Defending champion Serena Williams, in just her second tournament since winning her fourth Wimbledon title last July, is returning to The Big W. And so is ESPN as the principal U.S. media rights-holder to tennis' most prestigious tourney.
With tennis Hall of Famer Chris Evert joining its announce team, the worldwide leader's all-court game, beginning June 20, encompasses a host of platforms, notably on ESPN HD, ESPN3.com, ESPN Mobile & ESPN Interactive, plus its first-ever 3D tennis coverage.
NBC is also on court during the middle weekend of The Championships, for one men's and women's semifinals, as well as its "Breakfast at Wimbledon" coverage of the ladies and gentleman's championships at 9 a.m. (ET) on July 2 and July 3, respectively. For its part, Tennis Channel has a significant presence at the All England Club with its Wimbledon Tonight show, featuring highlights, analysis, interviews and extensive match replays.
Much of the networks' coverage will be trained on Serena. The two-time defending champion, who hurt her foot by stepping on a piece of glass, an injury that necessitated a pair of operations, and suffered through pulmonary embolism in her lungs, is certainly not battle-ready. She only returned to the court for the grass tune-up at Eastbourne, where she lost to 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva, in the second round.
Big sister Venus has also endured her share of maladies, as a bad hip kept her out of tournament play following the Australian Open until Eastbourne, where she lasted one round longer than Serena.
Venus has five Wimbledons titles, one more than her kid sister. Since 2000, the Venus Rosewater Dish has belonged to the Williams sisters save for borrowings by Amelie Mauresmo (2006) and Maria Sharapova (2004).
Speaking of the comely, grunting Russian, Sharapova is among a handful of top hopefuls in the wide-open women's draw, which unfortunately does not include world No. 2 Kim Clijsters, who had to withdraw with a foot injury. Top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki is joined by other Europeans in pursuit of their initial slam: Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Jankovic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Julia Georges. Two others, Marion Bartoli and Petra Kvitova, who succumbed to the French woman in three sets at the Eastbourne finals, are also playing well. Aussie Samantha Stosur, who has disappointed since reaching the final of the 2010 French Open, also has enough game to make a run.
The 2010 and 2011 French Open champions Francesca Schiavonne and China's Li Na, who beat the Italian earlier this month in Paris, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, the victor at the 2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French, also have to be considered threats.
On the men's side of the net, it's largely about the "trivalry" of defending champion Rafa Nadal, this year's hot player, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer. Nole was undefeated in 2011 until the Swiss maestro ended his run in the semis at the French Open. Federer, by the way, is the all-time Grand Slam king with 16 majors, including six at The Big W, where he'll try to match Pete Sampras' collection of seven.
Fourth-seeded Andy Murray would face Nadal -- who earned his sixth Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy to tie Bjorn Borg for the most French titles of the modern era -- in the semifinals, if form and the draws hold to form. A Scot, Murray bears the weight of the realm -- no man from the U.K. has taken home a major since Fred Perry was the Wimbledon and U.S. Open king in 1936. That's almost a full 75 years without the makings of a major.
Nadal faces pressure of a different sort: He will lose his No.1 ranking unless he defends his title. Even if Nadal were to win the title, Djokovic would ascend to the top spot if he becomes a finalist.
Can anyone else make a run on the men's side? Hard-hitting Swede Robin Soldering and last year's finalist and Federer conqueror, Tomas Berdych, are certainly on Hawkeye's radar. The 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, still looking to regain top form following a wrist injury that cost him much of 2010, might make some noise as could Canadian newcomer Milos Raonic. Erratic Frenchmen Gaels Monfils and Jo Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Nadal on grass in the quarters, before losing to Murray in the final of Queens, have enough weapons to make life difficult for the best players. Some also point to the the creative Alexandr Dolgopolov as someone who warrants watching. Andy Roddick, a three-time finalist here, and Mardy Fish, are the top Americans.
And ESPN2 has been promoting a spicy first-round match on June 21 at 7 a.m.: John Isner and Frenchmen Nicolas Mahut, the combatants in last year's three-day, 11 hour-plus match in which the American captured the fifth set 70-68 -- yes 70-68 -- will re-engage.
As for where you can see the action over the course of the fortnight, ESPN2 and its HD counterpart will serve up 100 hours of coverage, much of it from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (ET), while broadband service ESPN3.com has nearly 650 in store. Live matches can also be espied on ESPN Mobile, which is doubling its delivery to some 77 hours, and ESPN Interactive by DirecTV subs. Customers to the top DBS provider can watch the best in grass court tennis over the first seven days of the tournament via a six-screen mosaic, culminating with the "best day in tennis" on Monday June 27, when the men's and women's rounds of 16 will be contested, weather-permitting.
ESPN Deportes and ESPN International are also in the mix. So, too, is the WatchESPN App, for fans with Apple or Android devices and who receive ESPN's linear networks as part of their video subscription via Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks or Verizon FiOS TV. The app will present ESPN2's live coverage, in addition to ESPN3.com's multi-screen offering.
This year's fortnight will also mark ESPN 3D's initial foray into tennis. The 3D network will showcase the men's semifinals and the women's and men's finals from Wimbledon on a delayed basis in deference to NBC's broadcast rights in the U.S. As part of a multiyear partnership, the All England Club, the BBC and Sony, ESPN's 3D sponsor/partner, is also scheduled to air the same matches in high-definition 3D and make the feed -- which is ESPN is taking and then adding its own commentators -- available to 3D-capable cinemas around the world.
ESPN Classic will punctuate the programmer's Wimbledon 2011 coverage with a July 4 overhead encore -- 30 years to the day -- of the 1981 final in which John McEnroe ended Borg's streak of five consecutive championships. That historic match is part of HBO Sports documentary McEnroe-Borg: Fire and Ice, which is currently airing on the premium network.
Shot on an English pub-styled set at the All-England Lawn Tennis Association, Tennis Channel's Wimbledon Primetime proffers news, interviews, the day's best plays, original features, previously unseen matches and coverage from around the hallowed tournament grounds. The bulk of the program is dedicated to the most important on-court action of that particular afternoon, utilizing the BBC television coverage and commentary that is widely renowned within the tennis community. Bill Macatee and Martina Navratilova, who have hosted the program
since its 2008 inception, will be joined by Justin Gimelstob and for the first time Lindsay Davenport.
Tennis will televise 40 hours of first-run Wimbledon Primetime for 10 nights at this year's tournament, and another 40 hours of same-night, encore telecasts. The program will air from June 20-29 from 7 p.m.-11 p.m. (ET). During the first week, June 20-26, the show's encore presentation will immediately follow its first-run conclusion at 11 p.m. (ET), and run through 3 a.m. On June 27-29, Wimbledon Primetime's encore presentationwill air from 12 a.m.-4 a.m.