attention to this one just in case.
4. Women's 1st Round: Venus Williams vs. Elena Vesnina (Court No. 2)
When Venus Williams won her first Wimbledon title in 2000, current defending Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was 10 years old. Williams has won 71 matches at the All-England Club, winning five times, reaching the finals eight times and reaching at least the quarterfinals 11 times. When the draws were released, the most fascinating part of the reveal was finding out where Williams and Clijsters were going to end up and whose portion of the bracket they might bust. If Williams defeats Vesnina, a 25-year old Russian who reached as high as 22nd in the world in 2009, she might get the chance to face No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, against whom she has won five of eight lifetime matches. (Radwanska has won both of their 2012 matches in straight sets.)
5. Men's 1st Round: No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero (Centre Court)
Though true, it is a bit overstated to call Juan Carlos Ferrero "the former No. 1 player in the world." Yes, he has resumed decent form after missing time in 2010-11 with knee and wrist injuries. Yes, he took Roger Federer to three sets at Rome in May. Yes, he has twice advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Yes, he has taken three of five lifetime sets versus Novak Djokovic. But the two haven't met since 2007, and 32-year old former French Open champion has still only advanced beyond the third round of a major once since 2009. As I mentioned on YouTube on Friday, Djokovic's draw is full of tricky matchups. This is potentially one of them.
6. Men's 1st Round: Ryan Harrison vs. Yen-Hsun Lu (Court No. 12)
A well-coiffed 20-year old from Shreveport, Harrison has been offered an interesting opportunity. If he can take out Lu, whom he beat in a Wimbledon tuneup match, he will get a shot at the Djokovic-Ferrer winner. Harrison has been zeroing in on an upset all year -- he took a set from current No. 4 Andy Murray at the Australian Open, from No. 6 Jo-Wilifried Tsonga in the Davis Cup quarterfinals, and from No. 13 Gilles Simon at the French Open, but he hasn't landed a big knockout blow yet.
7. Men's 1st Round: No. 11 John Isner vs. Alejandro Falla (Court No. 3)
If John Isner had come around a decade or so earlier, when a towering, big server like Mark Philippoussis was able to plow his way to finals appearances in both the U.S. Open (1998) and Wimbledon (2003), he may have found more success than he has in the current, deep men's field. He has advanced beyond the fourth round of a major just once, and despite the big serve he has never advanced past the second round at Wimbledon. To get to at least the third round this time around, he will not only have to defeat Alejandro Falla (whom he has defeated twice, both times in three sets), but he might also have to face Nicolas Mahut in the second round. Isner and Mahut will forever be tied together in history for their first round match in 2010 -- Isner won the fifth set, 70-68, after a total of 11 hours of play. They played again last year (Isner won in straight sets), and my goodness, the odds of them playing three straight years within the first two rounds of a 128-man field are not good. But it could happen.
8. Women's 1st Round: No. 28 Christina McHale vs. Johanna Konta (Court No. 17)
McHale, a 20-year old from New Jersey, has quickly risen into the WTA Top 30. She beat Caroline Wozniacki earlier in June and took out defending Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova at Indian Wells in march. Her first match as a seeded player at Wimbledon comes against a 21-year old up-and-comer from Australia who has yet to establish herself. Johanna Konta's current ranking is 349th.
9. Women's 1st Round: Melanie Oudin vs. Timea Babos (Court No. 7)
Casual tennis fans may recognize Oudin's name from her shocking run to the 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinals at 17. Her career quickly stagnated thereafter, but she's still only 20 and she did just win her first WTA tournament, taking out Jelena Jankovic to win the Aegon Classic on grass. That's something, right?
10. Men's 1st Round: James Blake vs. Benjamin Becker (Court No. 12)
Yes, James Blake is still around. The 10-time tour winner has, at 32, long since entered the twilight of his career. He currently ranks 91st in the world, and he hasn't advanced past the third round of a major in over three years. He got a favorable early draw at Wimbledon; his opponent, Benjamin Becker, is both ranked below him (124th) and almost as old (31). Blake has won eight of nine lifetime sets versus Becker. If Blake wins, he'll likely face No. 28 Radek Stepanek in the second round.
Other Intersting Matches
- Men's 1st Round: Ryan Sweeting vs. Potito Starace (Court No. 8), No. 12 Nicolas Almagro vs. Olivier Rochus (Court No. 16), No. 13 Gilles Simon vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu (Court No. 18), No. 28 Mikhail Youzhny vs. Donald Young (Court No. 18).
- Women's 1st Round: No. 27 Daniela Hantuchova vs. Jamie Lee Hampton (Court No. 3), No. 23 Petra Cetkovska vs. Vania King (Court No. 4).