Commentary

Davenport's powerful game ideal for spoiler role at Wimbledon

Most of the usual suspects will be hanging around and vying for a title deep into the second week of Wimbledon. But there are a few relentless attackers who are ready to play the spoiler role.

Updated: June 19, 2008, 10:05 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

Got a big serve? That makes you dangerous at Wimbledon.

There is, all kidding aside, more to it than that, since the grass is slower and baseliners with average serves have a shot at success nowadays. Still, sending down a few aces and coming to the net helps.

Here are a few floaters who've had success on grass and could cause a fright to the main contenders.

Men
Mario Ancic: Unseeded as he continues to work his way back from a serious bout of mono and a shoulder injury last season, the tall Croat is a guy the big guns want to avoid early. By now, most know that Ancic is the last man to down Roger Federer on grass, taking out the Swiss in the first round at the All England Club six years ago. But he also reached the semis in 2004 and won back-to-back titles at the Ordina Open in '04-05, a grass-court tune-up in the Netherlands. Countryman and 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, never at a loss for words, went so far as to suggest Ancic is the second favorite this year.

Feliciano Lopez: In 2005, prior to the emergence on grass of good friend Rafael Nadal, Lopez became the first Spaniard to make the quarterfinals at Wimbledon since Manuel Orantes in 1992, eliminating the likes of Ancic and Marat Safin, who'd knocked off Mark Philippoussis in the previous round.

Lopez possesses a big lefty serve and when he's on, can beat almost anyone, evidenced by his run at the Dubai Tennis Championships in March. He took out three top-10 players -- Nikolay Davydenko, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych -- and extended Andy Roddick to three sets in the final.

Nicolas Kiefer: The German is getting up there, turning 31 in July, but he's a dogged competitor with a versatile game, and knows how to play on grass. One of his six career titles came at home in Halle, with Federer preventing him from winning a second time in 2003. Kiefer was the lone foe to snatch a set off Federer at Wimbledon in 2005, back when the Swiss was almost invincible.

Coming off a debilitating wrist injury, he still managed to stretch dynamic Serb Novak Djokovic to four sets in the third round last year, too, losing a pair of tiebreaks.

[+] EnlargeIvan Ljubicic
Ryan Pierse/Getty ImagesIf his big serve is working, Ivan Ljubicic is not a player many want to see on the other side of the net.
Michael Llodra: Perhaps the most relentless attacker in the men's game, the eccentric Frenchman is as streaky as they come. Llodra began the campaign by winning a title in Adelaide, Australia and followed it up with another victory indoors in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, ousting Davydenko and two prolific indoor players, Ivo Karlovic and Robin Soderling, along the way. He then lost six in a row, only really recovering by advancing to the fourth round at Roland Garros.

Llodra tasted success at Wimbledon last year, winning the doubles crown with compatriot Arnaud Clement, then giving away all of his shirts and rackets.

Ivan Ljubicic: For someone with such a hefty serve and not-so-shabby volley, it seems strange that Ljubicic's top showing at Wimbledon is a third-round appearance. Last season he entered the event having won the Ordina Open, but exited to the grass-averse Paul-Henri Mathieu in the final 32.

A former top-five regular, the veteran Croat slumped at the end of 2007 and finished the year outside the top 15, though rallying from two sets down against Davydenko at the French Open should be a confidence booster.

Nicolas Mahut: Another of the French brigade, the gel enhanced Mahut came within a whisker of claiming the prestigious Artois Championships last June. Holding a match point against Roddick in a second-set tiebreak, he sent an easy-looking forehand pass into the net with the American stranded. Two matches earlier, he topped Nadal.

Mahut, who delivered 27 aces in a first-round win over Lopez in London this season, reached his only other final on grass, in Newport, R.I. last July.

John Isner: Isner's solitary grass-court victory came at the Artois Championships last week, yet his gargantuan serve is good enough to land him in a few tiebreaks -- and you never know what might happen then. In his first full season on tour, the 6-foot-9 former University of Georgia standout is averaging more than 13 aces per match, besting Roddick and slightly less than the 6-foot-10 Karlovic and 6-foot-7 Aussie Chris Guccione, another floater.

[+] EnlargeNicole Vaidisova
Glenn Campbell/Getty ImagesNo one has been more scrutinized more this year for lackluster play than Nicole Vaidisova, but she has a game well suited for grass.
Women
Lindsay Davenport: Davenport hopes to be fit for Wimbledon after a bum knee forced her to withdraw from the International Women's Open in Eastbourne, England on Tuesday. Three years ago, the last time she was at the All England Club, the 32-year-old mom blew a match point and lost to Venus Williams in the longest Wimbledon final (time-wise). Happier memories abounded in 1999, when the Californian beat Steffi Graf for the crown.

Still blessed with a powerful serve and baseline game, Davenport is 21-4 in 2008, though hasn't competed since mid-April.

Nicole Vaidisova: Some reverse logic here. Vaidisova has to snap out of her slump sometime, and maybe Wimbledon, where the Czech reached the quarterfinals last year and held a match point versus current No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, is the place she does it.

Vaidisova showed signs of life last week at the DFS Classic in Birmingham, England, ending a six-match losing streak and getting to the quarters. That said, she was bageled in the second set by Bethanie Mattek in the last eight and eliminated in the opening round in Eastbourne.

Li Na: The firsts couldn't stop coming for Li in 2006. The power baseliner became the first Chinese player to crack the top 20 and reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal, doing the latter at Wimbledon. An injury to her right rib stunted her progress in 2007, while a wonky right knee that required surgery kept her out from March until this week in Eastbourne. It might be too early to expect much, although Li won a round in Eastbourne and snared a set against eighth-seed Nadia Petrova in the second round.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.