LONDON — As he has six previous times, Roger Federer will open Wimbledon on Monday as the defending champion, stepping onto Centre Court for the first match of what he hopes will be another two-week stay at the All England Club.
It’s an honor reserved for the men’s titleholder. That scheduling perk is also where any hint of preferential treatment for Federer comes to a halt. Because of the way the draw came out, Federer might have to beat Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray before reaching the final.
“I’m ready for the challenge,” Federer said. “I like tough draws. I don’t shy away from them.”
Speaking of not shying away from something, the war of words between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova dominated pretournament talk.
Williams even managed to crack herself up with a couple of jokes during her news conference at Wimbledon as the defending champion, where the primary topic was hardly her 31-match winning streak or her bid for a sixth title at the All England Club or her injured sister Venus’ absence from the field.
Instead, more than half the questions at Sunday’s session revolved around themes generating the most buzz on the eve of tennis’ oldest and most prestigious Grand Slam tournament: what Williams was quoted as saying in a recent magazine article — and Sharapova’s forceful verbal swipe in reaction to that story.
“It definitely hasn’t been easy,” the No. 1-ranked Williams said about the stir created by a Rolling Stone profile posted online Tuesday. “And I feel like I really wanted to say: I apologize for everything that was said in that article.”
Williams said Sunday that she approached the third-ranked Sharapova to try to smooth things over by extending an apology at a players’ party last week. The back-and-forth can be traced to a passage where the Rolling Stone story’s author surmised that something critical Williams said during a telephone conversation with her sister referred to Sharapova.
Sharapova responded Saturday with, “If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids,” referring to French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who was photographed in Paris with Williams.
Sharapova is among those scheduled to be on court Monday, facing 37th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France.
Federer’s quest for a record eighth Wimbledon title begins against Victor Hanescu of Romania.
Murray also plays Monday, wrapping up the day’s action on Centre Court against Germany’s Benjamin Becker. Nadal, who comes in with a stretch of nine straight appearances in tournament finals since returning from his knee injury, faces Belgium’s Steve Darcis on Court 1.
Sitting back watching it all will be top-seeded Novak Djokovic, who is on the opposite side of the draw and, on paper, has the easiest path to the final. No. 4 David Ferrer is the biggest roadblock on his side of the bracket.
“I think it’s going to be a great Monday for tennis,” Djokovic said with a smile.