WIMBLEDON, England — Tradition reigns here at the Wimbledon Championships and as such, the men’s defending champion, Novak Djokovic will open play on Centre Court as he kicks off his title defense. He’ll be followed by fellow No. 1 Maria Sharapova, but the big matches to highlight on Day 1 don’t necessarily involve the true contenders for the title. Instead, it’s all about veterans who are fighting it out early for one last shot at glory.
Here are the matches to watch on Day 1 at the Championships 2012.
Kim Clijsters vs. Jelena Jankovic (third match, No. 1 Court): Could this be Kim’s last match at Wimbledon? She holds a 7-1 record over Jankovic and was finding her form in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last week before being forced to withdraw from the semifinals with an abdominal injury. But that’s the thing. It’s clear that Clijsters can’t trust her body anymore and she admitted as much in her pre-tournament news conference, saying that she’s “too old to play the game that I want to play physically.” If she’s healed that ab problem, I’d pick her over Jankovic, who has struggled all year. That said, Jankovic did make the finals at Birmingham last week and her recent pairing with Zeljko Krajan has upped her offensive intent, a good tactical move on grass.
David Nalbandian vs. Janko Tipsarevic (first match, No. 1 Court): I can’t help but wonder if Nalbandian’s first competitive match since causing a scene straight out of a farcical Quentin Tarantino movie was intentionally scheduled early in hopes that the seats remain partially empty (and the fans relatively sober) for the Argentine’s entrance. Then again, it’s not like Nalbandian is the type to be put off (or spurred on) by any sort of negative reaction anyway (assuming there would be one — the Queen’s Club crowd seemed to elevate him to hero status). What should spur him on is the fact that he’s playing great tennis on the grass court — less his “Foot of God” makes us forget, Nalby was a set away from winning Queen’s — and he has a great opportunity to upset the No. 8 seed. The two have split their two hardcourt meetings this year, with Nalbandian winning in Indian Wells and Tipsarevic getting revenge in Miami. Tough luck for both of these guys drawing each other so early.
John Isner vs. Alejandro Falla (third match, No. 3 Court): This isn’t a walkover for Isner by any means. The American is struggling with his confidence after a disappointing clay season and don’t let that big serve and forehand fool you. He’s never made it past the second round at Wimbledon, which isn’t surprising. The speed of the courts may increase the efficacy of his weapons but it also highlights the deficiencies in his game, namely his return. Falla almost stunned the world two years ago when he was serving for the match against Roger Federer, and to prove that wasn’t a one-off Slam performance he upset Mardy Fish earlier this year in the first round of the Australian Open.
Venus Williams vs. Elena Vesnina (second match No. 2 Court): What can we expect from Venus here? In the past the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon has been to her what the Fortress of Solitude was to Superman (nerd alert!). Her game has just clicked the minute she stepped on grass, which is obviously why she’s a five-time winner. But as we’ve come to learn since she came back to the Tour in Miami, her health remains an x-factor. The short rallies on grass should help her conserve her energy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Vesnina was able to pull off the upset here.
Lucie Hradecka vs. Angelique Kerber (third match, Court 18): How will Kerber rebound just 48 hours after her heartbreaking loss to Tamira Paszek in the final of Eastbourne? Up 5-2 in the third set, Kerber had five match points yet went on to lose five straight games and miss out on her third title of the year. She was absolutely devastated after the match, crying into her towel through the award ceremony. Luckily for her, Hradecka hasn’t won a match at Wimbledon in six years.
Courtney’s pet picks: Novak Djokovic vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero (first match, Centre Court), Maria Sharapova vs. Anastasia Rodionova (second match, Centre Court), Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Samantha Stosur (first match, No. 3 Court), Li Na vs. Ksenia Pervak (first match, Court 12), Paul-Henri Mathieu vs. Gilles Simon (second match, Court 18), Sloane Stephens vs. Karolina Pliskova (third match, Court 6), Timea Babos vs. Melanie Oudin (third match, Court 7), Marcel Granollers vs. Viktor Troicki (second match, Court 14), Petra Martic vs. Sabine Lisicki (first match, Court 16), Iveta Benesova vs. Heather Watson (match to be arranged).