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Friday, June 20, 2008
Plenty to win, and lose, at Wimbledon

My buddy Steve Tignor here at traditionally engages in "bracketology," which is the (inexact) science (to say the least) of analyzing draw sheets. I confess that I have zippo interest in bracketology, although I understand and appreciate its appeal. It's just that very little surprises me, with a capital "S." The beauty of even the most shocking upset is that it almost always makes sense -- after it's occurred.

So for our Wimbledon preview, let's do something a little different. Everybody knows that a player has a tremendous amount to gain from winning or going deep at Wimbledon, but in any given year, many people also have a lot to lose. So let's take a look at the players for whom a subpar performance at Wimbledon would make life considerably more difficult.

Roger Federer: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are breathing down his neck. It's an open secret that the long knives are out, and the whispers of "slump" are audible. Plus, Federer is hoping to shatter Bjorn Borg's record by winning his sixth consecutive Wimbledon. Federer has made Wimbledon his fortress and defensive base -- if he gets overrun by one of the barbarians, civilization as we know it will end (for Federer die-hards, if not everyone else). It's almost surreal, what a tough spot he's in because of his brilliance.

Andy Roddick: Starting in 2003, he lost in the semifinal and two finals (to Federer), then crashed out in the third round and in last year's quarterfinals. Neither of those was the evil "bad loss," but still. Earlier this year, Roddick's results suggested that he's still a contender for Grand Slam titles on any surface but clay, but if he squanders this opportunity on a surface that likes his serve-based game, the doubts will arise anew.

Andy Murray: Although he's a Scot, and says that the major he most wants to win is the U.S. Open, Murray carries the hopes of a former empire on his bony shoulders. It really is time for him to step up at a Grand Slam. While UK fans will never abandon him, the British tabloids (among others) will have a field day if he crashes and burns.

Maria Sharapova: Over the past few years, she's proven that if none of her rivals at the top brings her A-game to a major, she will. But with the likes of Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and others quickly emerging to challenge the established order, a loss at Wimbledon will enhance the feeling that while she's got the drive and will, she simply lacks the game to be a dominant No. 1.

Venus Williams: It's gotten to the point where Wimbledon is Venus' "home" tournament, which is kind of sweet. But it also means that she's increasingly put all her eggs in one basket. If you thought it terrible that Venus was penciled in by the draw to face her sister Serena in all those recent quarterfinals, keep this in mind: If Venus fails the defend all those points she earned with her win last year, we might soon be looking at Venus vs. Serena in Round 2. Too terrible to even contemplate, no?

Marion Bartoli: She came up out of the journeywoman canyons last year to reach the Wimbledon final. If she loses early (like she's been doing ever since she reached that final) her ranking goes over the cliff and she's right back down there with the bottom dwellers. It may be where she belongs; the idea that we'll see Bartoli in another Wimbledon final is a stretch. In tennis, surprise is rarely spelled with a capital "S."