STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
OK. Get your strawberries and cream ready, because that is the traditional dish that people eat near the court at Wimbledon, and today is the first day of Wimbledon at the All England Club in London, where it's been held since 1877. For a preview, we're joined by Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim.
JON WERTHEIM: Thanks. Good to be here.
INSKEEP: Are you a strawberries and cream fan?
WERTHEIM: It's a novelty. It's sort of like mint julep at the Derby. You do it once and then you've done it. (Unintelligible)
INSKEEP: Oh, actually I thought mint juleps you needed two or three or four, just so you get a good sense of...
WERTHEIM: Exactly. I'm a Pimm's man.
INSKEEP: All right. Let's talk about tennis here.
Novak Djokovic comes in as the top seed. He's the defending champion, but hasn't had the kind of year you would expect of him.
WERTHEIM: He has not. He's coming off this defeat to Rafael Nadal on the clay of the French Open. He is the defending champion. He's also the top seed. And in men's tennis, there is a number one player, a number two player, a number three player and then there's the rest of the field. So Djokovic is not playing at the level he was last year. At the same time, he's one of the three guys who realistically is going to win this thing.
INSKEEP: Well, what's different about him, because he was so dominant a year ago?
WERTHEIM: You know, he was so dominant he almost created this impossible standard. I think by anyone else's measure, he's having a very fine 2012. Won the Australia Open, has won a number of other events, finals at the French Open.
But, you know, Rafael Nadal did not beat Djokovic once in 2011. This year, he's cracked the riddle. He's beaten him three times. And so you have this great sort of subplot, one versus two. And the fact that Nadal has beaten Djokovic three times, I think, is what is differentiating Djokovic's 2012 from his 2011.
INSKEEP: OK. Cracking the riddle, what does that entail when it comes to someone like Djokovic? Are players watching video of him and figuring out his game, trying to figure out little weaknesses?
WERTHEIM: Oh, good question, because Nadal has actually has been watching video, which is uncharacteristic for him. I mean, some of this is Xs and Os and tennis talk and looping forehands to the back hand. But I think a lot of this is just so mental. I think Nadal really had a mental block over Djokovic. And I think the fact that he's beaten him now three - the last three times they've played really is significant. I think this is much more about, sort of, winning that mental battle between the ears than anything between the lines.
INSKEEP: Then we have Roger Federer, who's not the number one player, but here he is at age 30 and he's within striking distance of being number one.
WERTHEIM: He is within striking distance. And he's also playing at Wimbledon. He's a very good grass court player. But tennis has a funny way of serving up these plot twists. And I have a sneaking suspicion Federer may actually, despite being the third seed, may actually come out of this as the champion.
INSKEEP: On the women's side, Maria Sharapova, number one seed, is she clear to win here, do you think?
WERTHEIM: Nothing is clear in women's tennis. But she is the favorite. She was a finalist last year. She's won this before. Won the French Open. You know, we've had this revolving door of number one players on the women's tour. And Sharapova, we hope, will finally add some heft - if that's the right word for a player of her physique - but hopefully she'll add some heft to that number one spot and follow up her French Open title with another title. Because we've had this sort of, again, this revolving door of top players in the women's game. And this parody doesn't seem to sit well with many fans.
INSKEEP: OK. Jon, I'm listening carefully to the tone of voice that you're using. And it seems to me that you're, maybe, just a tiny bit skeptical of some of the plot lines that are developing around Wimbledon here. What's really the story here? As you look this, what is the story?
WERTHEIM: Well, I think the men's game is going to this continuing battle. This is a great serial. It's Downton Abbey with a net - of Djokovic/Nadal. I mean, this sort of great rivalry. And the women's game is we need a player to step forward. Also, what's interesting this year is that the Olympics are coming right after Wimbledon and they'll be held at the All England Club. So you sort of have this funny back-to-back, where everybody's going to return to the scene of the crime two, three weeks after the tournament and then have another high stakes event here. So Wimbledon, it's very funny, usually it's the pinnacle of the season. And this year it almost feels like a tune-up fight.
INSKEEP: It's an appetizer of strawberries and cream.
WERTHEIM: There you go.
INSKEEP: Jon Wertheim with Sports Illustrated. Thanks very much.
WERTHEIM: Oh, anytime. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.