Top Contenders To Watch For On Wimbledon's Center Court

This year's Wimbledon draw promises some intriguing encounters between young and "older" players, and between seeded players and bothersome early-round opponents. Apart from Monica Seles, who doesn't return to tennis until next month, the only notable absentees are the clay court specialists Thomas Muster (resting after his victory in the French Open), and the 1994 French Open finalists, Sergi Bruguera (champion) and Alberto Berasategui, who have withdrawn because of injury.

The top seed in the women's draw, Steffi Graf, recently regained her No. 1 ranking along with her fourth French Open title. Provided she's truly fit, has the sort of momentum that could carry her to her sixth Wimbledon women's singles title.

Her main rivals will be defending champion Conchita Martinez and the world's No. 2, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, even though Sanchez Vicario has not got past the quarterfinals in eight Wimbledon appearances.

Fifth-seeded Mary Pierce (who won last year's French Open) may be too preoccupied with her first experience on Wimbledon's grass to challenge seriously. The projected semifinals, according to the seed rankings, are Graf vs. Jana Novotna (runner-up to Graf in '93) and Sanchez Vicario vs. Martinez.

Andre Agassi (the '92 champion) and Pete Sampras (winner in '93 and '94) have stayed at Nos. 1 and 2 in the world rankings entering Wimbledon, and head a men's field deep in talent and experience.

But they're all only too aware that in this game of "biff, bang, and wallop" - especially on grass - they're all vulnerable. On a good day, anyone in the top 50 can beat anyone else in the world.

Agassi's first match - against a qualifier - will at least give him time to test the injured hip that hampered him in the French Open. The projected semifinal pairings are Agassi vs. Boris Becker (winner in '85, '86, and '89) and Sampras vs. Goran Ivanisevic (runner-up in '92 and '94).

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