Wimbledon is likely bracing for a volatile women's singles tournament, given the state of the WTA Tour. The men might provide some unanticipated fireworks too. That's because some unusual suspects have been playing excellent tennis.
"Even six, seven years ago, it was, if you were seeded in the Slams, you were feeling protected," 34-year-old Gilles Simon told reporters after losing to 37-year-old Feliciano Lopez in the final at Queen's Club last Sunday. "You felt it's very few players that are not seeded that are really dangerous in [the first two rounds] in the five-set format."
Now, Simon added, there are "20 or 30 players" who will not be seeded at Wimbledon who either have won recent tournaments or loom dangerous on grass. "You don't see anyone that you really want to play [during the first week]," he said. "So, yeah, that's why it's much harder."
The situation on both the men's and women's tours puts a premium on a few additional factors at Wimbledon, such as who's hot and who's not, which lower-ranked players are capable of pulling off big upsets and which players are most proficient on grass. Let's look at all three of those factors:
Who's hot, and who's not?
Ashleigh Barty, WTA No. 1: Nobody is hotter right now than the 5-foot-5 Aussie. She won the French Open, transitioned smoothly to grass, won Birmingham and grabbed the No. 1 ranking.
Kiki Bertens, No. 4: She lit it up during the spring, climbing to the No. 4 ranking, but was denied the chance to advance far at the French Open due to illness. She has looked sharp again leading up to Wimbledon, making the final in s-Hertogenbosch and the semifinals in Eastbourne.
Angelique Kerber, No 5: Barty might have put the defending Wimbledon champion on notice. Kerber made the semis in Mallorca, then took a wild card into Eastbourne, where she made the final and lost to ...
Karolina Pliskova, No. 3: Pliskova nearly made the "not hot" portion of this list, given that not only did she lose to a qualifier in the second round at Birmingham, but also that the qualifier was her twin sister, No. 112 Kristyna Pliskova. But Karolina bounced back in a major way last week at Eastbourne, winning the tournament by beating Bertens in the semifinals and Kerber in the finals to enter Wimbledon on the right note.
Belinda Bencic, No. 13: Going into the final week before Wimbledon, Bencic had the most wins against top-five players (5-1). The 22-year-old Swiss is 34-13 this year and was a finalist on Mallorcan grass.
Johanna Konta, No. 19: Although she's still adjusting to grass after the heavy clay-court workload, the great female British hope is a former Wimbledon semifinalist whose determination and confidence will be sky-high after her great semifinal run at the French Open.
Donna Vekic, No. 22: The 23-year-old Croatian has been knocking on lots of doors lately and losing some close matches to good players, including a third-set tiebreaker defeat to Caroline Garcia in the final on Nottingham grass.
Caroline Garcia, No. 23: Once ranked as high as No. 4, Garcia has been recovering from a slump. She won Nottingham two weeks ago and has the big serve and groundstrokes to overpower opponents on the firm grass courts.
Alison Riske, No. 54: The Pittsburgh native had the best win of her career at 's-Hertogenbosch, taking the title. It was a long time coming for the hard-working player whose game is suited to grass.
Coco Gauff, No. 301: Is it unusual to have a player ranked No. 301 in the world in the "hot" category? Yes. But the 15-year-old American at least deserves a mention after she became the youngest player to reach Wimbledon's main draw for women's singles via qualifying in the Open era. She certainly enters on a roll, having beaten No. 129 Greet Minnen 6-1, 6-1 in the final round of qualifying. Gauff will face Venus Williams in the first round on Monday.
Naomi Osaka, No. 2: The recently deposed No. 1 is in pretty good company in the "not hot" category, but that's small consolation. She is just 13-6 since she won the Australian Open -- and then promptly ended her extremely successful partnership with coach Sascha Bajin.
Garbine Muguruza, No. 27: She has been an enigma this year. Muguruza is 10-1 in completed matches since Miami, but she hasn't entered any grass-court tune-ups. The 2017 champion is capable of making another major statement at Wimbledon, but right now, the silence is deafening.
Elina Svitolina, No. 8: Ranked as high as No. 3 in September 2017, she has slipped considerably. She's just 10-16 on grass in her career and lost her first match at both of her grass-court tune-up events this year.
Sloane Stephens, No. 9: Stephens went MIA mentally at the French Open in her desultory quarterfinal loss to Johanna Konta (Stephens won just five games). She also lost the one match she played in a Wimbledon warm-up event.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 6: He has risen swiftly, and though he hasn't quite figured out the grass, his athleticism and quickness will serve him well on turf. Plus, he gets inspired on the big stages.
