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Five things to watch at Wimbledon

Questions swirl about whether Serena Williams has lost her dominating edge after losses in the past three Grand Slam tournament while pursuing her 22nd major singles title.
Questions swirl about whether Serena Williams has lost her dominating edge after losses in the past three Grand Slam tournament while pursuing her 22nd major singles title. AP

When it comes to the history of tennis, no tournament can match the Wimbledon Championships. Since 1877, the tournament has played host to some of the sport’s greatest players and greatest moments.

It’s a history that will continue to be made over the next two weeks as Serena Williams continues her quest for a 22nd Grand Slam singles titles; Novak Djokovic tries to add the third piece of the first calendar-year Grand Slam for men since Rod Laver in 1969; and Andy Murray will attempt to become the first Brit since Fred Perry in 1936 to win multiple Wimbledon men’s titles.

Wimbledon could also see legends of the game meet again, not on the court, but in the coaches’ box. Ivan Lendl returns to coach Murray, John McEnroe guides Milos Raonic, and Boris Becker lends a helping hand to Djokovic.

Wimbledon could witness the changing of the guard as young stars such as French Open champion Garbine Muguruza, Madison Keys, Dominic Thiem or teenager Sascha Zverev begin to shine. And it all begins Monday. Here are five things to watch as Wimbledon serves up a little more history:

1. Pressure’s building

Serena remains stuck on 21 Grand Slam singles titles, one shy of matching Steffi Graf’s Open-era record. After winning the first three majors last year, including Wimbledon, Serena appeared unstoppable in her quest to join Graf in winning the calendar-year Grand Slam.

Instead, Williams has hit a roadblock, falling to 33-year-old Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals, then losing to Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open and Muguruza at Roland Garros earlier this month.

“I think it has gotten to her a little bit nerve-wise, no doubt about it,” ESPN commentator Chris Evert said of Williams during a conference call Tuesday. “Especially against Kerber and against Muguruza, she wasn’t able to dig herself out of the hole like she has in past years.

That tells me something is holding her back, and it could be nerves. ... [And] the competition has gotten better. They’re less intimidated by her.

Chris Evert, on the stumbling blocks Serena Williams has hit in her quest for a 22nd Grand Slam singles title

“When she [was] down, she [could] get that next gear, that next level, play some great tennis,” Evert said. “We didn’t see that in both those matches [against Kerber and Muguruza] when she was in trouble. That tells me something is holding her back, and it could be nerves. ... [And] the competition has gotten better. They’re less intimidated by her. They have a strategy when they go out against her. They’re just not intimidated. They know she’s human.”

Williams is 34 and it could be that the “next gear” no longer exists. She has been playing on the WTA Tour for 22 years, and the clock is ticking. But grass suits her game more than clay, and she is a six-time Wimbledon champion, so this, or the U.S. Open in August, could be her last chance to catch Graf.

“I believe that she still can get that one, which would tie her with Steffi,” Evert said. “To me, this is her best shot.”

2. Changing of the guard

Despite winning the French Open, Muguruza is no clay-court specialist. She reached the final at Wimbledon last year before losing to Serena 6-4, 6-4. The transition from clay to the grass of Wimbledon courts, however, has foiled many pros. Few have been able to win at Roland Garros and Wimbledon back to back.

Muguruza showed how difficult that transition can be in her first match on grass after her triumph in Paris.

“I just have to keep an open mind,” the 22-year-old Spaniard told a news conference in Mallorca, Spain, after losing in her first match. “I came to Mallorca with little time to prepare. I mean, yesterday I was still in Paris, and this is a totally different surface. The truth is I’m disappointed, but now I’m just training harder to arrive ready for Wimbledon.”

Evert, however, said Muguruza has what it takes to have more success at Wimbledon and eventual claim the No. 1 ranking.

“I mean, who is going to be next, the next No. 1 player, after Serena is gone?” Evert said. “You’ve got to put your money on Muguruza because, first of all, you have to have power in today’s game. When I look at the next three, I look at [Agnieszka] Radwanska, Kerber and [Simona] Halep. I don’t think any of those three are going to end up No. 1 in the world. They don’t have that sort of overwhelming power. Muguruza does have it, very much like Serena, following in her footsteps.”

3. The Big Two

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic once were “The Big Three.” After winning Wimbledon, Andy Murray staked a claim to join the club. Age and injuries, however, have caught up with Federer and Nadal, leaving only Djokovic and Murray at the top.

Djokovic has beaten Murray at both the Australian Open and the French Open this year, and the Serb has won 13 of their past 15 meetings. But Murray is a two-time Grand Slam champion (2012 U.S. Open, 2013 Wimbledon) and remains a top contender.

“Everyone is chasing Djokovic, there’s no question about it,” John McEnroe said during Tuesday’s conference call. “Everybody else is trying to bridge the gap between [him and] Andy. Rafa’s not playing, Roger has been struggling to stay healthy for the first time really. … It’s going to be interesting this year, but clearly at the moment these guys have put themselves out here — Andy and Novak — and these other guys have to figure out ways to add to what they’ve got and to bridge this gap.”

