• Wimbledon preview

Wimbledon the battleground in fight for No. 1

Jo Carter June 23, 2012
Novak Djokovic is the defending champion at Wimbledon © Getty Images
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If winning a seventh Wimbledon title wasn't motivation enough for Roger Federer, it comes with the chance of returning to world No. 1 for the first time in more than two years.

The Swiss would become the first player over the age of 30 to hold the top ranking since Andre Agassi in 2003. But we get ahead of ourselves - winning Wimbledon alone is not enough for Federer to usurp Novak Djokovic at the top of men's tennis - if he were to play Djokovic in the final on July 7, Djokovic would remain at No. 1.

Rafael Nadal appears to have restored some parity in his rivalry with Djokovic - having slumped to seven consecutive defeats at the hands of the Serb, he has now won their last three encounters, including victory in the French Open final. He too, has the chance to return to world No. 1 but needs to win the title and the unlikely event that Djokovic fails to reach the last four.

With the scene set for an intriguing fortnight at Wimbledon, we pick out some likely contenders.

Men

The man to beat
He may have missed out on an historic 'Nole Slam' with defeat to Nadal in the French Open final, but make no mistake, Novak Djokovic's appetite to defend his Wimbledon crown will not have diminished. In winning at the All England Club last year, he achieved two of his lifelong dreams - to win arguably the most prestigious of the grand slams, and to become world No. 1 for the first time. He now faces a fight to keep both. He may have a tricky first-round test in the shape of Juan Carlos Ferrero, but Djokovic is understandably the favourite with odds of 13/8 with bet365.

Wimbledon in his blood
Victory at the All England Club would see Roger Federer equal Pete Sampras' record of seven Wimbledon titles. Although he has failed to reach the semi-finals in his last two appearances, Federer and Wimbledon are almost as synonymous as strawberries and cream. When Federer turned 30 last August, he was repeatedly forced to brush off claims his career was in decline and he was considering hanging up his racket, yet less than 12 months later he is in contention to return to the top of the pile for a third time. He has been in good form this season, and will be desperate to end a 29-month wait for a 17th slam. Federer is 9/2 to win with bet365.

Murray's mountain
If Andy Murray is to finally break his grand slam duck, he will have to do it the hard way after being handed a nightmare draw. If it was not enough that he will almost certainly have to play two of the greatest players of all time - Murray is seeded to meet Nadal in the semi-finals for the third successive year, with either Djokovic or Federer likely to be waiting in the final - he faces some real giants in the early stages. Providing he makes it past first-round opponent Nikolay Davydenko, then big-serving duo Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson make for potential banana skins in rounds two and three, while Milos Raonic or Queen's champion Marin Cilic could await in the fourth round. All in all, a nightmare draw, especially when you consider that he heads into Wimbledon without a win on grass. But this could all conversely work in his favour - like England at Euro 2012, he could flourish with reduced expectation. If you really want to put you moolah on Murray, wait until he is a set down in one of his opening rounds (which he inevitably will be before rallying to win). That's the best value you'll get from the Scot this year. (10/1)

Dark horse
Milos Raonic could well cause an upset or two at Wimbledon. It is almost certainly a case of when, not if, he breaks into the top ten. His only previous appearance at SW19 ended in injury last year. With a monstrous serve, and his dark curly locks, there are echoes of seven-time champion Sampras in the Canadian. He took Federer to three sets in Halle last week. Could be well worth a flutter at 33/1 withbet365.

Maria Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam in Paris © PA Photos
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Women

The world No. 1
Maria Sharapova became only the tenth woman to complete a career Grand Slam at the French Open, doing so in the most efficient fashion - one win at each of the four majors. Clay is not her favoured surface, but her sheer power and determination saw her triumph at Roland Garros. Having shrugged off a losing streak in major finals (she had lost in the final of two the last three slams before her victory in Paris), Sharapova returns to the All England Club, where she won her first major as a 17-year-old. When her serve fires, there is no stopping the Russian. Sharapova is 11/4 to win a second Wimbledon crown with bet365.

Bewared the wounded Vika
Having lost her No. 1 ranking to Sharapova after the French Open, all eyes will be on Victoria Azarenka as to how she responds: victory at Wimbledon would see her return to the top of the pile. While historically Azarenka has not performed well at SW19, she reached the semi-finals - falling to eventual champion Petra Kvitova - last year. With the Australian Open trophy already in the bag, she has proven she can compete on the big stage - now it is time to show she is not just a one-hit wonder. Azarenka is 7/1 with bet365.

The romantic's pick
With Kim Clijsters already confirming she will hang up her racket after this year's US Open, this will be the Belgian's last chance to taste singles glory at Wimbledon. Clijsters, who made history when she won the US Open as a wildcard on her return to the sport in 2009, won the women's doubles at the All England Club with Ai Sugiyama back in 2003, but has never made it past the semi-finals in the singles. Having done so much for the sport, few would begrudge Clijsters victory on the hallowed turf at SW19. Clijsters is 18/1 with bet365.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk