- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

Pencil in Pete. Bet on a Williams. Time was, Wimbledon was as predictable as summer showers (in England, that is).

Not anymore.

After all, Sampras is in semi-retirement, a stay-at-home dad with nothing left to prove. Venus is — what’s the word? — slumping like Tiger Woods. Following her loss at the French Open, Serena appears something less than invincible.

All of which makes this year’s All-England fortnight a serious head scratcher. And that’s without mentioning the tricky grass surface.

But don’t take our word for it. Ask Lleyton Hewitt, the defending men’s champion.

“You can’t read too much into the draw,” Hewitt said last week. “Out of the four Grand Slams, Wimbledon is probably the one that opens up the most.”

The only certainty? Those goofy commercials for the Wimbledon clothing collection. Herein, then, our scouting report:

Favorites

Lleyton Hewitt: Defending champ burdened by spotty play, a recent coaching change and a petty ongoing feud with the ATP. Still, Hewitt performs best when backed into a corner, and Wimbledon holds special significance for him.

Serena Williams: Sister Superior is right — the only player who can beat Serena is Serena. Problem is, Williams did just that during her semifinal meltdown at Roland Garros, succumbing to overconfidence and a hostile crowd. Game over if she can keep Bad Serena in check.

Contenders

Andre Agassi: What else is new? Disciplined, ultra-fit Agassi continues to defy age and reason, putting the kibosh on players a decade younger. Won’t beat himself, barring one of his sporadic bad days.

Roger Federer: Fast becoming a Swiss Safin. Federer has all the tools of a champ — he’s won titles on all four surfaces this season — yet makes an art of early Grand Slam exits. Recently tabbed himself a favorite, which is either reassuring or ominous.

Andy Roddick: Looked dominant in winning Queen’s Club warmup tournament. Awkward backhand and so-so at the net, but provided new coach Brad Gilbert imparts some match sense, thunderclap serve should carry him to the semis.

Venus Williams: Once the head of the family business, Venus has slumped since dropping three Slams to little sis. Is she healthy? Is her heart in it? Will her first serve disappear vs. Serena? Grass propelled her to greatness in 2000; it could happen again.

Justine Henin-Hardenne: Perhaps the only player who doesn’t cower before the Sister Act. French Open champ and former Wimbledon finalist generates surprising pop with her puny frame, and her backhand is worth the price of admission. Even with the stunningly weak dollar.

Kim Clijsters: World No. 2 in the throes of bridesmaid syndrome following upset loss in the French final and memorable come-from-ahead gag job in the Aussie final. Looking for a breakthrough, which tends to add pressure, which probably isn’t in her best interest (see above).

Long shots

Tim Henman: The further he advances, the harder it gets for Our Tim. And that’s without mentioning his opponents.

David Nalbandian: Seeded No. 6 and coming off an appearance in last year’s final. We can’t explain it, either.

Jennifer Capriati: Feel-good bloom continues to come off her comeback rose. Second serve squishier than post-rehab Matthew Perry. Bombs over Baghdad!

Lindsay Davenport: Making her third injury comeback of the year. Which isn’t good. Not that we’re doctors or anything.

Spoilers

Wayne Arthurs: Tricky serve, serve-and-volley game make him a tough out on grass. One of the last of a dying breed.

Greg Rusedski: Until his body breaks down, hard-serving loudmouth is usually good for an upset or two. Plus a couple of obnoxious quotes.

Chanda Rubin: Confident at the net and comfy on the green stuff. Ranked in the top 10. Bet you didn’t know that.

Maggie Maleeva: Like Rubin, loves to play on grass. World No. 12 won tuneup tournament and is enjoying a banner year at the grand old age of 28.

No hope

Juan Carlos Ferrero: But give the clay-court King credit for showing up — instead of, say, enjoying a two-week surf vacation in Brazil.

Daniela Hantuchova: Too-skinny talent should take advantage of England’s pound-packing cuisine. How about a whole pigeon roasted in a pig’s bladder? Yum.

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