Now is Nadal's time to win Wimbledon
We should see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon finals for the third straight year. But, unlike the past two years, the outcome will be very different, Ravi Ubha writes.
Prize money: $23,293,000
Top seeds: No. 1 Roger Federer, No. 2 Rafael Nadal, No. 3 Novak Djokovic, No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko
LONDON -- Roger Federer had the luck of the draw at the French Open. Novak Djokovic didn't land in his half and, as it turned out, the beleaguered Swiss avoided top-20 foes until the final. We all know what happened against Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic is in Federer's half this time, along with a few potentially tricky opponents. Speaking of tricky, the ultra-confident Nadal won't have the easiest ride to the final, either. That said, a Federer-Nadal finale appears likely for a third straight season.
First Quarter: Interesting for Fed
Statistically, at least, Federer's opener against Dominik Hrbaty is interesting -- Federer has lost their two matches. The Slovak, however, is outside the top 250 following an elbow injury and Wimbledon is the only major where the 30-year-old hasn't got past the fourth round.
Federer's probable second-round tilt with Swede Robin Soderling figures to be more compelling. Soderling, he of the huge serve and forehand, extended Nadal to five sets in a tempestuous third-round battle last year.
Elastic Frenchman Gael Monfils, who battled Federer tough in the French Open semis, or Kei Nishikori might emerge in the third. Nishikori took a set off Nadal at the recently completed Artois Championships, prompting the world No. 2 to suggest the Japanese is a future top-five certainty.
By name, a Lleyton Hewitt-Federer matchup in the fourth round intrigues. The former champion, though, is dealing with a hip injury and has lost 11 straight against Federer.
The bottom half is wide open. Fifth-seed David Ferrer doesn't prosper on grass, so Mario Ancic might be the guy in the quarterfinals, if he can navigate past dangerous floater Michael Llodra in the first round. Ancic is the last man to down Federer on grass, six years ago.
Second Quarter: Djokovic's domain
If he can get past probable second-round opponent Marat Safin, the confident Serb has an accommodating path to the quarters, given that the seeds in his section -- Andreas Seppi, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Stanislas Wawrinka -- won't scare anyone on grass.
Ferrero's taking a set off Federer in last year's quarterfinals was an anomaly, and the surging Wawrinka didn't play any warm-up events.
The bottom half is where the action is. David Nalbandian, prone to early-round losses in slams, could exit in the first against Canadian Frank Dancevic, a winner of the Surbiton grass-court challenger two weeks ago. Feliciano Lopez, the 2005 quarterfinalist, looms. Another mouth-watering third-round match may see the reviving Marcos Baghdatis tangle with ace-leader Ivo Karlovic.
A Baghdatis-Djokovic quarterfinal was a treat in 2007. It went five sets and five hours.
Third Quarter: A-Rod and Blake
Davis Cup teammates Andy Roddick and James Blake could square off in a Grand Slam for the first time, in the fourth round. Roddick, hoping to bounce back from a shoulder injury, has the tougher road.
The two-time Wimbledon finalist should meet the unpredictable Janko Tipsarevic in the second round. Then in the third, it might be Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. Mahut's most productive surface is grass and he blew a match point against Roddick in the final of last year's Artois Championships.
His probable third-round opponent, Nicolas Almagro, is 0-3 at Wimbledon.
Fourth-seed Nikolay Davydenko hates playing on grass. Looking at the draw, the Russian should change his mind. He could get a crack at exacting some revenge on Ivan Ljubicic in the third round. Ljubicic rallied from two sets down to eliminate Davydenko at the French.
Fourth Quarter: Interesting for Nadal, too
Nadal became the first man in more than 30 years to achieve the French Open and Queen's double, taking out some big names in London -- Roddick, Karlovic and Djokovic -- in the process. The thinking is that he's more vulnerable early, and the second round looks tasty.
Isner, at 6-foot-9, is a less polished version of Karlovic, and Gulbis can be a genius (and awful, too).
Nicolas Kiefer, who knows how to play on grass, and the always dangerous Radek Stepanek are Nadal's expected third- and fourth-round challengers. Stepanek injured his ribs this week, so his health is under scrutiny.
The top half features an intriguing opener between Mardy Fish and 2007 semifinalist Richard Gasquet. Gasquet came to life by reaching the quarterfinals at the Artois, showing some emotion along the way.
Fabrice Santoro has always wanted to play a singles match on Center Court, and his wish could come true. The 35-year-old magician, perhaps in his final season, battles British hope Andy Murray in the first round.
Nadal dissected Roddick in the Artois semis. The 7-5, 6-4 score was misleading; Nadal blew some chances on Roddick's serve early. The good news for Roddick is that the serve wasn't firing at 100 percent -- there's room to improve.
Djokovic is improving on grass, although he admitted he's still having problems moving on the surface, evidenced by his slips against Nadal in the Artois final. He continues to say Federer isn't as dominant as before, which is true. But why give him more motivation?
Prediction: Nadal, Federer to advance
Most agree Nadal should have won last year's final, when four missed break points early in the fifth set sealed his fate. He's a better player in many respects -- the serve was a weapon at Queen's, the backhand is more solid, there's a nice slice and he can play at the net. Federer isn't as good as last year, and he, too, knows Nadal is a more finished article.
Prediction: Nadal (in four)
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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Day 12 • Men | Scores
• Garber: Best friends set to do battle again
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Day 11 • Men | Women | Scores
• Garber: Time is now for Nadal at Wimbledon
• Ubha: Top Williams sisters moments
• Grass Stains: Williamses ready for showdown
• Tennis.com: Rafa will win Wimbledon
Day 10 • Men | Scores
• Wimbledon women's court schedule troubles WTA
• Ubha: Federer serving lights out
• Nadal blog: Happy to get by Murray
• Garber: Venus is best grass-courter of generation
• Star Watch: Safin looking confident again
Day 9 • Women | Scores
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• Ford: Ancic hoping to take care of Federer again
• Chip and Charge: Olympics taking center stage
• Ubha: Can Murray maintain momentum Day 8 • Men | Women | Scores
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• Grass Stains: Valiant determination from Lopez
• Star Watch: Murray electifies hometown crowd Day 7 • Ford: Midway at Wimbledon report
• Ubha: Breaking down the final 16 in each bracket
See all stories from Week 1