Federer, Mauresmo look to defend at Big W

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Over the next few weeks, Roger Federer will try to match Bjorn Borg's amazing Wimbledon feat, as the super Swiss seeks a fifth straight title at the 121st edition of the Championships.

Borg is the only man in the Open Era (since 1968) to capture the Wimbledon championship five years in a row, which he did from 1976 to 1980. The iconic Swede rattled off 41 consecutive match wins at the storied All England Club before lefthanded legend John McEnroe finally derailed him in the 1981 final. Even the great Pete Sampras failed to capture five straight Wimbledon crowns, as the seven-time champ corralled tennis' most prestigious event four years in a row from 1997-2000 and three straight years from 1993-95.

Only four men have won at least four Wimbledon titles over the last 45 years -- Sampras, Borg, Rod Laver and Federer.

Roger Federer
Roger Federer is seeking his 11th Grand Slam title and a fifth straight Wimbledon crown.
Decent company.

The world No. 1 Federer held off Spanish star Rafael Nadal in last year's Wimbledon finale, while the Mallorcan southpaw topped the sublime Swiss in the last two French Open finals. Nadal might have Federer's number on the slow red clay, but the Swiss is indeed one of the greatest grass-court performers of all-time, as evidenced by his four Wimbledon titles and a torrid 48-match winning streak (which includes 20 straight victories in Halle) on the swift surface.

The last player to prevail at the AEC not named Federer was Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, back in 2002. The Fed's last loss there came at the hands of serve- and-volleying Croat Mario Ancic in the opening round in '02.

The reigning women's champion at SW19 is former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, who dropped currently top-ranked Justine Henin in last year's marquee finale. The French star also bested the steady Belgian in last year's Aussie Open title bout.

Mauresmo, who has struggled with her health for a good portion of this season, will try to become the first repeat women's champ since Serena Williams turned the trick in 2002 and 2003. Serena tried for a third straight title in 2004, but was stunned in the final by tall Russian Maria Sharapova.

And Serena's big sister and fellow former world No. 1, Venus, is no slouch at the AE Club, having won the title on three occasions and finishing as the runner-up two other times, succumbing to Serena in the 2002 and 2003 finals. At one point, Venus reached the Wimbledon final four straight and five-of-six years.

Amelie Mauresmo
Amelie Mauresmo is looking for a repeat at the All England Club.
That's pretty consistent.

Between 2000 and 2005, the mighty Williams sisters accounted for four straight and five-of-six Wimbledon titles.

Henin, meanwhile, still needs Wimbledon to complete a career Golden Slam. The reigning three-time (and four-time overall) French Open titlist also owns Aussie Open, U.S. Open and Olympic hardware and is a two-time runner-up at Wimby. In addition to her title bout setback there last year, the gritty Belgian gave way to Venus in the 2001 finale.

FYI, Steffi Graf is the only woman to complete a career Golden Slam, while her fellow tennis legend husband Andre Agassi is the only player to do so on the men's side.

Is there anyone who can challenge Federer on the Big W grass? Well Andy Roddick comes to mind (I know...insert joke here).

The world No. 3 Roddick is fresh off his title at Queen's Club and a two- time Wimbledon runner-up (2004-05) to Federer. Unfortunately for the 2003 U.S. Open champ and former world No. 1 American, the massive-serving star is a pathetic 1-13 lifetime against Federer, including an 0-3 mark on the lawns at Wimbledon. The Swiss star also topped Roddick in the 2003 semis. Federer's won nine of their 10 sets at SW19 and the Swiss is a perfect 5-0 in their all-time major matchups.

The word lopsided comes to mind.

Too bad for Roddick that Federer's on the tour, otherwise the brash American would probably own multiple Wimbledon titles by now.

What about Nadal? Can he push Federer again this year? I'm doubtin' it.

