Roger Federer, bidding for a record-equalling seventh championship at the All England Club. Rafael Nadal, seeking a second after declining to defend his 2008 title because of injury. Andy Roddick, yearning for one Wimbledon trophy after three runner-up finishes. Andy Murray, well aware that all of Britain is counting on him to end its 74-year wait for a homegrown men's champion.
A pair of sisters named Serena and Venus, aiming for a fifth all-Williams final, and third in a row, at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament; one or the other has won eight of the past 10 women's championships. Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, back at Wimbledon after years away and hoping to finally win it. Another former No. 1 and major champion, Maria Sharapova, striving to return to relevance in the latter stages of big events.
Each of those names _ indeed, each of the 32 men and women left in the singles draws _ is featured on the fourth-round schedule when action resumes Monday, following Wimbledon's traditional day of rest on the middle Sunday. Two intriguing showdowns are Serena Williams vs. Sharapova, in a rematch of the 2004 final won by the Russian; and Henin vs. Clijsters, in the 25th meeting between the Belgian rivals.
"Well, I'd rather be here doing an interview than being at home on the couch and watching Wimbledon from home, that's for sure," said the top-seeded Federer, who plays No. 16 Jurgen Melzer of Austria. "So I feel very lucky, of course. ... I'm excited I'm still in the tournament. I hope I can go further."
Before looking ahead, though, take a moment to reflect on all that's transpired through six days.
In the tournament's opening Centre Court match, 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer dropped the first two sets against a guy with a sub.-500 career record before turning things around. Nadal fought out consecutive come-from-behind, five-set victories and needed a trainer to help with a right knee problem, although he told the AP it felt "good, good; not bad" after a 40-minute practice session Sunday.
The weather has been ideal, with nary a drop of rain. Both women's finalists from this month's French Open lost in the first round. Queen Elizabeth II attended the tournament for the first time since 1977, applauding after watching Murray's second-round victory and his well-choreographed bows. Victor Hanescu, a Romanian seeded 31st, was fined $15,000 for spitting and swearing at hecklers during a match and for not giving his all before quitting in a huff during the fifth set.
Novak Djokovic, the 2008 Australian Open champion, played the latest-finishing match in Wimbledon history, winning the last point under the roof and lights at Centre Court at 10:59 p.m., one minute before the tournament's self-imposed curfew. Add his five-setter to those of Federer and Nadal, and it's only the second time in the 42-year Open era that a Grand Slam tournament's top three seeded men each was taken the distance before the fourth round.
Indeed, there already have been 28 five-set matches, the most through three rounds at Wimbledon since there were 29 in 1994.
Nothing, of course, tops what John Isner of the United States and Nicolas Mahut of France endured in the first round: It was the longest match _ by far _ in tennis history, a body-battering, 183-game test of will that encompassed 11 hours, 5 minutes of action over three days; play was suspended twice by darkness because they were out on Court 18, which has no artificial lights.
The fifth set alone, which Isner finally won by that score no one will soon forget, 70-68, dragged on for 8 hours, 11 minutes, more than 1 1/2 hours longer than any previous entire match on record.
"When you look at it on paper, it just looks funny, like some sort of joke," Isner said. "It did shine a positive light on the sport. It kind of shows what tennis players are capable of _ that we're pretty good athletes."
They played 980 points, 711 in the fifth set. Isner hit 112 aces, and Mahut 103, both easily surpassing the previous single-match mark of 78. After all of that wear-and-tear, Isner said his right shoulder was "kind of dead," his neck stiff, and his little left toe stinging from the pain of a "gnarly" blister. His second-round loss went all of 74 minutes, the shortest men's contest in the tournament so far, which seems to fit with the way the week went.
"From the first match out of the gate, with Roger being up against it, you know, to the Isner-Mahut trilogy, to the queen coming, to Rafa in five _ if you guys are struggling for story lines, you need to get a different job, fast," Roddick told reporters.
And yet, for all of those unusual sights, there has not been one truly significant upset involving a title contender.
For the first time since 2001, the top six men in Wimbledon's seedings are in the fourth round: No. 1 Federer, No. 2 Nadal (vs. 66th-ranked Paul-Henri Mathieu), No. 3 Djokovic (vs. 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt), No. 4 Murray (vs. No. 18 Sam Querrey of Santa Monica, Calif.), No. 5 Roddick (vs. 82nd-ranked Yen-hsun Lu of Taiwan) and No. 6 Robin Soderling (vs. No. 9 David Ferrer).
All six were out on adjacent practice courts simultaneously Sunday, getting ready for what's to come. Djokovic and Soderling even engaged in a just-for-fun-yet-high-intensity tiebreaker.
The top four women play Monday, as well: No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 2 Venus Williams (vs. 92nd-ranked Jarmila Groth of Australia), No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki (vs. 62nd-ranked Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic) and No. 4 Jelena Jankovic (vs. No. 21 Vera Zvonareva).
"No major upsets yet, but tough matches for everyone," Federer said. "It's good for the tournament (that) the top guys are still going. Interesting, with obviously a week ahead of us now."
Yes, depending on who makes it past Monday, the second week of Wimbledon promises to provide some terrific tennis. Perhaps even some history, too.
Not of the 70-68 variety, mind you, but history nonetheless.