Murray has reached the semifinals at the All England Club six of the past seven years, including a runner-up finish in 2012 before winning it in 2013. Djokovic is a three-time Wimbledon champion who has advanced to at least the semifinals every year since 2010.

I think people are starting to respect [Djokovic] more and more, to see the astronomical level of consistency he’s had.

John McEnroe, on Novak Djokovic’s recent dominance

“I think people are starting to respect [Djokovic] more and more, to see the astronomical level of consistency he’s had,” McEnroe said. “At the majors, if you look at his records, he’s approaching Roger’s records, which would seem insurmountable — 20 straight [quarterfinals], so many semis in a row. It’s amazing. People are starting to understand and appreciate him more.”

4. McEnroe vs. Lendl

You just thought that when McEnroe and Ivan Lendl put down their rackets in the early ’90s, the long, bitter rivalry had ended.

Not quite.

The two played 36 times during their career (Lendl holds a 21-15 edge), but the pair only met once at Wimbledon with McEnroe winning in the 1983 semifinals in four sets. Now, they could meet again in the next two weeks, this time in the coaching box in the final. Lendl is back coaching Andy Murray, while McEnroe has taken the reins of the big-hitting Canadian Raonic as a “consultant” for the grass-court season, at least.

Murray and Raonic met in the final at the Wimbledon tuneup event at Queen’s Club last week. Murray ended up winning his record fifth title at the tournament, but the 25-year-old Raonic was up a set and 3-0 before the Scot rallied to win 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3.

I think he understands he needs to be able to use that to his advantage, be more aggressive, take it to people.

John McEnroe, Milos Raonic’s coach, on his new pupil’s power game that includes “one of the best serves in the history of tennis”

“I think that Milos is someone that has a big game, obviously got a lot of shots, one of the best serves in the history of tennis; he has a huge forehand,” McEnroe said. “I think he understands he needs to be able to use that to his advantage, be more aggressive, take it to people.”

Having Lendl back in his corner could be just what Murray needs. Murray has had 10 coaches in 11 years, but none has been more productive than Lendl, who helped Murray win the U.S. Open, end his Wimbledon frustration and tack on an Olympic gold medal before parting ways in March 2014.

“The most successful period of my career was while I was working with Ivan,” Murray told The Guardian. “He’s single-minded and knows what it takes to win the big events. I know what he can offer. The experience he had psychologically helped me in the major competitions and they’re obviously the events I’m trying to win and am competing for. I hope he can bring that same experience and those same benefits that he did last time.”

Other prominent coaches who could find their way to the final include Becker (Djokovic); Ivan Ljubicic and Severin Luthi (Federer); Michael Chang (Kei Nishikori); Magnus Norman (Stan Wawrinka); Patrick Mouratoglou (Serena Williams); Sam Sumyk (Muguruza); Torben Beltz (Kerber), Thomas Hogstedt (Keys) and Nick Saviano (Eugenie Bouchard).

5. Keys, Coco and the rest

For American tennis fans, Serena remains at the top of the sport, but she’s not the only American who can do well at Wimbledon.

Madison Keys cracked the top 10 this week and arrives at Wimbledon having won the tuneup event at Birmingham, England, last week. It was Keys’ second career singles title. The Rock Island, Ill., native also reached the round of 16 at the French Open and advanced to the finals in May at the Italian Open in Rome, where she lost to Serena, 7-6 (5), 6-3. Keys also reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open this year.

I’ve known Madison since she was 10 years old. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that in her own time she will win a Grand Slam, but it has to be on her terms.

Chris Evert, on American player Madison Keys

“I know we all tried to rush Madison Keys,” Evert said. “I’ve known Madison since she was 10 years old. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that in her own time she will win a Grand Slam, but it has to be on her terms. She has to make all the decisions. I think we’ve seen some signs from her winning Birmingham. We saw it last year when she won Eastbourne. This girl can play on grass. I think it’s the only serve out there that matches Serena’s as far as power and being a threat, being unreturnable.”

Keys, along with No. 9 Venus Williams, No. 20 Sloane Stephens and No. 32 Coco Vandeweghe, give the U.S women a strong presence in the field. The grass could be a huge advantage for Vandeweghe, who reached the semifinals at Birmingham and won the grass-court event in s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands the week before.

“We’re seeing some of her best tennis,” Evert said of Vandweghe. “Again, I have to say that a lot of it’s because of the surface, grass. As I said before, athleticism and power have a lot to do with her success. Her game is tailor-made for the grass. … I think the grass accentuates the strengths in her game, which are the big first serve and the fact she can volley. She likes to come into the net and volley. Craig Kardon, I think, has done a great job with her.”

On the men’s side, Steve Johnson comes into Wimbledon having won his first ATP Tour level tournament Saturday at the Aegon Open in Nottingham, England, with a 7-6 (5), 7-5 victory over Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.

Wimbledon Championships

Monday-July 10

TV: ESPN, ESPN2

Monday’s TV: 6 a.m.-3:30 p.m., ESPN

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