Three To See, Wimbledon: Day 1
(17) Sloane Stephens vs. Jamie Hampton
Head-to-head: Tied 1-1
This all-American clash could be one of the most entertaining encounters of opening day. Both are quick around the court, both are coming off French Open fourth-round appearances, and since they know each other's games, there shouldn't be any surprises. Look for Stephens to try dictate with her forehand, while Hampton's two-handed backhand is a weapon she'll want to whip cross-court.
Beating a talented compatriot should not seem daunting for Stephens, who upset Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Since then, Stephens has posted a 10-10 record; this will be her first grass-court match of the season. Hampton won seven straight matches, including a straight-sets win over Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, to reach her first WTA final at Eastbourne, and enters with a career-high rank of No. 25.
Stephens is a fine volleyer, but isn't always willing to assert her net game. Hampton is the flatter hitter, which should play well on the lawn. Plus, she's a spunky competitor fresh off an impressive grass-court run, and I like her chances here.
The Pick: Hampton in three sets
This is an opportunity match for 2006 Wimbledon semifinalist Baghdatis, as Cilic has failed to survive the first round in three of six career appearances at SW19.
Baghdatis is a shotmaker who can heat up in a hurry. If the charismatic Cypriot is connecting on his first serve, hugging the baseline, and cracking the first strike early in rallies, he can be very dangerous. Although he isn't exactly percolating with confidence after five consecutive opening-round exits, he should be highly motivated.
Cilic tends to play higher-percentage tennis overall, and while he doesn't serve as big as his 6'6" size suggests, he's very athletic and extremely fit. The 2012 Queen's Club champion pushed Andy Murray to three sets in the Queen's Club final last weekend, so he's already off to a fine start on grass. He's the more consistent player of the two, and I see him shaking off opening-round jitters and advancing.
The Pick: Cilic in four sets
Placing a hungry Hewitt on a show court at Wimbledon against a seeded opponent is like putting a famished Popeye in front of an all-you-can eat salad bar: You know he'll be empowered by the experience.
If this match is anything like their lone grass-court meeting—a 4-6, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-3 Wawrinka win that clinched Switzerland's 3-2 Davis Cup triumph at Sydney in 2011—we could see some fireworks. Wawrinka hits a heavier ball, he possesses more variety, he's won 18 of his last 21 matches to return to the Top 10, and he warmed up for Wimbledon well by reaching the 's-Hertogenbosch final.
First-serve percentage and court positioning are key elements here: Wawrinka typically lands more first serves in, but the 2002 Wimbledon champion can take the ball earlier, so timing will be crucial for Hewitt, who has won seven career grass-court titles.
I respect Wawrinka's skills, but what's a Wimbledon opening day without an upset? The fire still burns in the belly of the 70th-ranked Aussie, and if he can get off to a good start, I think he can surprise.
The Pick: Hewitt in five sets