WIMBLEDON, England – Here are the storylines and matches to watch on Day 1 of Wimbledon. Play begins Monday at 6:30 a.m. ET, and ESPN starts its television coverage at 7 a.m. Click here for the order of play.
Blockbuster day full of big names: Novak Djokovic said it best. The world No. 1 smiled when asked about seeing defending champion Roger Federer, two-time champion Rafael Nadal and 2012 finalist Andy Murray in the opposite side of the draw. “I think it’s going to be a great Monday for tennis,” the 2011 winner said. Indeed, all three are in action, along with Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. As is tradition, the defending men’s champion opens play on Centre Court on Day 1, with Federer facing Victor Hanescu. Sharapova follows against a potentially challenging opponent in top-40 player Kristina Mladenovic, and Murray closes out play there against Benjamin Becker. With Centre Court filled to the brim, the fifth-seeded Nadal will play Steve Darcis on No. 1 Court after second-seeded Azarenka meets Maria Joao Koehler.
U.S. No. 2 and No. 3 face off: Eleven American men and women play singles on Day 1, highlighted by a match between Sloane Stephens and Jamie Hampton in a brutal draw for both women. Stephens, 20, ranked No. 17, made the third round of Wimbledon last year but will be playing her first grass-court match of the season. Hampton, on the other hand, has played 10 grass matches in the last two weeks, and this past week she beat 2012 Wimbledon finalist and fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska and ninth-ranked Caroline Wozniacki at Eastbourne en route to her first career final. Hampton is set to climb from No. 41 to a career-high No. 25 this week, but because Wimbledon seedings were locked down when she was outside the top 32, she’s unseeded at the All England Club. Stephens and Hampton have split their two meetings but haven’t played this year. If the 23-year-old Hampton isn’t fatigued after qualifying for Eastbourne and playing five main-draw matches culminating with Saturday’s final, I like her chances.
Maria vs. Serena: Here’s a summary of tennis’ most recent episode of Days of Our Lives: Serena Williams, in an interview with Rolling Stone, may have called Sharapova “boring” and opined that her boyfriend had “a black heart.” Sharapova fired back Saturday, saying Serena should mind her own business while adding that if Williams ”wants to talk about something personal, she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids,” referring to Serena’s unconfirmed relationship with her coach/consultant, Patrick Mouratoglou. A day later, Williams said she had apologized to Sharapova, though it should be noted that Sharapova made her verbal volley after Serena’s apology. Sharapova will surely get asked about this topic again after her match Monday. Here’s hoping that we can just get on with the tennis.
Matches to watch
Kristina Mladenovic vs. No. 3 Maria Sharapova (second match, Centre Court): The 20-year-old Frenchwoman has been a fast riser this year, moving from No. 76 at the start of 2013 to what will be a career-high No. 37 this week after making two semifinals. She hits a big ball and has shown some promise on grass; she lost a tight three-set match to eventual champion Daniela Hantuchova in the third round of Birmingham two weeks ago. If she gets into a groove, she could be dangerous against Sharapova.
Lleyton Hewitt vs. No. 11 Stanislas Wawrinka (third match, No. 1 Court): On paper, this is the match of the day. Hewitt recaptured some magic two weeks ago at Queen’s Club, where he beat Grigor Dimitrov, Sam Querrey and Juan Martin del Potro to make the semifinals. Wawrinka is coming off his first grass-court final, in Rosmalen, the Netherlands, where he lost to Nicolas Mahut. The question is whether Hewitt, 32, can summon his best tennis for a best-of-five match against a tough, physical opponent like Wawrinka.
Edouard Roger-Vasselin vs. Ernests Gulbis (third match, Court 7): If Gulbis and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga win their respective openers (the sixth-seeded Tsonga plays David Goffin), they would meet in a potentially draw-shattering second-round match. Gulbis upset Tomas Berdych in the first round last year, but he’s never been past the second round in five appearances. He should win this, but seeing as how he’s Ernests Gulbis, he could also find a way to lose it. Never boring, that guy.
Evgeny Donskoy vs. No. 18 John Isner (second match, Court 14): Donskoy, ranked No. 73, made the third round of the Australian Open this year. The 23-year-old Russian also took a set off Murray at Indian Wells. Oh, and he defeated Isner 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4 in Rosmalen last week in the American’s only grass-court match of the season.
Fernando Verdasco vs. Xavier Malisse (third match, Court 16): Something about this match just screams five sets.