The 100th All England Lawn Tennis Championships -- better known as Wimbledon -- begin Monday. Although the tournament began in 1877, some years were missed during World Wars I and II. Missing this year will be three-time winner John McEnroe, who is a new father, and 16-year-old Steffi Graf, who was seeded third in women's singles but is recovering from an illness.
The Wimbledon committee has the discretion to seed as they choose, and there was some fiddling with the men. The Association of Tennis Professionals' (ATP) computer ranking has two-time winner Jimmy Connors at No. 6, but Wimbledon seeded him third. French Open finalist Mikael Pernfors is a surprising No. 13 and Martin Jaite of Argentina is 14th. The women's seedings are almost the same as their Women's Tennis Association (WTA) rankings.
London's bookies are hard pressed to name a strong favorite among the men. However, seven names are on most lists: Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Connors, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Tim Mayotte, and Brad Gilbert. Only Becker and Connors have won this event.
The luckiest draw goes to Connors. Barring a flare-up of his strained groin muscle, which caused him to default to Mayotte at Queens Club a week ago, he should reach the fourth round with little opposition.
Guillermo Vilas, the 15th seed, has the worst draw, facing Pat Cash in the first round. Cash, a 1984 U.S. Open and Wimbledon semifinalist, was off for seven months because of a back injury and recently underwent an appendectomy, but says he will be fit to play.
Lendl just won his second French Open and is properly the favorite. But he has never won a grass court title. Wilander is my favorite simply because he twice has won another major grass title: the Australian Open. He plays mostly from the backcourt, but his serve-and-volley play has improved.
Connors is a big question mark. His chances are suspect not only because of his injury, but because he is nearly 34 years old. He has never been a serve-and-volley player so he wins few cheap, quick points on this fast grass. However, no one fights harder and no man has won more professional tournaments.
Becker is going through an interesting sophomore year, but is adjusting nicely. He has the wins on fast surfaces, unbounded confidence, and a good draw. He is in Edberg's quarter along with Pernfors and Gilbert. Edberg is likely to have a tough test in the second round against Paul Annacone, who reached the quarterfinals two years ago and just missed being seeded this year.
Mayotte is due for a major victory and this may be the time and place. He always plays well here and reached the semifinals in 1982. His confidence should be buoyed by his victory at Queens Club, where he defeated Edberg, Becker, and an ailing Connors in succession.
A Californian brought up on fast surfaces, Gilbert is extremely quick and can play incredible streaks of stellar tennis. And Kevin Curren, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Africa, reached the final last year, losing to Becker.
The women's field is in three layers: Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd in the first; Hana Mandlikova, Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, and Pam Shriver in the second; and the rest of the field. Only Navratilova and Evert have won Wimbledon. Gabriella Sabatini, another teen-age phenomenon, is a better clay court player and, though seeded 11th, is not a real threat.
Come July 5-6, the dates for the women's and men's finals respectively, look for Navratilova and Wilander to emerge victorious. Navratilova is at home on grass and Wilander has the ideal temperament for mercurial weather. But the men's field is almost certain to be decimated by upsets from the first day.