Swiss world tennis number one Roger Federer is aiming to write yet another piece of history at this year's Wimbledon Championships, which began on Monday.This content was published on June 23, 2008 - 08:05
But no less an authority than Björn Borg wonders whether Federer, who beat world No. 272 Dominik Hrbaty in the first match on Centre Court, can hold off Spanish nemesis Rafael Nadal.
Federer has faced world number two Nadal in the previous two Wimbledon finals – and it's getting closer: they played four sets in 2006, followed by a five-set "thriller", as Federer described it, in 2007.
What's more, Nadal has now won his first grass-court title - on June 15 at Queen's Club in London.
It's true that Borg has a vested interest: he is tied with Federer for the modern-era record of five consecutive titles at the All England Club and Federer is threatening to win number six.
It's also true that Borg wasn't exactly on the money when he predicted a tight French Open final on June 8: Nadal annihilated Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0.
Still, the words of Borg, who won Wimbledon five times and the French Open six times, carry weight and after watching the Roland Garros final from a front-row seat, the Swede said of Nadal: "If he survives the first couple of rounds this year, I pick him to win Wimbledon." Over Federer? "Yes."
Such was the emphatic nature of Federer's defeat in Paris, combined with the evidence of his form this year, that for the first time since his first Wimbledon win in 2003, Federer is considered fallible.
Question marks also remain over his health following a bout of the strength-sapping mononucleosis virus during the Australian Open in January.
Third-seeded Novak Djokovic, who toppled Federer in Melbourne en route to his first major title, senses fear creeping into Federer's game and thinks the Swiss was so shaken by his French Open defeat that his five-year reign at Wimbledon could end.
"Some things are changing. I think he's a little bit shaken with that loss and mentally he has been struggling in the last couple of months," Djokovic said on Wednesday.
"It's normal to have ups and downs after four years of absolute dominance. New names are coming – fresh, talented players who believe more they can win against him and I am one of them. Suddenly he is worried a little bit."
But René Stauffer, a Swiss sport journalist at the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper and author of "Quest for perfection: The Roger Federer Story", has no doubt that Federer can win his sixth Wimbledon title.
"Right now Roger is in a very good frame of mind," Stauffer told swissinfo. "He came to the clay court season not knowing exactly where he stood, then had yet another very good clay season. Now we're on the green stuff – that's Roger's territory. The clay is Nadal's territory."
Indeed Federer reacted to his worst loss in 173 career grand slam matches – and his first 6-0 set anywhere since 1999 – as one would expect: with a win.
In his first grass tournament post-Roland Garros, on June 15 Federer won his fifth title in Halle, Germany, and the 55th of his career. Federer's previous four Halle titles from 2003-06 were followed by Wimbledon triumphs three weeks later.
"That's exactly what I hope for this time," Federer said after his victory. "That's why I'm so satisfied. That's why I will go to Wimbledon with a lot of hope."
"Obviously it's a close race," admits Stauffer. "But what everyone is ignoring at the moment is that Nadal is building up pressure on himself on grass."
Stauffer says that to win Wimbledon Nadal "has to take the initiative and try to dominate".
"That's what he did last year – he was really aggressive, he was going for the shots – and he came awfully close to beating Roger. Basically Nadal just has to play the same way he did last year and try to make those crucial breakpoints."
Nevertheless the bookmakers once again make Federer the favourite in a three-horse race. But at 2-1 Nadal is closer than he was last year, and the longest odds on third seed Djokovic are only 4-1.
Behind Djokovic, at a distant 25-1, is sixth seed Andy Roddick. A week before the tournament, Switzerland's only other male entrant, 13th seed Stanislaw Wawrinka, was being quoted by one bookie at a tempting 200-1.
In the women's tournament there's nothing to choose between Maria Sharapova, who won in 2004, and Serena Williams, winner in 2002 and 2003 – both hovering around 9-4.
Switzerland's best female hope, 12th seed Patty Schnyder, is 200-1 to win, reflecting the fact she has never made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon. Timea Bacsinszky, world No. 69, completes the Swiss delegation to southwest London.
swissinfo, Thomas Stephens
In 2001 Federer ended Pete Sampras's 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon in the fourth round of the tournament.
By winning Wimbledon in 2003, Federer joined Stefan Edberg, Pat Cash and Björn Borg as the only players to win both the juniors' and men's Wimbledon championships.
Federer has won five consecutive men's singles titles at Wimbledon (2003-2007), a feat only ever accomplished by Borg.
Pete Sampras holds the record for the total number of Wimbledon wins with seven.
Total prize money Wimbledon 2008: £11,812,000 (SFr24,200,000)
Singles winner: £750,000
Singles runner-up: £375,000
First-round loser: £10,250
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