The lines for tickets already formed by lunchtime today, with people stuffed inside the tiny tents that have sprung up on the sidewalks around the All England club. The fans will be camping out until midmorning Monday, when the last few seats are released and the players, riding two weeks of hype spawned by a raucous French Open, finally take the courts to open Wimbledon.
"This should be a very good tournament; everybody's playing really good tennis," No. 3 seed Lindsay Davenport said after hitting some balls alongside Mary Pierce and Jana Novotna today. "Even the weather is pretty good; the courts are hard and playing really well."
Emotional comeback victories by Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf at the French Open earlier this month will serve as the backdrop for the two weeks of Wimbledon, which promise drama of their own on both sides of the draw.
On the women's side, Graf and defending champion Novotna will be fending off the group known as the "spice girls," a cadre of young stars that includes Martina Hingis, Venus Williams and Anna Kournikova. (Serena Williams has withdrawn because of flu.)
On the men's side, defending champion and top seed Pete Sampras has his hands full with Agassi, whose win at the French Open made him only the fifth man to complete the career Grand Slam.
Seeded fourth here, Agassi is playing some of his best tennis in years and is looking to hold both of Europe's major titles in the same summer, something no man has done since Bjorn Borg in 1980. Sampras also looks somewhat rejuvenated, having claimed his first title of the year at England's Queen's Club a week ago. With the victory Sampras regained the No. 1 ranking.
A five-time champion here, Sampras is looking at this tournament as his chance to win his 12th career Grand Slam, a total that would lift him into a tie with all-time leader Roy Emerson.
"I'm pretty much in the same boat I was last year at this time," said Sampras, who has played only 22 matches this year. "The first four or five months of last year were pretty [bad], and Wimbledon turned my year around. I hope that is the case this year. It's been an up-and-down year, and I haven't played very many matches."
The man Sampras beat in the 1995 final, three-time titlist Boris Becker, is back for one last time after announcing after his loss to Sampras that he had played his final Wimbledon.
No. 6 seed Tim Henman, who lost to Sampras at Queen's, is Britain's top hope for its first men's title in 63 years and would meet Sampras again in the semifinals if both advance that far. No. 2 seed Patrick Rafter of Australia also has a tough draw, although at the moment he's got an even tougher schedule. He was supposed to play in the final in a tune-up tournament in the Netherlands today, but the match was rained out and re-scheduled for Monday. Rafter's first-round match here against qualifier Cristiano Caratti is scheduled for Tuesday.
"Pat has got a really good game for grass, but he's never really done that well -- he's yet to reach the quarterfinals, as a matter of fact," said Australian Davis Cup captain and three-time Wimbledon champion John Newcombe, who helps coach Rafter. "He feels that he doesn't move as well on grass as he does on a hard court. I believe that's a little bit in his mind.
"But I had a gut feeling about five weeks ago that Pat was going to win Wimbledon this year, and I haven't strayed away from that."
Graf also had been targeting this tournament as her breakthrough, her prize after two years of struggles with injuries. But instead the seven-time Wimbledon champion surprised herself and Hingis by winning at Roland Garros. Hingis had been in control of the final, leading through the middle of the second set, but after a series of temper tantrums she almost defaulted and eventually was overcome by Graf.
The No. 1 seed here, Hingis does not intend to make the same mistake twice.
"There's no way that could happen again," she told reporters after playing a doubles match at Eastbourne last week. "I'm still young and I hope I can learn from it. You can't do what I did and be happy about it.
"The rules are made for something, and I didn't respect them."
As the No. 2 seed, Graf could meet Hingis again in the final, although Graf is not looking that far ahead. Dedicated to enjoying herself, she will play mixed doubles here with 40-year-old John McEnroe, who won the over-35 doubles championship at the French Open. Novotna said she, too, has decided to relax this year. Labeled a choker after losing in the finals here in 1993 and again in 1997, she feels she redeemed herself with her victory over Nathalie Tauziat last year.
"It's always more difficult to defend a title than win it, but I really think the pressure is on someone else this year," said Novotna, seeded fifth but recovering from an ankle injury suffered during a doubles match at the French Open. "I have no idea who that will be, but we'll see in a few days. It's really going to be interesting."
When: Today through July 4.
Where: All England Club, Wimbledon.
Defending champions: Pete Sampras, Jana Novotna.
Top seeds: Sampras, Martina Hingis.
Today's TV: 9 a.m., HBO.
Today's featured matches: Men -- Sampras (1), Orlando, vs. Scott Draper, Australia; Yevgeny Kafelnikov (3), Russia, vs. Magnus Larsson, Sweden; Arnaud Di Pasquale, France, vs. Tim Henman (6), Britain; Xavier Malisse, Belgium, vs. Mark Philippoussis (7), Australia; Greg Rusedski (9), Britain, vs. Jason Stoltenberg, Australia; Carlos Moya (12), Spain, vs. Jan Kroslak, Slovakia. Women -- Ludmila Cervanova, Slovakia, vs. Steffi Graf (2), Germany; Cristina Torrens-Valero, Spain, vs. Monica Seles (4), Sarasota, Fla.; Venus Williams (6), Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., vs. Miriam Oremans, Netherlands; Nathalie Tauziat (8), France, vs. Lucie Ahl, Britain; Amanda Coetzer (12), South Africa, vs. Nicole Pratt, Australia; Barbara Schwartz, Austria, vs. Anna Kournikova (17), Russia.