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The First Day: 2013 Daily Preview

by Clive White
Monday 24 June 2013

Normal service will be resumed on Centre Court today when Roger Federer opens The Championships, something he hasn’t done for three years. The seven-time champion is certain to receive a huge ovation, as will Great Britain’s new Olympic champion Andy Murray when he takes to the same stage a few hours later.

If Murray hadn’t already endeared himself to the British public, he certainly did so with his gallant effort in last year’s final against Federer – never mind the way in which he bounced back from that painful loss a month later to win Olympic gold against the same opponent here at Wimbledon.

Nor does the celebration of heroic endeavour end there. The crowd over on No.1 Court will no doubt also be showing its appreciation of Rafael Nadal’s herculean effort in winning his eighth French Open title barely a fortnight ago when the Spaniard steps on court to face Belgium’s Steve Darcis.

Much has been said about Nadal’s No.5 seeding but the player himself has no complaints, describing the seeding formula, a long-standing agreement between the ATP and the AELTC, as “completely fair”.

On top of that, today’s programme also sees 2004 champion Maria Sharapova and world No.2 Victoria Azarenka in action. As Novak Djokovic, the world No.1, put it this weekend: “It’s going to be a great Monday for tennis.”

It isn’t often these days that Federer can be described as “the younger man on court”, but he will be that – by a couple of weeks – against Romania’s 31-year-old Victor Hanescu. Meanwhile Murray faces Germany’s Benjamin Becker just 10 days after defeating him in two closely-contested sets in the Aegon Championships at The Queen’s Club.

It’s worth remembering that Murray is the only one among the sport’s ‘Big Four’ who has the added pressure of playing in his country’s own Grand Slam tournament – Djokovic, Federer and Nadal, of course, don’t have that responsibility. Federer may have unintentionally increased that load yesterday by making him favourite to win the title. If the Scot successfully carries it off, he will be the first British winner since Fred Perry 77 years ago.

“He seems like maybe most natural on this surface of the other guys,” said Federer. “The other guys are already Wimbledon champions, Rafa and Novak...but to me Andy sort of stands out a little bit over the others.”

Becker, a player who knows how to perform on grass, if not quite as well as his more famous namesake, should help the Brit get quickly focused. One of Becker’s own claims to fame is that he was the last man to play – and beat – Andre Agassi, at the 2006 US Open.

Elsewhere, the pick of today’s remaining men’s matches is probably that between the 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt and the No.11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka. Playing on grass is second nature to Hewitt and the 32-year-old Australian was in his element again at Queen’s where he beat Grigor Dimitrov, Sam Querrey and Juan Martin Del Potro in making the semis.

If being drawn against someone as good as Wawrinka in the first round was a trifle unfortunate, it’s no less a tricky start for the Swiss. As tall orders go, though, none is greater than the 420-place discrepancy in rankings that 18-year-old Kyle Edmund, from Beverley, Yorkshire, has to bridge against No.24 seed Jerzy Janowicz, of Poland on No.3 Court - quite a step up from the junior French Open a fortnight ago but what an experience.

Only once in the last 10 years has Sharapova come unstuck in the first round of a Grand Slam and it isn’t likely to happen again against Kristina Mladenovic, a promising if relatively inexperienced young French player. If Azarenka is going to achieve her aim of going one better than her semi-final finish of the last two years she will probably have to beat the 2004 champion, but first up for her is Maria Joao Koehler, of Portugal.

Of all the seeds in action today none is more seriously threatened than the No.17 Sloane Stephens, who plays fellow American Jamie Hampton on Court 18. The German-born Hampton comes to Wimbledon as arguably the most competitively prepared player in the entire competition, having played 10 matches on grass at Birmingham and Eastbourne, where as a qualifier she finished runner-up to Russia’s Elena Vesnina. It’s the nearest thing in tennis to a flying start.

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