WIMBLEDON – The pre-draw speculation on the men’s side of the game these days is big business.
With so many players who were at the summit not long ago having dropped in the rankings because of injuries, the early-round traps have increased exponentially.
Those traps are more than somewhat in theory, because those injured players who have taken a long time to return to form are not yet at their peak levels. At the same time, you know what they’re capable of on any given day – especially on the big stages.
Among the dangerous floaters of interest for this year’s Wimbledon were Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Gaël Monfils.
And the draw gods were not kind.
Murray vs. Paire
Murray, who as of Friday wasn’t 100 per cent decided if his surgically repaired hip was up to the rigours of best-of-five set tennis, drew the dangerous if mercurial Benoit Paire.
It seems, though, that he’ll give it a go.
Asked Andy Murray if he had made a decision on his Wimbledon participation: "I think most likely, yeah. I'll chat to my team this afternoon and also see a bit how the next couple of days go. But most likely, yeah, I will be playing."
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) June 29, 2018
Paire, silver hair and all, should have beaten Roger Federer in the first round in Stuttgart with a smidgen more belief and focus. That one could be enthralling.
Wawrinka vs. Dimitrov
As for Wawrinka, his return from knee surgeries has taken a whole lot longer than he would have hoped. His true ranking at the moment is a shocking No. 225.
And his draws so far during the grass-court season have not helped: Sam Querrey in the second round at Queen’s, and … Murray in the first round of Eastbourne after both took wild cards to get in more match play.
Wawrinka has been a Wimbledon quarterfinalist twice. And in 2015, he was unlucky not to go further as he lost 11-9 in the fifth set to Richard Gasquet.
His luck didn’t get better Friday,.
The draw gods decreed that he play 6 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first round.
Not only is he 2-4 against Dimitrov in his career, he’s 0-4 in their last four meetings.
As for Monfils .. same story. The flashy Frenchman will square off with countryman Richard Gasquet in the first round. He leads that longtime rivalry 9-7.
The last two times they met came on grass, in Halle and at Eastbourne last year. They split the matches, and both were very close.
Monfils played just three non-clay tournaments this season, until he finally surfaced on grass in Antalya, Turkey this week as a wild card.
He pulled off two tough wins, and was only a few points away from a straight-sets win over No. 1 seed Adrian Mannarino before finally ceding 6-4 in the third set in the semifinals.
But … he tweaked his knee. Monfils’s knees are not great under ideal circumstances. So we’ll see what the next few days bring.
Other first-round matches to watch
 Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Tennys Sandgren (USA)
Whither Sandgren, who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth in recent weeks?
The American, who was a surprise quarterfinalist at the Australian Open, lost in the second round of qualifying at Wimbledon a year ago.
His fortunes have changed, as he broke into the top 50 in April.
Sandgren lost in the first round of five of the six clay-court tournaments he played this spring.
The exception was Geneva, where he posted two victories. But he hasn’t been seen since.
He had entered some events, but he hasn’t played a single point on grass while Djokovic found some of his trademark swagger – and game – as he reached the final at Queen’s Club.
The Serb couldn’t ask for a better opener. And his section of the draw is inviting, with Dominic Thiem potentially looming in the fourth round.
 Denis Shapovalov (CAN) vs. Jérémy Chardy (FRA)
For Shapovalov, the 2016 junior Wimbledon singles champion, this second grass-court season is proving a challenge.
He lost in the first round of Stuttgart to Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India, ranked No. 169. And he lost in the first round of Queen’s Club in two tiebreaks to big lefty-serving Gilles Muller.
Finally, as the No. 3 seed, he posted up a three-set victory in Eastbourne over American Jared Donaldson, only to lose to Mischa Zverev in straight sets in his next match.
His opponent, Chardy, is playing the best tennis of his life at age 31.
He’s 12-2 on grass this season with a win at the Surbiton Challenger, a loss to Gasquet in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch final and a loss to Djokovic in the Queen’s semi.
It is going to be a big challenge for Shapovalov. And he’s in an absolutely loaded little section of the draw, too.
 Kei Nishikori (JPN) vs. [Q] Christian Harrison (USA)
The former top-five player still isn’t close to the form he displayed before a wrist injury took him out for the latter part of 2018.
And what of Harrison, whose story we chronicled on tennis.life.
This will be his Wimbledon debut and while it wasn’t an ideal draw, it will at least be a matchup in which he can use his speed, and not be served off the court.
He’ll have a lot of folks rooting for him, too.
Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA) vs. Mischa Zverev (GER)
This one will be as close to old-school grass-court tennis as you’re likely to get, with both players willing and keen to serve-and-volley and move forward.
Potential round-of-16 matchups
 Roger Federer (SUI) vs.  Borna Coric (CRO)
 Kevin Anderson (RSA) vs.  Sam Querrey (USA)
 Marin Cilic (CRO) vs.  Milos Raonic (CAN)
 Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs.  John Isner (USA)
 Dominic Thiem (AUT) vs.  Novak Djokovic (SRB)
 Alexander Zverev (GER) vs.  Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
 Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) vs.  David Goffin (BEL)
 Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs.  Diego Schwartzman (ARG)
Roger Federer vs. Anderson/Querrey
Cilic /Raonic vs. Isner/Dimitrov
Zverev /Kyrgios vs. Djokovic
Nadal vs. Del Potro
Upsets and revivals
There are some highly-ranked players who have made surprisingly little noise in recent month. And you’d think some of them will not make their seeding.
Then again, when it comes Slam time, so many players will rise to the occasion.
Jack Sock, the No. 18 seed, is in the throes of a mighty slump in 2018. While you wouldn’t expect him to lose to Matteo Berrettini in the first round, this might be the tournament where he can start getting on a roll.
He has a friendly section where his power will be a plus. The highest seed in it is No. 10 David Goffin, who similarly has been rather quiet of late and played just one grass-court match coming in.
No. 28 seed Filip Krajinovic of Serbia has not played since Miami – that’s more than three months now. He has entered a lot of tournaments, and pulled out of every one and were it not Wimbledon, you probably wouldn’t expect to even see him here.
He’ll have to be careful, though. If Krajinovic is not fully fit, he could end up with a “Mischa Zverev” fine for failing to take the late withdrawal money and remaining in the draw.
No. 17 seed Lucas Pouille also is struggling this season. And in wild card Denis Kudla, he faces a player in the first round fully in form on the grass and one who loves playing on it.
Top half on Monday
As it’s tradition for the defending champion to be the first to walk out on famed Centre Court, Monday at 1 p.m., so will the rest of the top of the draw follow suit along with Federer.
Among the Monday matches to keep an eye on: Federer vs. Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic, whom he defeated in straight sets in the second round a year ago.
Monfils vs. Gasquet will be another one, along with Dimitrov vs. Wawrinka.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 20-year-old Greek player, is seeded at a major for the first time at No. 31 – in only his fifth career Grand Slam main draw. So far, he has one victory at this level, at the French Open last month against Carlos Taberner.
Two years ago, he was fighting Shapovalov for a spot in the junior boys’ final in one of the best junior boys’ matches we’ve ever seen on grass – if not the best. He was just a couple of points away from winning it, and went on to take the junior boys’ doubles title with Kenneth Raisma of Estonia, over Shapovalov and countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime in the final.
And look at them now.
Tsitsipas gets French qualifier Grégoire Barrere in the first round, and he’s in Dimitrov’s section of the draw.