| Serena Williams warms up on the practice courts at Wimbledon Sunday. (Reuters)
London: Serena Williams is confident she can bury the painful memory of her French Open final defeat with a successful defence of her Wimbledon crown.
That is when there’s a real tussle in the men’s singles line-up is shaping up as a battle of the ages with young guns Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick bidding to block Andre Agassi’s drive for a second All-England crown.
Serena was left in tears after being booed and jeered by the crowd at Roland Garros on her way to a shock defeat at the hands of Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne. But as she practised here under the watchful gaze of father Richard, Serena said she was too busy working on her service action to dwell on events in Paris.
“I couldn’t get my serve right in Paris so that is what I’ve been working on. My confidence is high now. I’m always a perfectionist — I want everything to be just right but I feel like I’m ready and I’m in good shape.”
Richard was absent from Wimbledon last year following an acrimonious divorce from Orecene. But both parents are expected to be in London supporting their daughters.
Current form, however, suggests Venus will struggle to keep the date.
Henin-Hardenne suffered an injury scare at the weekend when she was forced to concede the final of a pre-Wimbledon tournament in the Netherlands to her compatriot Kim Clijsters. Henin had won the first set on a tie-break but trailed 0-3 in the second when she slipped and injured her left hand.
“Fortunately it wasn’t the right one,” Henin said. “But I don’t think the injury was too serious. When I went to start playing again the pain persisted so I thought the best thing was to stop. I won’t be playing Wimbledon till Tuesday so that gives me three days to recover.”
Henin, seeded third, meets Ukrainian Julia Vakulenko in her first match. Serena will open up Monday against her compatriot Jill Craybass, ranked 66 in the world.
Hewitt has a long way to go before he can match the performance of a less well-remembered star from Down Under, Af Wilding, who won the trophy four years in a row from 1910. But there is no mistaking his appetite. “The nerves will be flying the most Monday,” Hewitt admitted last week. “You get a bit sick of talking about it and want to get on with the first match.”
If he is daunted, Hewitt is not admitting it. “I’m not afraid of being on centre-stage and playing big matches,” he said.
Agassi, like Hewitt, found the slow clay of the French Open a drag as both men failed fully to do themselves justice. But the Las Vegan remains convinced he can complete another chapter of his stellar career at the venue where he broke his Grand Slam duck 11 years ago.
Agassi opens up versus British wildcard Jamie Delgado, ranked just 456 in the world. Agassi is going for his ninth Grand Slam title. “Wimbledon has it’s own magic... It would be incredible to win it again,” says the man who let slip he hated grass the first time he showed up in 1987 and suffered a beating from Frenchman Henri Leconte, then known as something of a showman himself.
A title would be a spectacular way to bring down the curtain on a spectacular career. But Agassi insists retirement is not on his agenda. “People ask me whether I am considering retirement, but my belief is that if I can still do it, even potentially, then it feels like a responsibility to myself.”