The aftermath of Friday's draw for Wimbledon was show time for pessimists, cynics - and a few folk who regard themselves as realists. All home interest will be buried by Wednesday, they reckoned, as name after British name was pulled out of the bag by the All England Club chief executive, Ian Ritchie, and stuck on the board opposite somebody famous.
Tim Henman to play the incomparable Roger Federer if they both reach the second round, Greg Rusedski up against Marat Safin, Alex Bogdanovich versus Rafael Nadal. And Andy Murray tackling a seed first up, albeit only a South American clay specialist rated 31st out of the 32 favoured players offered a seed spot.
Nicolas Massu, the winner of gold at the Athens Olympics, has never progressed beyond Wimbledon's third round in six tries, so there is a glint in the Murray eye at his prospects of matching his acclaimed feat of 2005, when he announced his presence to the tennis world with a couple of wins and a gallant five-set loss to David Nalbandian on Centre Court.
You have to go along with Murray when he maintains that the match is winnable, and an easy-looking second round (Bjorn Phau or Julien Benneteau) is in line before the Scottish teenager is due to come up against Andy Roddick, finalist for the last two summers. Even that will not faze Murray, since he beat Roddick last time out in the semi-finals of the San Jose event he flaunts as his first ATP tour title.
But he admitted yesterday: "I don't expect to go deep into the tournament." Since that breathtaking success in February, when he also knocked over Lleyton Hewitt in the final, things have tended to "gang agley" a bit, with six victories in 18 matches allied to ongoing concerns about his ability to last the course in best-of-five set contests.
However, two of those wins, on the grass at Nottingham last week, were of the highest order, against Dmitry Tursunov (Henman's scourge) and Max Mirnyi, the brickhouse-sized Beast of Belarus.
Though he will compete at Wimbledon without a coach, Murray is not short of advisers, both family and managerial, and perhaps the soundest counselling they have offered is for their boy to lighten up a bit. A Murray smile has frequently looked as forced as one of Gordon Brown's but now, apparently, the Scottish coin has dropped and he is promising "I'll be letting my personality show a little more", after acknowledging: "A lot of people say I'm permanently miserable on court, and in a way I agree."
Of course, he can't resist adding: "If you had to put up with everything I did when I was 18, how do you think you would have felt?" Well, perhaps, Andy, but a swollen bank account and sporting fame do not come without a deposit of some kind.
He added: "Obviously I'm a perfectionist and when I'm playing badly I do get frustrated and upset and that's probably contributed to me losing some matches. So I think I will change but it doesn't mean it will happen overnight. It may take two months, six months or a year."
As for his behaviour on court, Murray said: "I am not going to go into my shell when I'm out there. You have to be yourself and if it comes out, it comes out."
Murray also came out with the rather alarming statement that he does not have many friends, later claiming it was a joke which had backfired, rather like his comment about wearing a Paraguay shirt for England's opening World Cup football match. As for today's game against Ecuador, he said: "I am going to wear the black of the referee. I don't really mind who wins, I'm not too bothered."
Getting into Wimbledon's second week, for everyone on the starting blocks, is what it's all about, as Henman confirms, since it's a whole new ball game at that stage. Federer, bidding to join Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras as an Open era four-in-row Wimbledon champion, will have rented his Wimbledon house for the fortnight, a decision which it is difficult to challenge as foolish, and the Swiss is confident in that engagingly modest fashion of his that he will be around come the day of the World Cup final, which also happens to be the climax of the SW19 fiesta.
Henman asserts there are more serious challengers than ever since the grass was rendered slower and the balls made heavier, but Federer himself cannot see beyond Roddick and Hewitt, both in the other half of the draw for a place in the final.
The ones in Federer's own half with the credentials to inflict damage are Nalbandian, who has shown how to outlast him, and Mario Ancic, the gangling Croatian who is the last one to beat Federer at Wimbledon, in the first round four years ago. Richard Gasquet, who will walk out with the champion tomorrow to open the Centre Court proceedings, might wish to contest that opinion, as he ran the great man to 7-6 6-7 6-4 at Halle a dozen days ago and followed that up with a successful week at Nottingham. But as we know well of Federer, when the going gets tough the champ revs up.
Just who will rev up most effectively to win the women's singles is a tough one. Of last year's finalists, Lindsay Davenport has cried off, possibly for good, and Venus Williams is short of matches but very upbeat indeed about her chances.
Amélie Mauresmo, the world No 1, is top seed and in her last three appearances has progressed as far as the semi-finals. She will also be cheered by the news that the Belgian duo, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, are left to scrap it out in the other half of the draw, though one of them will surely make it into Wimbledon's big ladies' day a week on Saturday.
Henin, of course, is a wonderful scrapper, as she showed for the third time at Roland Garros, though she may be undermined by the faster pace of the courts. There is another factor in her quarter of the line-up, Martina Hingis, who is rolling along impressively on her return to the game, having won the Italian Open and earned herself 12th seeding. As 1997 champion, Hingis certainly knows her way around the premises and significant progress on her part would be highly popular with our sentimental public.
