WIMBLEDON, England—The pairings are an embarrassment of riches this early in a Grand Slam tournament; and if you know the back-stories of the main characters, or of particular match-ups, things just become that much more interesting.
The obvious marquee matches today include Rafael Nadal against dangerous lefty Thomaz Bellucci, second on Centre Court; Irina Falconi against the woman nobody is talking about, Victoria Azarenka (unusual, that, given that she's ranked No. 2 and has won a major this year), and Serena Williams versus Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. This latter match assumes special significance because of the sobering loss yesterday of Serena's sister Venus, a five-time Wimbledon champ.
Then there's Mardy Fish, playing his first match since heart palpitations, and the concern and fear they caused, which sidelined him at the peak of his autumnal re-dedication to career. He'll start at 11:30 against Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo on show court no. 12.
These early days are also loaded with intriguing match-ups that may not resonate on home pages around the world, but have a particular quality that makes them jump up off the draw to scream, "Watch me! Watch me!" Let me list the ones that strike me as among that group.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No. 5) vs Lleyton Hewitt: Jo-Willy is such a mellow guy, and Hewitt such a snarling, grubbing, down-in-dirty competitor that his age (31) and status as a wild card (his ranking is No. 202) could help produce some poignant-to-scary moments, as the hobbled old veteran tries to keep hope alive in what might be his last Wimbledon.
Bernard Tomic (No. 20) vs David Goffin: Tomic made his big breakthrough here last year (quarterfinals, losing to Novak Djokovic); Goffin made his big breakthrough in Paris just a few weeks ago (round of 16, losing to Roger Federer). At 21, Goffin is almost two full years older than Tomic, who's already ranked No. 28. Goffin needs this win to establish credibility as a Top 20-or-better prospect.
Alexandr Dolgopolov (No. 22) vs. Alex Bogomolov Jr.: Dologopolov is always an exciting player to watch, and Bolgomolov's game ought to feed right into Dog's penchant for striking sizzling winners and a blizzard of drop shots.
Coco Vandeweghe vs. Sara Errani (No. 10): Right now, the class difference between these two players is obvious and significant. Qualifier Vandeweghe is ranked No. 132; Errani is no. 10 and coming off a French Open final. But the difference in their physical plants (at 6'1", Vandeweghe has nine inches and over 20 pounds on Errani), and tools (power vs. guile) should make this entertaining.
Roberta Vinci (No. 21) vs. Ashleigh Barty: Vinci is 29; Barty is a 16-year old prodigy. The match-up between veteran and wunderkind is always intriguing, especially when the more seasoned player isn't too prohibitive a favorite. As the third match (after the 11:30 start) on Court 14, you can bet that the field-court crowd will consist of Barty's friends, relatives, and fellow juniors. That will only add to whatever aggravation Vinci will have to navigate.
Wayne Odesnik vs. Bjorn Phau: Neil Harman wrote an excellent piece in London's The Times the other day, detailing the extent to which Odesnik, who was convicted for possession of Human Growth Hormone in 2010 and served a one-year suspension, is considered a pariah on the tour. It would be interesting to hear some of the comments called out during that match.
Okay, I'm off to watch the Tomic-Goffin tussle.