The Biggest Obstacle for All the Top Seeds at Wimbledon 2014
Unlike last year, when top-ranked players stumbled early, the top five seeds in the men's and women's draws pushed through to the third round at the Wimbledon Championships.
Each top-seed has potential road blocks in their path to a title. Maria Sharapova has Serena Williams in her quarter of the draw. Roger Federer has grumpy old Father Time and a bunch of "youngins" trying to force him into retirement.
There's always something, or somebody standing in the way.
Champions find a way to overcome. And this year, the top tier is full of champions. Eight of the ten top seeds are Grand Slam winners.
If asked about opponents down the road, most of them would probably issue the standard "one match at a time" response. Yet, even if they truly never look ahead, obstacles await them.
No. 5 Maria Sharapova: Serena Williams
Yet, you wonder how many accolades Sharapova would trade for one victory over Serena Williams? Sharapova has a 2-16 record against Williams and has lost 15 in a row. Her last victory over Williams was in 2004, the year she won her only Wimbledon title.
If they meet in the quarterfinals. the match may be built as the 10th anniversary of Sharapova's upset win over Williams. That type of hype could bolster Sharapova or irk Williams. Either way, getting past this obstacle won't be easy for Sharapova.
No. 5 Stanislas Wawrinka: Inconsistency
Stanislas Wawrinka has reached the third round at Wimbledon for the first time since 2009.
He had been bounced in the first round in three of the past four years. That's incredible considering he has the big serve and powerful ground strokes usually associated with great grass-court players.
But that's Wawrinka, unpredictably inconsistent. One tournament he looks like the Grand Slam champion he is. The next, he crashes in the first round. His horrible record at Wimbledon was a factor in being seeded No. 5, despite being ranked No. 3.
No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska: Big Hitters
Agnieszka Radwanska is one of the most graceful players on tour. Even her service toss is elegant. She is also sneaky fast. She's lucky grass rewards the quick. Unfortunately, grass also favors powerful big hitters.
That's where it gets tricky for Radwanska.
She defends well, but has no distinguishable weapons to hurt the heavy hitters. Her consistency, shot selection and superb movement keeps her in the top five. But when under attack by top players, she eventually withers.
Radwanska is quite comfortable on grass. But her two most recent, and perhaps most heart-breaking losses—last year's semifinal loss to Sabine Lisicki and a loss in the finals to Serena Williams—have come at the hands of big hitters with massive serves.
No. 4 Roger Federer: Fatigue
One of the greatest grass-court players in the history of the game, Federer is always a contender to win at Wimbledon.
The seven-time Wimbledon champion plays with such precision on grass that when he takes to the court you expect greatness. Most of the time he delivers. Federer fired 25 aces and 42 winners in his second-round match win over Gilles Muller.
Federer still has those beautiful strokes. His one-handed backhand remains lethal. But in longer matches and lengthy rallies, Federer sometimes shows signs of fatigue.
Fatigue is the biggest obstacle facing Federer. The father of two sets of twins, including infant boys, Federer maintains that he is in great shape these days. He will need to be if he gets into a five-setter with Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray.
No. 3 Simona Halep: Inexperience
Simona Halep's swift rise to No. 3 has had a few bumps along the way. But if there's one speed bump that may slow her roll, it's inexperience.
Halep, 22, is the youngest player in the top five. With each big match she gains confidence. Apparently a student of the game, Halep will need to be a quick studier to advance to the head of the class.
No. 3 Andy Murray: Easy Draw
Andy Murray drew what many consider an easy draw. He could cruise through to the semifinals where Djokovic awaits.
But cake walks through a tournament can be tricky.
A series of cream puffs on the way to the semifinals could hurt Murray. He may arrive untested and ill-prepared for the grind it may take to defend his title.
No. 2 Li Na: Focus
So what's standing in her way? Focus.
Notorious for mental gaffs, Li once served a ball into the stands at the Australian Open. The serve flew so far away from the court that it is considered one of the worst in the history of tennis. Earlier this year, in Miami, she led Serena Williams 5-2 in the first set and lost that match 7-5, 6-1.
No. 2 Rafael Nadal: His Draw
By surviving another tough match against Lukas Rosol, Nadal cleared an early hurdle. However, bigger obstacles remain in his half of the draw.
Gigantic servers like John Isner and Milos Raonic have just the type of game that could spell trouble for Nadal. Even if he gets past the big guys, Federer or Wawrinka might be waiting. It's a brutal draw.
No. 1 Serena Williams: Pressure
Serena Williams' most dangerous opponent is probably herself. Just one Grand Slam title shy of tying Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, at 18, Williams can taste history.
She felt the pressure last year in her match against Sabine Lisicki. She was up 3-0 in the final set before getting tight and allowing Lisicki back in the match.
Being considered the favorite in every match creates pressure. Williams has more to lose than her opponents.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic: His Wrist
Djokovic's nagging wrist injury made news again just prior to Wimbledon. Djokovic aggravated the injury in Monte Carlo in April. He withdrew from the Madrid Masters and told reporters that he feared it would take "some time to recover."
However, he was able to return sooner than expected. He won in Rome and reached the finals in Roland Garros. So far there's been no evidence that his wrist is a factor. But as the tournament goes on, it could hamper his efforts to win his second Wimbledon title.