LONDON — Last year’s Wimbledon was the most unpredictable in memory.
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova — owners of a combined 10 titles at the All England Club — were all gone by the end of the second round. Five-time champion Serena Williams left in the fourth. Add in the record-equaling withdrawals or mid-match retirements because of health problems.
And to cap it all, Andy Murray finally gave Britain the men’s champion it had wanted for more than three-quarters of a century.
What might 2014 have in store? Here are five things to watch at Wimbledon, where play begins Monday:
‘MURRESMO': The pairing of Murray and his new coach, Amelie Mauresmo, was quickly dubbed “Murresmo,” and their partnership is sure to draw a lot of notice. For one thing, Murray won the grass-court Grand Slam tournament – the first British man in 77 years to do so – with Ivan Lendl in his corner. For another, it’s unusual for a top male tennis player to be coached by a woman, although Murray was coached for years by his mother, current British Fed Cup captain Judy. Asked about the hiring of Mauresmo, 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Novak Djokovic said: “I don’t know how that’s going to turn out, this relationship. But it’s definitely an interesting decision.”
THE USUAL SUSPECTS: A member of the so-called Big 4 has won each of the last 11 Wimbledon titles — seven for Federer, two for Nadal, and one apiece for Murray and Djokovic – and few would be surprised if someone in that quartet makes it an even dozen. The top-seeded Djokovic, champion in 2011, is a popular pick, although he himself offered this: “I wouldn’t say it’s so obvious that the ‘usual suspects’ … will reach the final stages.” Nadal’s ninth French Open title was followed quickly by his third consecutive loss on grass; the stuff is rough on his knees. If Federer, now 32 and a father of four, is going to seriously contend for an 18th major title, it figures to come at Wimbledon, because he excels on grass, last year’s stunning second-round exit notwithstanding. “I feel like, yeah, if things click here, I should be able to win the tournament,” Federer said.
SERENA’S REACTION: Williams is ranked No. 1 and seeded No. 1. But she’s lost before the quarterfinals at three of the past four majors, including at Wimbledon last year and a second-round exit at the French Open last month. With her best-in-the-women’s-game serve and ability to bounce back from setbacks, a strong showing from Williams on the grass wouldn’t shock her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. “She’s definitely the kind of person that, when something bad happens to her, is always able to react.”
SHARAPOVA’S DECADE: Hard to believe, perhaps, but it’s been a decade since Sharapova won Wimbledon at age 17 for her first Grand Slam title. Now she’s got five major trophies, but is still stuck on one at the All England Club. “I don’t think about that victory very often,” Sharapova said. “Just sometimes when I need a little pick me up or when I look back at my achievements.”
TIME TO MAKE A MARK: Men who might make a breakthrough include Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who won a grass-court tuneup title last week, or Canada’s big-serving Milos Raonic. Also it will be fun to see how a trio of up-and-coming women who took center stage at the French Open fare at Wimbledon: Simona Halep, coming off her first Grand Slam final appearance; Eugenie Bouchard, a semifinalist at the Australian Open and Roland Garros; and Garbine Muguruza, who stunned Williams in Paris.