Whether Hingis has the stamina to set up a Swiss double in the singles finals alongside Federer is less certain, since overcoming two Belgians, as she will have to, ranks with the task in recent years of beating both Williams sisters to win a title.
Year in the life: Raising hope, losing status
JUNE 2005: Enters Wimbledon as wild card. As last Briton in third round he loses to David Nalbandian after holding a two-set lead.
AUGUST: Wins first two titles in Challenger Series. Makes debut in ATP Masters in Cincinnati, then in US Open, beating Andrei Pavel in five sets despite vomiting. Loses to Arnaud Clement in five sets.
SEPTEMBER: Plays first Davis Cup singles against Switzerland. Loses to Roger Federer in first ATP final in Bangkok. Enters world top 100.
OCTOBER: Beats Tim Henman in Davidoff Swiss Indoor tournament.
JANUARY 2006: Loses to Juan Ignacio Chela in first round at first Australian Open and is warned for racket abuse. Criticises media for excessively high expectations.
FEBRUARY: Wins first ATP title at SAP Open in San Jose, beating Andy Roddick in semi-final and Lleyton Hewitt in final. Becomes highest-ranked British player.
MARCH: Injures ankle at Nasdaq 100 Open in Miami.
APRIL: Fined £1,400 for swearing at umpire in Glasgow during Davis Cup doubles against Serbia & Montenegro. Misses singles due to illness. Sacks coach Mark Petchey.
MAY: Makes debut in French Open but loses to Gaël Monfils in first round. Suffers from back ailment, which he attributes to growing pains. Loses status as No 1 Briton.
SIX TO WATCH IN THE MEN'S DRAW
Marcos Baghdatis Cyprus. Ranked: 17
A hero in his homeland before his 21st birthday after marching through to the Australian Open final unseeded. There was a civic welcome on his return for the man nicknamed "Mr January", who should do much better than last year's first-round exit on his debut.
Dominik Hrbaty Slovakia. Ranked: 22
Though the third round two years ago was the best of his nine Wimbledons, he has an all-court game as varied as his interests, which range from collecting New Zealand coins to mountain biking, deep-sea fishing and skiing. This is his 39th straight Grand Slam, a tour best.
Gael Monfils France. Ranked: 23
His country's answer to Andy Murray; as talented but more animated, hence the nickname "Sliderman". Winner of three of the four junior Grand Slams and the world No 1 junior in 2004, the 6ft 3in right-hander has wasted no time establishing himself in the world's top 25.
Paradorn Srichaphan Thailand. Ranked: 36
Anyone who can find time to parade shaven-headed through the streets of Bangkok atop an elephant on the way to a week's service as a Buddhist monk is worth a second glance as he bids to improve on his previous Wimbledon best, a fourth-round place in 2003.
Ivo Karlovic Croatia. Ranked: 58
Here is the tennis tour's tallest man at 6ft 10in, someone on nodding terms with the pilots of passing aircraft. No surprise that his biggest weapon is the serve. He is the runaway leader of the ATP Tour ace race with more than 500 this year, so be prepared for lots of tie-breaks.
Marat Safin Russia. Ranked: 87
Quite why he has slipped so far down the rankings not even he knows, except for a depressing sequence of injuries. If fully fit, be prepared for fireworks from someone who was the world No 1 less than six years ago and has won the Grand Slam titles of Australia and the US.
SIX TO WATCH IN THE WOMEN'S DRAW
Nicole Vaidisova Czech Republic. Ranked: 13
This latest product of the Nick Bollettieri Academy is very much in the mould of Maria Sharapova - tall, blonde and talented. Though reaching her 17th birthday only two months ago, she won three titles in a row last year and was a French Open semi-finalist this month.
Dinara Safina Russia. Ranked: 17
Marat's little sister, and it shows in the fiery commitment which has seen her soar up the rankings. But she is also a sentimentalist, roses being her favourite flower. Seeded 15th - one of nine seeded Russians - Dinara is confident of doing better than last year's third round.
Ana Ivanovic Serbia. Ranked: 22
One of the blossoming battalion of Serbs, men and women, making their mark, she knocked out the French favourite Amélie Mauresmo at last year's Roland Garros with her free-hitting style and has not looked back. Watch for her superstition - avoiding walking on the lines.
Jamea Jackson United States. Ranked: 54
Inspired by the success of her black American role models, the Williams sisters, Jamea has overcome her lack of height (5ft 4in) with the gritty excellence which saw her overturn Maria Sharapova in Birmingham last week and finish runner-up, her best result to date.
Tatiana Golovin France. Ranked: 32
With her Russian sporting background (father Gregori was an ice hockey coach) the exotically named Tatiana plays the extrovert, attacking tennis guaranteed to attract at Wimbledon, and anywhere else for that matter. France's great hope to become the new Mary Pierce.
Karolina Sprem Croatia. Ranked: 64
Best remembered at Wimbledon for her 2004 victory over Venus Williams and going on to the quarter-finals, her skills are as wide-ranging as her two favourite films, Notting Hill and Pearl Harbor, and she is worth watching for the ever-present ability to "do another Venus".Reuse content