Aside from Roddick and Nadal, Federer's stiffest competition figures to come from the likes of Serbian Novak Djokovic, Czech Tomas Berdych and the always- dangerous Hewitt. The French Open semifinalist Djokovic can play on any surface, while Berdych was this year's grass-court champion in Halle and lost to the "Fed" in last year's Halle finale, and the two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 Hewitt is pesky on just about any surface, with an exception being dirt.

Andy Roddick
Two-time Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick is fresh off his grass-court title at Queen's Club.
Heavy British crowd favorite Andy Murray is slated to play, even though he's been sidelined for the past several weeks due to a wrist injury. He'll try to give the hosts their first male champion here since Fred Perry way back in 1936.

By the way, top men with no shot would include the likes of Russian Nikolay Davydenko, Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, Spaniard Tommy Robredo, American James Blake and German Tommy Haas. "Gonzo" was January's Aussie Open runner-up to Federer, but I wouldn't expect a deep run from him at the AEC, although he did reach the quarters there two years ago.

Back on the women's side, it would appear as though there are several contenders.

The six-time Grand Slam champion Henin, the two-time major titlists Sharapova and Mauresmo, the eight-time Grand Slam champion Serena and the five-time major titlist Venus will all take their shots, while rapidly-rising Jelena Jankovic should also figure into the equation.

Jankovic soared all the way to the French Open semis earlier this month and just captured her first-ever grass-court title last week by upsetting Sharapova in a final in Birmingham. The Serbian star is all the way up the No. 3 in the world and co-leads the WTA with four titles already this season, equaling the high-flying Henin.

Henin has performed in the final in her last five Grand Slam events (going 2-3). She missed this year's Aussie Open due to personal reasons after reaching all four major finales (1-3) in 2006.

A determined Henin has said that she wants to secure a career Slam for her family and friends.

Look out field.

The hard-hitting Sharapova has appeared in two of the last three major finals, winning the 2006 U.S. Open by beating Henin and losing badly to Serena in Melbourne back in January. Another world-class Serb, Ana Ivanovic, smoked the Russian superstar in a semifinal at Roland Garros two weeks ago.

Serena Williams
Serena Williams owns two titles in three trips to the Wimbledon final.
Does Svetlana Kuznetsova have a chance at Wimby? A slight one, but I wouldn't make plans to watch her in the final.

How 'bout the French Open runner-up Ivanovic?

Sure. The surging Serb, last year's surprise US Open Series winner, went as far as the round of 16 at the AEC a year ago and has demonstrated the ability to play on all surfaces.

A darkhorse could come in the form of tall Czech Nicole Vaidisova.

Former champion Martina Hingis (1997) will be on hand, but the five-time Grand Slam winner will head to Wimbledon with some rust, having been sidelined for over a month due to injury.

The 10-time Grand Slam champion Federer has appeared in a record eight straight major finals, winning six. His next Grand Slam title would tie him with Borg and Laver at 11. Sampras holds the all-time record with 14 major championships.

Only six men have won at least 10 Grand Slam titles -- Sampras, Roy Emerson (12), Borg, Laver, Bill Tilden (10) and Federer.

FYI, the awesome Borg was a combined 11-1 in his French Open (6-0) and Wimbledon (5-1) finals.

That deserves a wow!

For the first time ever this year, stodgy Wimbledon will pay out equal prize money to both the men and the women and Hawk-Eye technology will be utilized on the famed Centre Court and Court 1 to view disputed line calls.

There will also be a roof-less Centre Court (for the first time since 1922), as construction is underway to install an all-weather retractable roof in time for the 2009 edition of the Championships.

On the prediction front, you have to like Federer, who's only conceded a mere three sets in his four Wimbledon finals, to come out on top once again this year, while the wide-open women's draw could see any number of players prevail, even though I'm going with Serena to hoist the Venus (not Serena) Rosewater Dish.

FYI, there's been a different ladies Wimbledon champion the last three years.

Wimbledon '07 will commence Monday and the formidable Federer, of course, will be on the Day-1 schedule. As per tradition, the reigning men's champ is always first up on the venerable Centre Court on opening day.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley
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