Karen Khachanov, No. 9: That monstrous serve is menacing again, and there's no end to the harm he can do with that big forehand. He might not be the best mover, but he's not bad for a guy who's a heavily built 6-foot-6.
Daniil Medvedev, No. 13: He's the same height and age (23) as his Russian compatriot Khachanov, but Medvedev has developed a far greater degree of consistency. He has a big serve, but those relatively flat, reliable groundstrokes might be his greatest asset.
Milos Raonic, No. 17: The power-serving former Wimbledon finalist who inspired the wave of Canadian talent that is now washing over the game is healthy again. He was a semifinalist in Stuttgart and a quarterfinalist at Queen's Club, so watch out.
Matteo Berrettini, No. 20: The 23-year-old Italian late bloomer has been an enormous surprise, not least because of how well his game has translated to different surfaces. He won Stuttgart and made the semifinals at Halle on grass.
Felix Auger-Aliassime, No. 21: He lost to Berrettini in the Stuttgart final and is just one tick behind him in the rankings. But Auger-Aliassime is only 18 years old, and he's nothing less than a sensation -- and a legitimate contender at Wimbledon.
David Goffin, No. 23: The Halle finalist, who had a nice win over former No. 2 Alexander Zverev, is on the rise again. If his arc continues, he could trouble higher seeds with his speed, accuracy and versatility.
Dominic Thiem, No. 4: Give Thiem credit for at least showing up to try at Wimbledon (he has made it to the fourth round just once), even though the French Open runner-up's game is ill-suited to grass. The last major Austrian clay-court star, Tomas Muster, didn't even bother to show up at Wimbledon.
Alexander Zverev, No. 5: He had a solid French Open but then faltered in his two home tournaments on German grass -- a poor omen for Wimbledon.
Kevin Anderson, No. 8: Last year's Wimbledon runner-up is just coming back from a long injury layoff. He was 1-1 at Queen's in his first matches since March.
John Isner, No. 12: Isner was eliminated by Anderson in that marathon semifinal last year. He has also been out with injury since Miami.
Marin Cilic, No. 18: One of the best grass-court players around and a loser in the 2017 final, Cilic has been in a bit of a tailspin. He slipped out of the top 10, and he's just 2-2 on grass since last year's Wimbledon.
Nick Kyrgios, No. 43: He's most dangerous -- and flamboyant -- on grass. But the talented Aussie has just one win on grass at two events this year, and it was over a lucky loser from clay-centric Spain.
Snakes in the grass
Wimbledon is notorious for producing some of the most outlandish upsets imaginable, mostly because grass can be such a tricky surface. Although the turf at Wimbledon is firmer and produces a higher bounce than in days of yore, the serve can still be harder to handle than on other surfaces -- and tricky slices, spins and aggressive, net-rushing tactics can be more effective. That's especially true early in the tournament, when the grass is lusher and slicker.
The unseeded players who can employ such tactics are the "snakes in the grass," ready to take down any seed they encounter. Here are some of them, all ranked outside the top 32:
Adrian Mannarino, No. 37: This southpaw has a knack for the grass-court game. He was a finalist in two of his past three grass events, winning recently in s-Hertogenbosch.
Feliciano Lopez, No. 53: At age 37, he's unlikely to win his first major at Wimbledon. But he won the warm-up at Queen's, and that left-handed stroke and his zest for rushing the net make him a dangerous opponent.
Reilly Opelka, No. 61: The 6-foot-11 American is a former junior Wimbledon champion. He has struggled with injuries early in his career, but in addition to a whopper of a serve, he has excellent feel -- a deadly combination on grass.
Daniel Evans, No. 65: He's British, so he knows his way around the grass courts. He suffered a career setback when he was suspended for a year ending in April 2018 after testing positive for cocaine, but he has great natural talent and the kind of variety that can exploit the nature of grass.
Sam Querrey, No. 79: The 31-year-old Californian has experienced some incredible highs at Wimbledon, including back-to-back-to-back wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kevin Anderson and then-top seed Andy Murray. But here he is, lurking.
Ivo Karlovic, No. 80: "Dr. Ivo" is 40 years old, but when you can crack aces like this 6-foot-11 Croatian, you don't necessarily have to do a whole lot of running. In the tiebreaker era, Karlovic scares the daylights out of everyone.
Ernests Gulbis, No. 90: This enigmatic Latvian has been ranked as high as No. 10, six years ago, and he's still just 30. He has a huge serve and a huge forehand, and he has been showing signs of life.
