(photo credit: Associated Press)
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Walking the Wimbledon grounds Sunday, wearing a stylish white jacket with gold trim, his collar turned up for protection from a biting wind, the tournament’s six-time champion looked like the same old Roger Federer.
True, there have been signs of slippage this month. Federer lost at the French Open in the quarterfinals, his earliest Grand Slam exit in six years. Then he dropped to No. 2 in the rankings behind nemesis Rafael Nadal. Then, at a Wimbledon warm-up event, came Federer’s second grass-court defeat since 2003, extending his drought of nearly five months without a title.
But the All England Club tends to bring out the best in Federer, which is awfully good. He has reached a record seven consecutive Wimbledon finals, losing only one of them – 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 sport’s greatest matches.
And so when Federer steps onto an immaculate Centre Court lawn for his opening-round match Monday against Alejandro Falla of Colombia, he’ll again be the man to beat. Tournament organizers acknowledged as much by giving Federer the top seeding even though he’s ranked second.
He’ll try to join Pete Sampras and 19th-century champion Willie Renshaw as the only men to win the singles title seven times.
“Obviously my game’s made for grass,” Federer said. “I definitely think every time I play, I’ll have a chance to win here, there’s no doubt. We all know how hard it is to win Grand Slam titles. But I think the experience I have on this surface can pull me through many matches maybe I would be struggling with.”
Also made for grass are women’s favorites 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 year’s final, has tweaked her tournament preparation in anticipation of a visit Thursday to Wimbledon by Queen Elizabeth II.
“I’ve been working on my curtsy,” Serena said. “It’s a little extreme, so I’m going to have to tone it down. I was practicing it this morning.”
The queen hasn’t been to Wimbledon since 1977. Also returning after absences will be Grand Slam champions Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, each seeking their first Wimbledon title.
Henin hasn’t played at Wimbledon since 2007, Clijsters since 2006.
And then there’s Nadal, who withdrew shortly before last year’s tournament because of knee tendinitis. A match Tuesday against wild card Kei Nishikori of Japan will be Nadal’s first at Wimbledon since he beat Federer in their memorable 2008 final.
Nadal is coming off his fifth French Open title and an unbeaten but grueling claycourt season. He celebrated with a brief break a week ago back home in Mallorca.
Along with a recharged Nadal, the biggest threats to Federer include Roddick, Brit Andy Murray and No. 3-seeded Novak Djokovic. In short, it’s a familiar cast of contenders.
Israel’s representation at Wimbledon has a lot to look forward to, as Shahar Pe’er and Dudi Sela are coming off strong performances.
Pe’er ripped her way through to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros last month before falling to Serena Williams, while Sela shocked Roddick at Queen’s less than two weeks ago.
But both players drew tough draws, as 13th-seeded Pe’er will face former World No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in the first round, while unranked Sela will face 13th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny.
Israel also has hopes while four players are on the court, as Andy Ram
and Austrian partner Julian Knowle are seeded eighth, and face Americans
Eric Butorac and Rajeev Ram, while unseeded Yoni Erlich and Serbian
partner Dusan Vernic open against Martin Damm and Filip Polasek.
But the story of the tournament will be Federer trying to keep his
English magic going after a less-than-stellar French Open.
As a fan of Switzerland’s World Cup team, Federer does face one
potential distraction in the first round. He takes the court at 1 p.m.,
and the Swiss play Chile in South Africa two hours later.
"You think I’ll just like leave the court at 3? That’s not going to
happen,” Federer said with a smile.
“Maybe I can install a little screen on Centre Court.” Actually, if he’s
still the same old Federer, he’ll be off the court and into the second
round before the World Cup game begins.