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London showdown

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-20 08:03
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London showdown

Extremely competitive and spectacular matches are expected as year's third Grand Slam starts on Monday

Nadal aims blow at Federer dream

Roger Federer can picture himself lifting a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title, but can also sense the dangers posed by Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Federer, now without a Grand Slam title since his 16th major at the 2010 Australian Open, was stunned by the Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals last year, as his attempt to match Pete Sampras' record of seven titles was shattered.

It was his earliest exit at the All England Club since his first-round loss to Mario Ancic in 2002.

But the 29-year-old Swiss has been buoyed by his unexpected run to the French Open final, where he came up short against Nadal, after ending Novak Djokovic's 43-match winning streak in the semifinals.

"I know I could tie with Sampras here. It's obviously something very special and important," said Federer, who starts his campaign against Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin.

"For me if I close my eyes and think about Wimbledon, it's the moment when I lift the Wimbledon trophy. That's the picture I see the strongest."

But clouding that view is defending champion Nadal, who beat Federer to win a sixth French Open two weeks ago, as well as Australian Open champion Djokovic and Queen's winner Murray, bidding to end Britain's 75-year wait for a men's champion.

World No 1 Nadal took his Grand Slam title tally to 10 with his latest Roland Garros triumph - his fourth final win in Paris over Federer - and is now only six majors behind the great Swiss.

The Spaniard will be chasing his third Wimbledon trophy and time is on his side.

He is almost five years younger than Federer who, at 29, will be acutely aware that Sampras' seventh and last Wimbledon triumph in 2000 came two months before he reached the same age.

But Nadal, the 2008 and 2010 Wimbledon champion and runner-up in 2006 and 2007, is not prepared to consider himself a better player than his great rival, whom he has faced 25 times, just yet.

"When you talk about these statistics, when you try and make these comparisons, really it's not very interesting to me," said Nadal, who faces the United States' Michael Russell in the first round on Monday.

"I'm very happy with what I have, with who I am. I'm not the best player in the history of tennis. I think I'm amongst the best. That's true. That's enough for me."

Djokovic, who is poised to depose Nadal as world No 1, has yet to make a Wimbledon final, losing in the 2010 semifinal to Berdych in straight sets and to Nadal, also in the last four, in 2007.

But the world No 2 Serb, who skipped the traditional Wimbledon warm-up at Queen's Club because of tendinitis, has been tipped to finally succeed at the All England Club by Andre Agassi.

"I think he will be even better there and hungrier for success," said 1992 champion Agassi.

Djokovic goes into Wimbledon insisting that the end of his winning streak will not be a burden.

"It was the best five months of my life, my tennis career," said the Serb, who meets France's Jeremy Chardy in his opener.

"I cannot complain. It was definitely an incredible period. It had to end somewhere. I knew it was coming. But it's sport. I will keep on working hard."

World No 4 Andy Murray, bidding to become Britain's first Wimbledon men's champion since Fred Perry in 1936, made the semifinals in 2009 and 2010.

His 6-3, 6-1 win over three-time All England Club finalist Andy Roddick in the semifinals at Queen's gave every indication that the ankle injury he suffered at the French Open is a thing of the past.

"It was one of those days where I hardly missed a ball," said Murray, who faces Spain's Daniel Gimeno-Traver in the first round.

Roddick will be a sentimental favorite to do well at Wimbledon having been runner-up to Federer in 2004, 2005 and 2009.

That final two years ago is widely regarded as one of the finest of all time, with Roddick edged out 16-14 in an epic final set.

Williams sisters loom over event

Serena and Venus Williams aim to maintain a decade of dominance at Wimbledon from Monday with their fearsome reputations so established that even world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki is desperate to avoid contact.

At least one Williams sister has appeared in 10 of the last 11 women's singles finals, when Venus downed Lindsay Davenport in straight sets to claim her maiden Grand Slam triumph.

Since then the sisters have turned Wimbledon into a personal fiefdom, winning the title on nine occasions - Serena with four, Venus with five.

"No one wants to play them. They have the experience and play really well, especially on grass," said Wozniacki.

"It's good that they got a higher seed than their rankings because no one wants to play them in the early rounds."

But the $2.9 million question - the record purse on offer to this year's champion - is the extent to which lengthy injury lay-offs have diminished the power of the all-conquering US duo.

Until her appearance at last week's Eastbourne WTA event, Serena had not played since last year's Wimbledon final, where she swatted aside Russia's Vera Zvonareva in straight sets.

Since that imperious victory, the 29-year-old 13-time Grand Slam title winner has struggled with a life-threatening health problem after also suffering serious injury when her foot was sliced open by broken glass.

Serena, who has been seeded seven, insists she arrives at Wimbledon merely grateful that she is in the draw, and claims to have put aside thoughts of defending her crown.

"I'm just taking everything one day at a time, and I'm not putting too much expectation on myself or on my game," said Serena, who starts her campaign against France's Aravane Rezai.

The effects of her extended lay-off were plain to see at Eastbourne, where she struggled past Tsvetana Pironkova 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 before exiting against Zvonareva in the second round, 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 5-7.

Elder sister Venus is in a similar position, also returning from injury at Eastbourne this week after a prolonged absence.

The 31-year-old elder Williams sister has hardly played since the Australian Open in January, when she retired after one game of her third-round match against Andrea Petkovic after suffering an abdominal injury.

Venus avenged that loss to Petkovic in the first round at Eastbourne before dismantling Ana Ivanovic 6-3, 6-2 to reach the last eight. She then exited at the hands of Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova.

"I feel good about my preparation," said 23rd-seed Venus, whose first-round opponent will be Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan.

"I thought I played pretty good. More than anything I was able to get a lot of great competition."

While the Williams sisters are far from their respective peaks, it remains to be seen which of the pretenders to their Wimbledon throne are best placed to exploit the potential vulnerability of the Americans.

Wozniacki, who faces Spain's Arantxa Parra Santonja in the first round, has the top seeding and the world No 1 ranking.

But with only one Grand Slam final appearance in her career, few are expecting the 20-year-old to break her duck on grass, her least favourite surface.

"My main goal this year is to be a Grand Slam champion," Wozniacki said. "I want to win one. It would be disastrous if I could not make it happen. I just want to enjoy every time I play on the court."

Much interest will centre around the campaign of China's Li Na, the newly crowned French Open champion who has reached the final of both majors so far this season.

Li's victory at Roland Garros was watched by an estimated 100 million people in her homeland, and she is determined to prove that her performance in Paris was no flash in the pan.

"If I don't do well at Wimbledon, maybe people forget me already. These are tough times, you know," Li said.

With world No 2 Kim Clijsters withdrawing through injury, a potential dark horse is fifth-seed Maria Sharapova, the only woman to record a victory over one of the Williams sisters in a Wimbledon final.

Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 06/20/2011 page23)