The Swiss maestro Federer and the powerful Spaniard Nadal have contested four of the last five finals at the All England Club.
Wanted: someone to break the Wimbledon duopoly
LONDON // Those who believe it would be beneficial for men's tennis if the seven-year Wimbledon duopoly of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was broken this year would have been scanning the draw yesterday in search of stumbling blocks for the pair who have won 23 grand slam titles between them.
The Swiss maestro and the powerful Spaniard have contested four of the last five finals at the All England Club. Possibly the only reason they did not meet last year was because Nadal pulled out before the tournament with knee troubles. The portents for a fifth meeting look encouraging for those craving another instalment of their rivalry. Others who would like to see a new name etched on the men's trophy will probably wonder where they will drop a set.
Federer is in the same half of the draw as Novak Djokovic and Lleyton Hewitt. Robin Soderling and Andy Murray are bracketed with Nadal, who also faces potential danger in round three from Latvia's Ernests Gulbis. Although Federer has won a record 16 grand slam titles, including this year's Australian Open, he has shown signs of fallibility. The rest of the 128-man draw may take some comfort from the fact he has not won a tournament since Australia.
It is also the first time since 2001 Federer has come to Wimbledon with only one tournament victory for the year. However, chasing a record seven consecutive Wimbledon finals and trying to match Pete Sampras with seven titles is likely to provide Federer with motivation. Nadal, meanwhile, will draw enormous strength from having beaten Federer in a five-set epic final in their last grass-court meeting two years ago.
He may also be buoyed by his resounding success in the French Open. The obvious candidates to challenge the pair's grass-court supremacy are Andy Roddick, Djokovic, Soderling and Murray. Roddick has the ground strokes and booming serve to flourish at Wimbledon, as evidenced by his three finals appearances. But he must be starting to feel that he will be the perennial bridesmaid. Whether the scars have healed from his epic five-set defeat to Federer in last year's showpiece will be a compelling issue.
The two could meet again in the semi-final. The attritional style of Djokovic, the world No 3, tends to lend itself better to surfaces other than the lawns of the All England Club. Nadal possesses the same sort of approach but he tends to hit more winners on grass than Djokovic. Soderling, seeded sixth after the best year of his career, could be a threat if he manages to transfer his impressive form on clay - he has reached the final of the last two French Opens - to grass.
Murray, on the other hand, possesses the armoury to succeed on grass and has shown flashes of brilliance at Wimbledon in the past two years. But he appears to be struggling with his game and the pressure on his 23-year-old shoulders to become the first British player to win the men's title since 1936. The predictably of the men's title has been mirrored in the women's draw, where the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are again seeded to meet in the final. Yet both are more vulnerable than usual. Venus, a five-time champion at Wimbldeon, struggled at Roland Garros when she was overwhelmed by Russia's Nadia Petrova in a fourth-round shock.
Equally surprising was Serena's performance in Paris, which dashed her hopes of a first calendar grand slam. She acknowledged being outplayed by Australia's Samantha Stosur, an unexpected finalist along with the eventual champion Francesca Schiavone. A re-emerging Maria Sharapova, who caused a shock by defeating Serena in the final six years ago, has good reason to fancy her chances of repeating at the last 16 stage this time. Much of the interest in the women's draw focused on where the Belgian comeback queens - Kim Clijsters and Justine Henine - would be placed.
They are in the same quarter; the eighth-seeded Clijsters returning to action again after a nagging foot injury. Henin, who has not won enough matches since coming out of retirement to warrant a protected place among the top 16 seeds, was the player all the big guns wanted to avoid. It cannot be an all-Belgian final, but one of them could walk on to Centre Court on July 3 and offer a change from the traditional Californian sister act.