Tennis

Top seeds all comfortable on grass

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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Bjorn Borg says only one of the top four seeds can win the men’s singles at Wimbledon this year.

2011 US Open

2011 US Open

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But you know what, Bjorn? The champion will almost certainly have to encounter conditions you never dreamed about and play part of the time under a roof.

It is raining as I write, and the forecast for the first week is for more rain. Weatherman Roger Federer, adding to his talents, had predicted as much.

“I honestly thought it was going to be a bit rainy at Wimbledon this year,” he said. “This spring was just too nice all over Europe.”

Federer admitted that playing under the roof — something he has never done despite it having been in place for two years — would be “unusual” and “interesting.”

“At Halle (in Germany), I got to play some of the grass court matches under the roof, but then Wimbledon is a different Centre Court, so definitely it will take some getting used to,” he said. “Be interesting to see if, once they close the roof, it stays that way even if it becomes a beautiful afternoon — if they just use it to finish the match, so forth.”

Federer was musing about the details that champions become concerned about. Picking up on Borg’s prediction, Federer went on:

Roger Federer

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“I just think all four guys at the top feel very comfortable on grass right now; whereas in the beginning Rafa (Nadal) was looking a little bit for how good he was on grass. I think as time went by he showed how good he was, and (Andy) Murray’s game is very natural for this surface. I think (Novak) Djokovic has always been great but nothing extraordinary yet. But with the run he’s on, there’s a lot of possibilities for him here as well. So this year it seems like all of us are comfortable on grass, which is a good thing.”

Apart from Tomas Berdych, last year’s finalist whose form has fallen away, the man who might be a little bit miffed at being left out of Borg’s assessment would be Andy Roddick, a three-time finalist at Wimbledon. Despite being taken apart by Murray in the semifinal at the Queen’s Club last week, Roddick had been striking the ball pretty well. And most importantly, according to coach Larry Stefanki, Roddick is moving better since he got rid of the ankle brace he had been wearing.

Roddick plays a qualifier (as yet unnamed) in the first round and then may have to deal with one of two big-serving left-handers — Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci or Spain’s Feliciano Lopez — in round three. More pertinently, presuming they both survive, Roddick will have to face Murray in the round of 16.

Andy Roddick

FACTS OF FUTILITY

American tennis is at one of its lowest points in years. A look at some of the facts and figures:

Last US man to win a major — Andy Roddick, 2003 US Open

Last US woman to win a major — Serena Williams, 2010 Wimbledon

Last US woman other than a Williams sister to win a major — Jennifer Capriati, 2002 U.S. Open

Highest-ranked US man under 23 years old — Donald Young, No. 123

Highest-ranked US woman under 23 years old — Christina McHale, No. 74

But Murray, for one, is not looking that far ahead.

“It’s not worth thinking about who you might face later on, like Nadal in the semis, for instance,” said the Scot. “You need to be focused on your first match, and that for me is Daniel Gimeno-Traver.”

Nadal, incidentally, has a tough road. After a first round against the American veteran Michael Russell, who will get a Centre Court outing as his reward for dogged perseverance, Nadal will probably need to survive the jet-powered serving of new Canadian prospect Milos Raonic before meeting another giant server, Juan Martin del Potro.

America’s other top-tenner, Mardy Fish, is also in Nadal’s quarter and opens against Spain’s Marcel Granollers. Berdych would probably come into his line of fire before he could meet the defending champion.

The women’s draw has taken on a completely different look since the sudden return of the Williams sisters. Serena won one match at Eastbourne, Venus two. Both looked threatening, although Serena, inevitably, appeared to lack match play more than her sister, who has been out of the game only six months compared with 12.

But it would be impossible to rule either or both being involved at the sharp end of the tournament. With all due respect to their rivals, Serena and Venus when playing near their best are better than anyone else on grass — and maybe on other surfaces, too.

But it is all about proving it. Serena is wary of making predictions and just talks about being happy to play again. Venus, bolder, says she is here to win. As she has done so five times, she can’t be ruled out.

“Obviously no one wants to play them,” says Caroline Wozniacki, the world No. 1 who is trying to get past the problem of never having won a Grand Slam.

But like Maria Sharapova, whose recent form has put her back in the running for what would be a second title, Wozniacki is pleased to welcome the Williamses.

“First of all, Serena and Venus are great girls,” says the Dane. “I have a good relationship with them. It’s always good to have a good laugh in the locker room. I think I read somewhere that, in the last 11 years, a Williams has won nine times. That says something about, first of all, how great they are but also how well they are playing on grass.”

Serena Williams

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Sharapova added, “Absolutely, it’s good for the game to have them back. They’ve been champions here many years. They’re obviously the ones to beat on grass.”

Sharapova then went off to a private room to meet with five young winners of a competition set up by the British LTA. Revealing a side of herself that the public rarely gets to see, Sharapova answered their questions seriously and laughed happily at some of the less likely ones.

“Did you go shopping in Paris?” was one of them. “Yes” was the answer. Apparently Sharapova bought a “not-your-everyday-sort of chapeau” and some perfume.

If neither Williams sister ends up winning the title, as Serena did last year, then Sharapova will be one of the favorites to do so, especially since Kim Clijsters has, sadly, been forced to withdraw because of injury.

But, like everyone else, Sharapova will need to be wary of Li Na, the new French Open champion.

Sharapova lost to the Chinese star at Roland Garros but is full of praise for the way Li has improved.

Maria Sharapova

MORE MARIA

Can't get enough Maria Sharapova? We don't blame you. Check out these photos.

“You had the feeling she was going to break through,” Sharapova said. “I felt that last year, and now I feel she’s raising her level. As for tennis, I think it’s great what she has done for her country. I think it brings a lot of attention to the world that we have a Grand Slam champion from China.”

Li could win, and if she does, one could assume that more than the 116 million reckoned to have watched the French Open final would be tuned in.

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