The sun is shining brightly in SW19, heralding the start of the greatest tennis tournament in the world. The grass is green, the strawberries ripe, and the players are set for a summer of tennis in this part of south-west London.
Not only will players be hoping to compete for the next two weeks, but some will be returning to Wimbledon in late July to try and win gold at the London Games.
But right now, their minds will be focused on winning the titles being defended by Serbian Novak Djokovic and Czech Petra Kvitova.
Djokovic remains number one in the world, and despite retaining his Australian Open crown, has not reached the heights of his stellar 2011 season.
Kvitova’s variable form has led few to believe she could retain the title here, despite also reaching the semi-finals in 2010.
In response to Djokovic dominating 2011, both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have raised their games, slowly closing the gap between them and the world number one. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Djokovic will successfully defend last year’s victory, although in Monday’s first match on Centre Court on Monday he saw off the challenge of Juan Carlos-Ferrero 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 to ease through to the second round.
Janko Tipsarevic, the 8th seed, survived a potentially tricky encounter with David “Queensgate” Nalbandian, winning 6-4 7-6 (7/4) 6-2, and could pose a threat as the tournament develops.
But Tomas Berdych, always a threat on the grass, should have met Djokovic in the quarter-finals. Except that he was humbled by Ernests Gulbis 7-6 (7/5) 7-6 (7/4) 7-6 (7/4) in the first round.
Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova has gradually worked her way back to the top of the rankings, reaching the final in Australia, and lifting the French Open title at Roland Garros.
Returning to the scene of her first Grand Slam success back in 2004 at the age of 17, she is seen as the favourite to regain the Venus Rose bowl, and eased through the first round 6-2, 6-3 against 133rd-ranked Anastasia Rodionova in Monday’s action.
And what of the home hopes?
Andy Murray gives the British the only realistic hope in the men’s draw when he begins his challenge on Tuesday, although his path to the title is littered with many more-than-difficult encounters. The rest of the male contingent has had to rely on wildcard entries, with only 25-year-old Scot Jamie Baker in with a chance of making it to the second round.
Cast your minds back to just a couple of weeks ago at the French Open, where home favourite Virginie Razzano caused one of the big upsets in grand slam history by beating Serena Williams in the first round at Roland Garros.
|Down and out in London – Venus falls in round one [EPA]|
The British will certainly be looking for performances full of heart from their players, but Williams must be an obvious contender for the title, should she survive round one, unlike her sister Venus Williams.
The seven-time Grand Slam champion was eliminated 6-1, 6-3 by Russia’s Elena Vesnina of Russia on Monday in the latest setback in her return to tennis after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. It would be a sad farewell should this prove to be her final Wimbledon.
If Victoria Azarenka repeats some of her early-season form, which saw her win the Australian Open and reach number one status, she too could live up to her second seed ranking.
Angelique Kerber – who is already through to round two – and Marion Bartoli could prove to be contenders as the tournament wears on, given recent form. But it will be Kim Clijsters’ last Wimbledon, the four-time grand slam winner beating a disappointing Jelena Jankovic in the first round.
It’s difficult to know who will come out on top at the end of these two weeks.
Coming into the tournament, the top players either did not play, or did not perform leading to many question marks over who can really challenge for the title. As with any grand slam tournament, it will take a sustained effort to survive until the end, and the real favourites may not stamp their mark until the second week.
However, throughout the tournament I will be bringing you the news, interviews and statistics as they come from this part of the world.
Stick around – if the first day is anything to go by, there are going to be shocks-a-plenty.