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Baseline Buzz: Future of Rafa, Serena

LONDON -- There aren't many guarantees in life, with the exception of death, taxes and Pimm's sales up the wazoo for two weeks in southwest London.

It just so happens that those sales happen to come during a pretty special time when the mint-green lawns of the All England Club are in full swing (so to speak). Amazingly, the catering crew here at Wimbledon says it will serve up to 230,000 glasses of this fruity alcoholic beverage until the tournament concludes. If you're wondering, that's enough for every player in the two singles draws to quaff up to 898 glasses for the fortnight.

Gives a whole new meaning to the Baseline Buzz, no?

But for No 1 seeds Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, they'd be wise to eschew the liquor and concentrate on their groundies -- especially early on. The numbers suggest that both Rafa and Serena could be in the most danger ... right now.

Speaking of numbers, FiveThirtyEight's Carl Bialik, who's never been afraid to tackle an algorithm or two, joins tennis editor Matt Wilansky to discuss why.

Carl Bialik: Thanks for letting me crash the Buzz, Matt. Looking forward to the Pimm's you'll be getting me as thanks. It's possible Rafa was in the greatest danger earlier Tuesday, or would have been if he'd drawn a different opponent. But instead he drew Martin Klizan, who it turns out is really good at losing to Rafa by scores like 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Just like he did last year at the French Open, Klizan came out firing against Nadal, took the first set and then started missing -- a lot. Nadal also raised his level a bit, but he might need to up his game again for his Thursday rematch with Lukas Rosol, the guy who took out Nadal at the same stage here two years ago. Amazingly, Nadal in his career has been easier to beat early than late at Wimbledon: He's won 83 percent of matches in the first three rounds, usually playing journeymen such as Klizan and Rosol, and has won 85 percent of matches from the round of 16 on against guys such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Any ideas why? I have a couple, but they're really just guesses: Nadal rarely plays much on grass before Wimbledon, so he needs a few matches to get comfortable. And the grass starts adjusting to him, wearing down around the baseline until it feels more like clay underfoot.

Matt Wilansky: And that's exactly what Roger Federer reinforced right before the tournament started. "As you go deeper in the tournament, it becomes more clay-courty, hard-courty, with a bit of grass on it," he said. "It's easier to move, the ball bounces a bit higher; it becomes more what we're used to." And sure, in recent years all surfaces have become more homogenized, but grass is still its own nasty animal. As Kamakshi Tandon noted in this article, no players, not even former champions, are sure of their footing on the slick grass, especially coming off a long clay season in which they can dig in. But for Nadal especially, the transition is difficult. Back in the day, when Nadal won the 2008 Wimbledon title, he made a staunch effort to not play like a clay-court player. His average first-serve speed that year en route to the title was 115 mph. On Tuesday against Klizan, it was down to 110 mph. The effortless power he needs to succeed just isn't there, and even though the world No. 1 pulled through, it was anything but convincing.

Bialik: I think the scariest thing for Rosol will be how confident and motivated Nadal seemed after turning the match around. Even in the handful of grass matches Nadal has won over the last three years, he hasn't looked especially excited to have traded his clay-court sneakers for his grass shoes. Even on clay, though, Nadal often is vulnerable early in tournaments. John Isner, no European clay stalwart, took Nadal to five sets in the first round at the French Open in 2011. And Daniel Brands, another clay neophyte, almost took the first two sets against Nadal in his opener in 2013. Against powerful players, before he has gotten used to the conditions, Nadal often struggles. For Serena, who followed Nadal on Centre Court, everyone not named Virginie Razzano hasn't posed a problem in first rounds of majors. Lately, Williams has hit a wall in the middle of Grand Slam tournaments. She hasn't reached the quarterfinals at three of the last four majors.

Wilansky: But after her last major meltdown, just a few weeks ago in Paris, Williams vowed to try to never lose again. And though that's statistically improbable, she played with some serious aplomb in her Wimbledon opener. She cracked 16 aces, which just so happens to be 16 more than her poor opponent, Anna Tatishvili, and Williams also smoked more than twice as many winners as unforced errors. But more than anything, Serena had that look. You know what I am talking about, right, Carl? Focus, determination and, well, scary almost. And though our database doesn't track this, when all three of these are in play, she's an overwhelming favorite -- even against Razzano.

Bialik: I do know what you're talking about, and I'm glad to not have to face that look myself on the court (along with Nadal's full-swagger, fist-pumping best). Do you think we learned much about the No. 1s today, or were their opponents not good enough to provide a real test? Williams lost just 11 games in her first three matches here last year, but those were all against players outside the top 80. Then she faced Sabine Lisicki, a formidable grass-court player, in the fourth round and lost 13 games and the match. That's also how I feel about Roger Federer's easy win today over Paolo Lorenzi. It probably doesn't say much about how he'll do against the better grass-court player Roger will face in the next round, Gilles Muller. Do you think these first-round warm-ups against overmatched opponents tell us much about these favorites -- other than that they've survived and advanced, something they haven't always been able to do early in Slams lately? And who do you see as looming threats for our No. 1s, Nadal and Williams, other than their own potential for inconsistency early at majors?

Wilansky: In my mind, Federer is another question altogether. In recent years, his play has devolved from spectacular to confounding faster than a John Isner serve. As for Nadal and Serena, I think we did learn something. Serena, as mentioned, is feeling it, and there have been few Lisicki-esque moments, especially here. Before last season, she won the title three times in four years. If her game deteriorates more than just incrementally, I will be surprised. No one has the chops to outhit her on grass. Nadal showed serious fight, which he needed desperately, because his game wasn't working. Klizan had 13 chances to break Rafa -- the Slovakian only converted three. Now Nadal faces Rosol, who will come out firing. Do I expect a replay of 2012? No? But Rosol will be playing first-strike tennis, a style of play that won't allow Nadal to get into any kind of rhythm.

Bialik: Any success on grass is gravy for Rafa. He already has won more Wimbledon win this year than last year. Though I also think if Nadal keeps winning, he'll keep getting better. He made the interesting point in his news conference after his match that adding a week to the grass-court schedule next year will help the best clay-court players like him, who have played lots of matches on the dirt, limiting their time and energy to adjust to the lawns. Williams was resting while Nadal was playing his last five matches in Paris, and I think you're right that Serena expects more and looks likely to get more than Rafa does. Seeing she's entered in the doubles with her big sister, Venus, gives reason to think both are feeling confident about their form and fitness. I hope Eugenie Bouchard, who won her first-round match Tuesday, advances to face Williams in the round of 16. That round, which has been so tricky for Williams lately, will tell us a lot about whether she can maintain that look even when facing a player who can be just as steely and aggressive.

Wilansky: And Bouchard, for what it's worth, is the only women on tour who has been in the semis of both Slams this season. So, yes, this would be a match worth watching.