LONDON -- When the All England Tennis Championships -- better known as Wimbledon -- begin Monday, attention will not focus on the recent French Open men's winner, Ivan Lendl, or on the reigning two-time men's champion, Boris Becker. At center stage will be the No. 2-seeded woman, Steffi Graf.
Two years ago in this column I predicted that, barring injury, Graf would be No. 1 some day. She is not there yet, but if she wins Wimbledon she will be. This 18-year-old West German prodigy won her first Grand Slam title at the French Open two weeks ago and already possesses that attribute of all top-ranked players: intimidation. Everybody is afraid of her; even Martina Navratilova, who double faulted three times in their Paris final.
At Wimbledon, Graf has a more difficult path to the finals than Navratilova, who is seeded No. 1. Graf is slotted to play veteran Wendy Turnbull in the fourth round, and then either Lori McNeil or Graf's teen-age doubles partner, Gabriela Sabatini. A semifinal pairing looks like Graf and Hana Mandlikova, who could face Pam Shriver in the quarterfinals.
Many players still give the edge to Navratilova because of Wimbledon's grass courts. The shorter points on this fastest of all surfaces may be just what Navratilova needs to avoid the nervousness that doomed her in Paris.
There are four interesting unseeded players in Navratilova's half of the draw -- Mary Joe Fernandez, 15, of Miami; Bettina Fulco, the world's No. 1-ranked junior from Argentina; Carling Bassett of Canada; and Patty Fendick, the undefeated NCAA champion this past spring.
The recently divorced Chris Evert, 32, is a question mark. She is more relaxed now, but still could lose to Helena Sukova in the quarterfinals, as she did in the semifinals at Eastbourne last week.
But this 1987 Wimbledon is Graf's show. She has that inner rage to win, so important in champions, and her Calamity Jane playing style is entertaining.
The men's event could be dull in the early rounds, especially with John McEnroe out because of injury. Of the 16 seeds, only No. 1 Becker and No. 7 Jimmy Connors have won the title, each twice. Even the British tabloids have been pleading for McEnroe to return: "Come Back Mac; All is Forgiven."
With McEnroe out and Connors a long shot, U.S. fortunes rest with Tim Mayotte, Brad Gilbert and David Pate.
My selections: Navratilova versus Sukova and Graf versus Mandlikova in the women's semifinals, with Navratilova the champion; Becker versus Mats Wilander and Lendl versus Stefan Edberg in the men's semifinals, with Becker defeating Lendl for the championship.