Danielle Collins, No. 34: A gritty competitor, she knocked off Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open. Given the wide-open nature of today's WTA, anything is possible if she's healthy again.
Jelena Ostapenko, No. 35: The former French Open champion is still just 22 and remains a fearless ball striker. She has had recent wins over Sloane Stephens and Johanna Konta.
Camila Giorgi, No. 41: Off the tour since March, she lost a close one to Su-Wei Hsieh in her comeback at Eastbourne last week. But she crushes the ball, as Serena Williams discovered in her close-call, three-set win at Wimbledon last year.
Kristina Mladenovic, No. 48: She has been a finalist on grass and has been to the fourth round at Wimbledon. A 6-footer with power game, "Kiki" has been rounding into form again.
Alison Riske, No. 54: She defeated No. 4 Kiki Bertens, the most consistent WTA performer in the first quarter, on grass in the s-Hertogenbosch final two weeks ago. Enough said.
Kaia Kanepi, No. 72: The Estonian slugger is 34 years old now, but she has been a Wimbledon quarterfinalist twice. She could easily ruin the day for a couple of big names.
Grass-court power rankings
The era of Big Data has created a few new tennis rating systems that don't entirely mirror the familiar ATP and WTA rankings. The Elo rating is one of the more interesting ones. Everyone is given the same number of points at the start of a career. You win, you earn points. You lose, you surrender points. The number of points you earn or lose depends on how big the points gap between you and your opponent is going into a match. In other words, quality wins -- and bad losses -- can count for a lot. Your entire career is in play, though recent matches are more heavily weighted.
The big thing is that it doesn't matter how far you go in tournaments or what you win. All that matters is whom you beat and who beats you. Elo can be a useful predictor. A 100-point gap in Elo generally translates to a 64% chance of winning for the favorite; a 200-point gap suggests a 76% chance of winning.
These grass-court Elo power rankings were achieved by averaging the players' overall Elo with their grass-court Elo on the advice of Jeff Sackmann, who curates the Elo ratings at Tennisabstract.com, where you can take a deeper dive into Elo ratings.
ATP Elo grass-court power rankings
1. Novak Djokovic (ATP No. 1), 2076.3
2. Roger Federer (No. 3), 2046.3
3. Rafael Nadal (No. 2), 1895.7
4. Kei Nishikori (No. 7), 1867.3
5. Marin Cilic (No. 18), 1858.8
6. Matteo Berrettini (No. 20), 1858.4
7. Roberto Bautista Agut (No. 22), 1857.2
8. Milos Raonic (No. 17), 1855.4
9. Dominic Thiem (No. 4), 1842
10. Alexander Zverev (No. 5), 1816.6
Other notable players: ATP No. 13 Daniil Medvedev, Elo 1803.3 ... ATP No. 21 Felix Auger-Aliassime, Elo 1796.2 ... ATP No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas, Elo 1780.7 ... ATP No. 43 Nick Kyrgios, Elo 1772.8 ... Defending Wimbledon runner-up and ATP No. 8 Kevin Anderson, Elo 1732
Some takeaways: A Djokovic-Federer match is a pick 'em, while both have a significant edge on Nadal. After that, the fall-off is precipitous, as veterans continue to spin their wheels. Berrettini is for real, and Kyrgios' lack of consistency is evident -- as is Tsitsipas' paucity of grass-court experience.
WTA Elo grass-court power rankings
1. Ashleigh Barty (WTA No. 1), 1983.5
2. Angelique Kerber (No. 5), 1902.6
3. Simona Halep (No. 7), 1902.2
4. Petra Kvitova (No. 6), 1874.2
5. Karolina Pliskova (No. 3), 1865.8
6. Johanna Konta (No. 19), 1842.9
7. Belinda Bencic (No. 13), 1837.1
8. Garbine Muguruza (No. 27), 1836.4
9. Kiki Bertens (No. 4), 1824.5
10. Madison Keys (No. 17), 1802
Other notable players: WTA No. 2 Naomi Osaka, Elo 1801.7 ... WTA No. 11 Serena Williams, Elo 1770 ... WTA No. 9 Sloane Stephens, Elo 1763.9 ... WTA No. 42 Victoria Azarenka, Elo 1754 ... WTA No. 8 Elina Svitolina, Elo 1729.9
Some takeaways: The number of women bunched up in the 1,800-point range is a testament to the parity on the WTA Tour. Muguruza's high place on the list relative to her WTA ranking is a testament to the quality of her wins and her grass-court résumé.