This Wimbledon, the first and the last of the world's great grass-court tennis championships, is a tournament without favors or favorites. Martina Navratilova, determined to score her ninth singles victory and beat the record of eight she now holds jointly with Helen Wills Moody, is actually seeded second. Young Steffi Graf of West Germany, who just turned 19 less than a week ago, has taken over as top seed, this despite Martina's victory over her in last year's final.
In the men's singles, defending champion Pat Cash of Australia is seeded fourth, which means he could meet West Germany's Boris Becker, who won the two previous years, in the quarterfinals.
In the same half of the draw are both top-seeded Ivan Lendl and France's Henri Leconte. Unexpectedly, these same two met at Nottingham in the English midlands a few days ago when warming up on grass and Leconte won, three sets to one.
Meanwhile, Becker, who is seeded only sixth here, defeated Stefan Edberg in the traditional warmup tournament at Queen's Club in London. Edberg, No. 3, is seeded to meet No. 5 Jimmy Connors in the quarterfinals.
John McEnroe, back at Wimbledon again after a two-year absence, should meet No. 2 Mats Wilander of Sweden in the quarterfinals. Wilander of course won the French championship a couple of weeks ago.
Along the way in the two weeks of competition begining today, however, McEnroe could very well run into Kevin Curren once more. Curren beat ``Mac'' in the quarterfinals in 1985, when the former champion last played here.
Connors is in the same half of the draw. So is Edberg. And so is hard-serving Slobodan Zivojinovic of Yugoslavia. But still this appears to be the easier half of the draw.
Whoever advances in the other half, whether it's Cash, Becker, or Lendl, will feel he has proved himself champion already. The most probable final, according to the experts, is going to be Lendl versus Wilander. But you never can tell, particularly on grass.
The grass this year could be very, very fast. The fickle English weather has been more English than ever. After a tremendously wet spell in this part of the country, when the grass of May grew as if it was already midsummer, we have had a long dry spell, climaxing just before this tournament in a run of warm sunny days accompanied by a drying wind.
This should be grass-court tennis at its fastest and most exciting.
Among the women, Navratilova is seeded to meet Natalia Zvereva of the Soviet Union in the quarterfinals. Natalia beat her in the recent French championships. But that was on clay. Not many here think the Russian will repeat her win on Wimbledon's grass.
Graf should meet Manuela Maleeva of Bulgaria in the quarters. Third-seeded Pam Shriver is expected to face Argentina's Gabriela Sabatini. And No. 4 Chris Evert is seeded to meet Helena Sukova of Czechoslovakia..
Alas for Great Britain, none of this country's tennis players are given much chance. Andrew Castle may face Wilander in the second round. Two years ago Castle took Wilander to five sets and this was about the best British performance for many years, at least in the men's section. Can he do it again?
Jo Durie is expected to do well in the women's section. But it will be a surprise if she reaches the quarterfinals. She holds the mixed doubles title with her partner Jeremy Bates, so she should not be written off by any means.
In the men's doubles, titleholders Ken Flach and Robert Seguso are seeded first. Many observers, however, fancy the Frenchman Guy Forget and his Czech partner Tomas Smid.
Holders of the women's doubles crown are Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of West Germany and Sukova of Czechoslovakia. The favorites, though, are Navratilova and Shriver.
Whoever wins, provided the weather holds, this should be a truly splendid Wimbledon.
From a dramatic and theatrical standpoint, it would be interesting to see another final featuring McEnroe, who in his heyday reached the championship match on five occasions and won it three times.
Dispassionately, Lendl really ought to win this great old tournament at last. He lost to Leconte at Nottingham mainly because he seemed unable to produce on grass the powerful serve he produces on clay. Why remains a mystery.
Becker is determined to show that his rapid departure last year was due to a lack of total fitness. This year, as he showed at Queen's Club, he is as fit as ever. He really hammered Edberg. But both Lendl and Becker cannot meet in the final.
Technically, Wilander ought to win. But as yet the talented Swede has not shown to best advantage on grass. His time may have come, though, as he and Graf, winners of the men's and women's titles respectively in both Australia and France, continue their bids for the Grand Slam.
The latter, of course, figures to face a formidable obstacle in Navratilova, who always produces her best on grass. Can Steffi now beat her on this fast fickle surface? My word, that'll be a final if it comes to pass!