Mon, Jun 25, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Federer first on court at Wimbledon

SERVING UP A TREATThe Swiss ace, who has won six of his eight previous Grand Slam tournaments, takes on Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili on Center Court today


So much for resisting change at Wimbledon. They're embracing it.

Women will earn the same prize money as men for the first time this year, video screens will help players challenge calls and a retractable roof is on the way.

Does tradition mean nothing anymore?

Well, there is one thing -- besides the white clothes every competitor must wear and the grass -- that remains the same: the defending men's singles champion, Roger Federer will once again have the honor of being first on Center Court when action begins today.

If it seems as though the Swiss star enters each major tournament with a chance to do something historic, it's because he does. Two weeks after coming up just short of completing a career Grand Slam on the red clay of Roland Garros, Federer heads to the All England Club, where he'll try to do something only one man has done in the last 100 years -- win a fifth consecutive Wimbledon title.

"That would be absolutely incredible," Federer said.

Bjorn Borg won Wimbledon every year from 1976 to 1980, and the only other men who claimed at least five straight titles did it back in the days when the reigning champion automatically advanced to the final -- in other words, they needed to win only one match to retain the trophy.

For a little perspective, consider that greats of the grass game such as Rod Laver, John McEnroe and Boris Becker maxed out at two Wimbledon championships back-to-back. Pete Sampras, who won half of his record 14 major titles at Wimbledon, was stopped at four in a row.

When Wimbledon begins, Federer will be entering his record 178th consecutive week at No. 1 in the rankings. He's won six of the previous eight Grand Slams, 10 of the past 16. He also takes a record 48-match winning streak on grass into the first round.

For him, as for many players and fans alike, winning Wimbledon is the be-all and end-all of tennis. For him, success on the sport's most hallowed ground takes away the sting of near-misses at Roland Garros, where he lost to nemesis Rafael Nadal the past three years.

"You do forget about it right away if you win Wimbledon the following month, you know," Federer said. "That kind of overshadows the French Open by a mile."

In last year's Wimbledon final, Federer beat Nadal, and they could reprise their No. 1 v No. 2 rivalry with a July 9 rematch.

Not that Nadal's thinking that far ahead.

"I'm not worried about Federer. I am worried about [Mardy] Fish right now," Nadal said on Saturday, referring to his first-round opponent.

Nadal and No. 3 Andy Roddick -- who lost to Federer in the 2003 semi-finals and the 2004 and 2005 finals at the All England Club -- might be the only players who could present a shade of trouble.

No one holds that kind of sway over the women's draw, although when it comes to this major, Serena and Venus Williams often bring their best. Venus Williams was one of the loudest voices calling on the tournament to pay the women what the men get, and no one should be shocked if she or her sister winds up pocketing the Grand Slam-record US$1.4 million check the women's singles champion will receive.

One Williams or the other has won five of the past seven Wimbledon championships, despite never participating in any grass-court warmup events beforehand. Instead, they opt to go home to the US after the French Open and prepare to play on grass by practicing on hard courts.

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