Which stat is more important? The fact that Mayer is ranked 80th, precisely 72 spots behind Thiem? Or the fact that Mayer has won seven of the eight matches he’s played on grass leading up to Wimbledon, one of which was a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Thiem himself? Thiem has youth on his side; he’s 22 to Mayer’s 32. He also has the advantage in power, speed, and, with four titles on three surfaces this season, confidence. But Mayer has a funky game that could throw anyone out of whack, especially a relative grass-court novice like Thiem, who has played just three matches at Wimbledon and lost two of them. This battle of youthful power vs. aging guile should be worth a watch.
Belinda Bencic vs. Tsetvana Pironkova
Remember Bencic? Up until a few months ago, the 19-year-old Swiss was the WTA’s Most Likely to Succeed. After cracking the Top 10 in the spring, though, she hurt her back, and Garbiñe Muguruza leaped in to become the tour's next great hope. Now Bencic out of the Top 10 again, and is coming off first-round losses on grass in Birmingham and Eastbourne. Her opener at Wimbledon won’t be any easier. She faces that rare species of tennis player, the grass-court specialist, in Pironkova. Or at least the Bulgarian used to be a grass-court specialist; the 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist has lost in the first round there the last two years, and second of those defeats came at the hands of Bencic. But the 71st-ranked, 28-year-old Pironkova has been playing well of late; she reached the quarters at the French Open and in Birmingham. We’ll see which matters more: Talent or form. I'll take form by a nose.
Roger Federer vs. Marcus Willis
A country shaken by Brexit and Iceland has found a bright spot and a folk hero in the unlikely, and at times unshapely, form of Willis. Ranked No. 772, this teaching pro at the Warwick Boat Club survived the pre-qualifying and the qualifying events at Wimbledon, and upset Ricardas Berankis in the first round. The All England Club itself has acknowledged Willis’ significance, by putting the lefty, formerly known as Cartman in honor of his un-tennis-like girth, on Centre Court against Federer. According to the seven-time champ, “These are the kind of stories we need in our sport." The chances are good that Federer will end this one sooner rather than later, but it should be fun while it lasts.