LOVERS of tennis at Wimbledon are already agreed: Last year's tournament is the one to beat. It was the year in which "the wave," the stand-up-sit-down crowd antic, came to a startled Centre Court; flashy Andre Agassi wore white; and the top women's seed, Monica Seles, mysteriously withdrew before the competition began.
This year, the 13-day tournament that begins June 22 will be different for Seles. To the French Open title with which she entered her last Wimbledon in 1990, the 18-year-old Yugoslav has added five other big wins: two French, two Australian, and one United States Open. But she has yet to demonstrate that she can cope with grass.
She will need more than grunt-propelled baseline drives to win a tournament that calls for the audacity of a Martina Navratilova, whose net-rushing and crunching serves helped her to a record nine singles titles, and the big serve, stab volley, and daring leaps of a Boris Becker. (Ask Becker about those leaps! After any match he'll show you his grass-stained hips and elbows.)
There's nothing the crowd would welcome more than a repeat of the French Open final, with Seles already halfway to a Grand Slam (Australian, French, Wimbledon, and American titles in one year) going against defending champion Steffi Graf, strengthened by the fact that she is a proven winner on grass. (She has won three Wimbledon singles titles.)
In the men's draw, the world's No. 1 player, Jim Courier, knows he still has a lot to prove. At Wimbledon last year he lost in straight sets in the quarterfinals to the eventual winner, Michael Stich. Now, like Seles, Courier finds himself halfway to a Grand Slam with a similar concern about the capriciousness of grass.
Smiling down on him will be three-time winner Boris Becker and two-time winner Stefan Edberg, both of whom - if fit - are always serious contenders. Stich has the ideal game for grass, and is still hungry enough to make a real fight of it, too. Also waiting to pounce are four other big servers, Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic, and Richard Krajicek.
The All England Club stands ready to welcome everyone with its customary civility and precise organization. But if you must rely on television (as half a billion viewers may), live coverage will be offered by the BBC in Great Britain and - during most of the second week (June 29 to July 3) - by NBC in the US (check local listings).