| Roger Federer during a practice session, in London, on Sunday. (Reuters) |
London: Walking the Wimbledon grounds Sunday, wearing a stylish white jacket with gold trim and his collar turned up for protection from a biting wind, the tournaments six-time champion looked like the same old Roger Federer.
Sure, there have been signs of slippage this month. Federer lost at the French Open in the quarter finals, his earliest Grand Slam exit in six years. Then he dropped to No. 2 in the rankings behind nemesis Rafael Nadal. Then came only Federers second grass-court defeat since 2003 at a Wimbledon warm-up event, extending his drought of nearly five months without a title.
But the All England Club tends to bring out the best in Federer Ś and that best is awfully good. He has reached a record seven consecutive Wimbledon finals, losing only one of them Ś to Nadal in 2008. Last year Federer regained the title, beating Andy Roddick 16-14 in the fifth set of a final that ranked with the sports greatest matches.
And so, when Federer steps onto an immaculate Centre Court for his opening-round match Monday against Alejandro Falla of Colombia, hell again be the man to beat. Tournament organisers acknowledged as much by giving Federer the top seeding even though hes ranked second.
Hell try to join Pete Sampras and 19th-century champion Willie Renshaw as the only men to win the singles title seven times. Obviously my games made for grass, Federer said.
Favourites on the womens side are Serena and Venus Williams, who are seeded 1-2 and have combined to win eight of the past 10 Wimbledon championships. Serena, who earned her third title by beating her sister in last years final, has tweaked her tournament preparation in anticipation of a visit Thursday by Queen Elizabeth II, who is expected to attend Wimbledon for the first time since 1977.
Also returning to the All England Club after absences are Belgian Grand Slam champions Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, each seeking her first Wimbledon title. Henin hasnt played at Wimbledon since 2007, Clijsters since 2006.
And then theres Nadal, who withdrew shortly before last years tournament because of knee tendinitis. An opening-round match Tuesday against wild card Kei Nishikori of Japan will be Nadals first at Wimbledon since he beat Federer in the memorable 2008 final.
Meanwhile, Sania Mirza will be the flag-bearer in singles but India has a lot at stake in the mens doubles with an unprecedented five players from the country competing in the main draw of Wimbledon.
Sania has drawn world No. 55 Angelique Kerber of Germany in the first round. It would require a huge effort by Sania to improve on her performance at the big stage as even if she beats the German, she will have to play either 13th seed Shahar Peer or former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic in the next round.
Though Somdev Dev Varman and Prakash Amritraj were unable to qualify for the singles main draw, some good results are expected in the doubles. India has struggled in the last decade or so to look beyond estranged partners Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi but the recent rise of Somdev and the fast improving Rohan Bopanna has given many Indians hope.
Now Harsh Mankad has also joined the bandwagon by qualifying for a Grand Slam for the first time in his career.(agencies)