Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wimbledon 2007--Seriving Up This Year's Competition


Roger Federer

There are a few things that will probably never change at Wimbledon. At least one rain delay per fortnight is almost inevitable. The freshly cut court grass will always be green and the players' outfits will forever be white. The champagne will always flow, the fresh strawberries and cream will always entice and Londoners will always faithfully cheer for spirited Brit underdogs like Tim Henman and Andy Murray.

But with each year, The Championships only elevate in levels of prestige and worldwide attention. An exclusive All-England club that will host the 121st Championships this summer attracts the crowds that will not only enter the gates for the anticipated match-ups but for the parade of sightings, parties, and royal cameos.

Sir Richard Branson of Virgin is a certified tennis maniac and his annual pre-tournament bash attracted the likes of Holly Branson, Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova, and the Williams sisters. Boris Becker, the newly-minted spokesperson for Ralph Lauren hosted the company’s pre-tournament store bash for guests including ASW member Nadja Swarovski and Lady Gabriella Windsor. “Unfortunately I do not play as much anymore, therefore I am a few pounds heavier!” said the three-time champion from London. “Priorities change. It used to be that my next tennis match was the most important thing in my life. Now my three kids are my priority.” This year also marks the tenth anniversary of Diana’s passing and Wimbledon was without question her favorite annual event. The highly publicized tribute concert at the new Wembley Stadium will take place on July 1st and many expect Prince William, Prince Harry and Elton John to make an appearance at the grounds. Interestingly, Kate and Pippa Middleton have received desirable invitations to the members' club section for the tournament. The post-tournament bash at Savoy promises appearances from nearly every notable member of the All-England Club, a sumptuous dinner and the chance to rub shoulders with elated champions.

But Wimbledon is a sporting event after all and all eyes will be on Swiss icon Roger Federer who’s currently riding the winning streak of 48 matches on grass and four straight triumphs at the sport’s most prestigious tournament. And like last year, the dominant world’s number one will be sporting a custom-made Nike white blazer that’s decorated with a crest of triumph and his Leo astrological sign. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking a set from this master, let alone taking a set from a master on his favorite playground. Rafael Nadal just won his third straight French Open crown but is still bowing down to Federer on this surface. “Roger is still the best player on the face of the earth,” the Spaniard told me last week. “I know that when I play him I have to give 120%, not 100% but 120% on every single point to have a chance. It’s tough enough on clay, but Wimbledon is a whole different story.”

The other supporting characters in this tale are Serbian Novak Djokovic, who has yet to prove himself on the surface, and Andy Roddick, who just won a tune-up in England but struggled against the top two and faces a tough draw. Scot Andy Murray is arriving to the bash with an injured wrist, Australian hope Lleyton Hewitt seems in need of a better sports physiologist, and Nikolai Davydenko will be happy to win three or four matches. The wild cards are Tomas Berdych, a Czech with a booming serve and an appetite for a breakthrough, and Marat Safin, who’s too talented and too much of a fan favorite to be discounted. His third-round encounter with Federer might just be the most exciting match of the tournament.

The female battle for the Venus Rosewater Dish is far more unpredictable. Defending champion Amelie Mauresmo seems to be lacking confidence this year. Maria Sharapova, the 2004 champion is yet to win a single title this year and she’s out to make a statement at her favorite contest. The sponsors, fans and the press will be rooting for Maria to reach her second final at Wimbledon but she’ll need more than the one ace she managed at Paris to triumph here. Justine Henin is a top player in the world and every year grass tends to overwhelm her 5’6” frame; however, she’s as determined this time around and she will be looking to own the only piece of silverware she’s missing. Serena Williams should be the favorite if she gets past Henin in an epic quarterfinal match. Venus needs to build some momentum in early rounds to turn her critics into believers this year. Both sisters will have enviable gear on their side; they will be playing with Wilson gold racquets in London. And the two-woman Serbian revolution consists of the cute and photogenic Ana Ivanovic and gutsy Jelena Jankovic.

For now though, it’s anybody’s game and everybody’s competition.

— Valentine Uhovksi

Photo credits: Action Images/

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