LONDON, June 30 (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Serena Williams will head a cast of fresh-faced hopefuls on Monday as Wimbledon heads into the second week which will be a Federer-free zone for the first time in 11 years.
A second week which had promised back-to-back blockbuster matches after Murray, seven-times champion Roger Federer and 2008 and 2010 winner Rafa Nadal had been thrown together in the same half of the draw, will instead have a distinctly unfamiliar look to it following an unforgettable week of shocks.
Gone are Federer, Nadal, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka - all former world number ones, all grand slam champions and who between them own 35 major trophies.
Instead, the second week line-up includes an array of characters who had turned up at the All England Club expecting to play a supporting role but have been thrust into the limelight of a last-16 appearance.
French duo Kenny de Schepper and Adrian Mannarino, Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz, Italy’s Karin Knapp and Puerto Rican Monica Puig are ranked outside the world’s top 20, have never won a main-tour title and had never previously reached the fourth round of a major.
Yet they all stand to pocket the biggest cheques of their lives - at least $159,000 - after a trail of destruction decimated the field at the grasscourt major.
“It’s good for change in a way because top players are always expected to reach the final stages of major events. When it doesn’t happen, it’s a big surprise,” Djokovic told reporters.
“It’s a bit (of a) strange feeling not to have Federer or Nadal at the second week of a major. In the last 10 years, it was always one of them. But there’s some (other) players who have been playing great tennis. I think it’s interesting also to see new faces for the crowd, for (the) tennis world in general.”
Nowhere is that more evident than in the bottom half of the draw where the highest seed world number two Murray can face before a hotly anticipated final against top-ranked Djokovic is his next opponent - Russian oddball and 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny.
The Russian is not averse to seeking outside help when things are not going his way as 12 months ago while he was being thrashed by Federer he went over to Centre Court’s Royal Box and asked American great Andre Agassi how to beat the Swiss.
If he was to repeat the cheeky request to any of the 15,000 fans who will be packed into Centre Court on Monday, it will fall on deaf years as he will be playing the man Britain expects to end the host nation’s 77-year search for a men’s champion.
In fact, Britmania will reach a 15-year peak as for the first time since 1998, home interest will still be alive in both singles draws on the second Monday.
Laura Robson has finally started to live up to the promise she showed five summers ago when she won the junior Wimbledon title and will be backed to reach her first major quarter-final as she will be taking on Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, an opponent ranked eight places below the British number one.
While Robson’s odds of winning the title are being slashed on a daily basis by excited British bookmakers, Djokovic remains the man to beat in the men’s draw.
He has yet to drop a set and has surrendered a miserly 29 games, two fewer than Murray, in his three matches to date.
In the pick of the fourth-round showdowns, he is facing renaissance man Tommy Haas.
The German, who plummeted from a career-high second in the world in 2002 to almost 900th in June 2011, is playing some of the best tennis of his life at the age of 35 and loves playing on grass.
He shocked Federer to win the Halle title last June and knows he has the weapons to hurt the world number one as he downed Djokovic in both of their previous grasscourt showdowns and also in Miami earlier this year.
“Against Tommy Haas, it’s going to be a big challenge for both of us. He had a few great wins lately,” said Djokovic.
“He played again really well this season on grass. In general, this season he played great. He’s 35, 36 years old, and he’s been playing very close to the best tennis of his life, in my opinion. He’s very fit. He doesn’t look like a 35-year-old man, for sure. He’s full of confidence on the court.”
Woman’s holder Williams is another member of the over-30s club and at 31, there is no doubt she is playing the best tennis of her life.
Winner of three of the last four slams, world number one Williams is hurtling towards grand slam title number 17, and sixth at Wimbledon, and so far no one has come close to derailing her.
Up next for her is Sabine Lisicki. The German beat Sharapova en route to the last eight 12 months ago and made it all the way to the semis in 2011 but only the very brave would put money on her replicating the feat this year.
$1 = 0.6593 British pounds Editing by Sonia Oxley