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Tuesday, June 19, 2007
What to watch at Wimbledon


1. Can Justine Henin finally win The Championships?
You won't find a more versatile player. Henin can drive the ball, slice it, drop it, and volley it. In fact, she's the only top player, aside from Amelie Mauresmo, who understands that the net isn't just something you surf. Wimbledon's grass rewards Henin's brand of all-court attacking tennis, yet the pint-size Belgian has come up, well, short on Centre Court -- two final appearances, including her loss last year to Mauresmo. In that match, the odds-makers took a beating: It was Henin, not the notoriously nervous Mauresmo, who gagged. Can Henin take the next step? She'll need to if she wants to be considered an all-timer.

2. Is there someone who can stop the Federer Express?
Bjorn Borg, dog bite be damned, is planning on attending Wimbledon this year -- it's only his second appearance since he was beaten in the '81 final -- to watch Roger Federer equal his record of five straight titles. "Roger is almost unbeatable on grass," Borg told the Telegraph. You can bet most of Federer's opponents feel the same way. Nikolay Davydenko, Ivan Ljubicic, Andy Roddick -- these guys just don't believe. One player who does is Rafael Nadal, who came close to dethroning the king in last year's final. But it's hard to imagine that Rafa, whose quirky backhand return and extreme grips work better on higher-bouncing surfaces, will get that deep into the draw again.

3. OK, let's say Federer eats some bad strawberries and cream and loses early. Who'd be the favorite to win?
Everyone in the men's draw would like to see it open up, but no one would appreciate it more than Roddick. He'll be the guy in the corner of players' lounge jabbing pins into his Feder-Bear doll. Roddick, of course, has lost two Wimbledon finals to Federer. Coming off a gut-check win at Queen's last week, A-Rod would be the frontrunner if Federer stumbled.

4. Will anyone bring back the serve and volley this year?
Yes. And in other news, fans will be entertained watching Tomas Berdych and Nike will issue an apology for its "serious lack of judgment" for that smoker's jacket they gave to Federer last year.

5. Which Maria will show up -- the Grand Slam champ or the one who gets blitzed by the likes of Ana Ivanovic and Serena Williams?
At the French, Sharapova said she was like a cow on clay. Now she's on grass, and cows like grass. It all comes down to how well Maria holds serve -- and that all depends on how much confidence she has.

6. How hard up are the Brits?
Put it this way: Andy Murray, who's nursing a bad wrist and hasn't played in weeks, will still be the big story whether he plays or not.

7. When I'm not watching Mark Philippoussis wax poetic on "Age of Love", are there any other players I should check out?
Assuming the television coverage shows players not born in the U.S., keep your eyes on Richard Gasquet. "Baby Federer" has all the shots and plays well on grass (he's defending his title at Nottingham). Human footnote Mario Ancic (he's the last player to beat Federer at the Big W) will be a force with his serve, and get ready to watch 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic blow a few people off the court.