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Federer again the favourite at Wimbledon

Walking the Wimbledon grounds on Sunday, wearing a stylish white jacket with gold trim and his collar turned up for protection from a biting wind, the tournament`s six-time champion looked like the same old Roger Federer.



Wimbledon: Walking the Wimbledon
grounds on Sunday, wearing a stylish white jacket with gold trim
and his collar turned up for protection from a biting wind,
the tournament`s 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 quarterfinals, his
earliest Grand Slam exit in six years. Then he dropped to No 2
in the rankings behind nemesis Rafael Nadal.

Then came only Federer`s 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 - and that best 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 for his opening-round match tomorrow against Alejandro
Falla of Colombia, he`ll again be the man to beat. Tournament
organisers 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."

Favourites on the women`s 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 year`s 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.

"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
practising it this morning."

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 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. An opening-round
match Tuesday against wild card Kei Nishikori of Japan will be
Nadal`s first at Wimbledon since he beat Federer in the
memorable 2008 final.

Nadal is coming off his fifth French Open title and an
unbeaten but gruelling clay-court season. He celebrated with a
brief break a week ago back home in Mallorca.

"I went for a party with the friends," Nadal said. "I
played golf. I go to the beach. So I had a perfect Sunday. I
need it."

Along with a recharged Nadal, the biggest threats to
Federer include Roddick, Britain`s Andy Murray and No 3-seeded
Novak Djokovic, who reached the quarterfinals for the first
time last year.

In short, it`s a familiar cast of contenders.”

"You`re still going to get the same five or six names,"
Roddick said. "Roger`s always a favourite when he comes here.
Rafa`s in form, he`s playing well. Murray will have the home
court. I could have given you the same answer last year as I`m
giving you right now."

Federer remains at the top of the list despite mixed
results this year. It started well: He won the Australian Open
in January to increase his record total of Grand Slam
championships to 16.

He hasn`t won a tournament since.

"In Australia I really played some of the best tennis of
my life," he said. "I`ve been disappointed I wasn`t able to
carry on. I know my game, my body and everything so well that
I really expected to take off and just go on a tear on that."

A lung infection that forced him to withdraw from a
tournament in February interrupted his momentum. He showed
flashes of his best form at the French Open, where he was
defending champion for the first time, but lost to Robin
Soderling. Federer lost again a week ago to Lleyton Hewitt in
the final at Halle, Germany - only his second defeat in 78
grass-court matches since 2003.

But Federer said he played well in both tournaments,
feels fit and likes his chances of winning a record-tying
seventh Wimbledon trophy.

"Being one title away from it, you`re obviously aware of
it," Federer said. "But then again, you have to break it down
and make it simple for yourself by trying to win the first
round. I`m happy I`m back here playing and healthy, because
that`s always something sometimes you can`t control."

Bureau Report

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