WIMBLEDON '07: Federer Can Match Borg With 5th Straight Title
Saturday, June 23rd 2007, 2:25 pm
By: News On 6
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ 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. A retractable roof is on the way.
Doesn't tradition mean anything?
Well, there is one thing _ besides the white clothes every competitor must wear and the grass underfoot _ that remains the same: As the defending men's singles champion, Roger Federer will once again have the honor of being first to stride out on Centre Court when action begins Monday.
If it seems the Swiss star enters each major 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.
``That,'' Federer said, ``would be absolutely incredible.''
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. And Pete Sampras, who won half of his record 14 major titles at Wimbledon, was stopped at four in a row.
Pistol Pete's streak was snapped by a fourth-round loss in 2001 to ... guess who?
``Roger is fun to watch. He's graceful,'' Sampras said in a telephone interview earlier this year. ``Roger is dominating the game much more than I ever did. What he's done the last three years hasn't ever been done in the sport.''
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.''
Part of that attitude stems from the prestige associated with the oldest of the Grand Slam tournaments. It began in 1877 on grass, and is still played that way. The tournament is evolving, however, and two striking symbols are this year's alterations to Centre Court: As part of the project to add a full roof by 2009, the overhang ringing the top of the arena has been temporarily removed, which could make for windier conditions this fortnight; and a form of instant replay will make its Wimbledon debut.
Federer was against the electronic line-calling system when it first emerged, but he's become more open to it. Wouldn't it be fascinating to see him benefit from an overturned call during a big match?
In last year's Wimbledon final, Federer beat Nadal, and they could reprise their No. 1 vs. 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 Saturday, referring to the serve-and-volleying American he faces in the first round.
Nadal and No. 3 Andy Roddick might be the only players who could present a shade of trouble to Federer.
``In order for me to be successful here, I have to beat him one time, and that's kind of the way you look at it,'' said Roddick, who lost to Federer in the 2003 semifinals and the 2004 and 2005 finals at the All England Club. ``What are you going to do? You wake up, you work hard, you go after it again.''
No one holds Federer's 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 $1.4 million check the women's singles champion will receive.
``It's a step in the right direction,'' Serena Williams said, ``for not only tennis but just for women's sports, for women all around.''
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 go home to the United States after the French Open and prepare to play on grass by practicing on, uh, hard courts.
``They're very similar,'' Serena Williams said with a wink and a smile. ``You just get on a really slick, old ghetto court that's real fast, and you'll be fine. It's actually faster than Wimbledon. That's why we're so good.''
Regardless of the reason, they are indeed good. So, too, is top-ranked Justine Henin, who won the French Open for her sixth Grand Slam title, a total that trails only Serena Williams' eight among active players.
While Federer is missing the French Open from his collection, Henin needs only a Wimbledon title to fill out a career Grand Slam. And like Federer, Henin has come close, losing to Venus Williams in the 2001 final and to Amelie Mauresmo in last year's final.
Finally winning Wimbledon ``would be a great achievement, that's for sure,'' said Henin, who beat Mauresmo on Saturday for the title at a grass-court tournament at Eastbourne. ``But would that make me more happy? I'm not sure.''
How much would winning another Wimbledon mean to Federer?
On the very day he won his fourth consecutive title, 50 weeks ago, he spoke these words: ``I'm looking forward to next year, obviously.''