Williams, Federer seek fourth Wimbledon titles

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/v/venuswilliams2.jpg' class='caption'> Roger Federer and Venus Williams start their campaign at Wimbledon on Monday with an aim of winning their fourth title at the Grand Slam tournament.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:35 IST
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As recently as a year ago, there was a growing sense that Venus Williams was no longer the player she once was, lacking the drive and perhaps the game to compete for Grand Slam titles. And then came her masterful two weeks on the lawns of the All England Club, capped by a thrilling, 9-7 third-set victory over Lindsay Davenport in the final, giving Williams a third Wimbledon championship. So it clearly would be a mistake to discount her chances when play begins on Monday at the grass-court major, even if she's only ranked 12th, has a 10-4 record in another injury-interrupted season and is without a title of any sort since, well, Wimbledon. Asked on Sunday about whether success here in 2005 meant she has nothing left to prove, Williams sounded as hungry and confident as ever. "I'm not in the provin' business, but I am in the business of playing very good tennis, particularly at Wimbledon. Am I more relaxed this year? It seems like it," she said. "I always love to bring home the title. When I come to a tournament, especially Wimbledon, I feel like I'm definitely one of the main contenders to do that." But for how much longer? Talk of retirement is filling the air around these parts after Andre Agassi's announcement on Saturday that this will be his last Wimbledon, and the US Open will be his last tournament, period. Williams, 26, is taking more precautions to protect her sometimes fragile body, saying on Sunday that she won't play for the United States against Belgium in the Fed Cup semifinals because, "I can't play that much tennis and stay healthy. It's a proven fact." Still, while saying she hasn't thought about walking away from the sport, she added her future could be tied to that of her sister Serena, who hasn't played since January because of an injured left knee. "I'd like it if we retired together," Venus said. "That would be cool." Even with Serena and Davenport sidelined, there is a long list of potential women's champions, including 2004 winner Maria Sharapova, top-ranked Amelie Mauresmo, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Kim Clijsters - and the unretired Martina Hingis, who won Wimbledon way back in 1997 at age 16, and is competing at the tournament for the first time since 2001. "Venus, you can never count her out," Hingis said. "She showed she's still got some skills last year." At least one Williams sister - on two occasions, both - played in each of the past six Wimbledon finals. Venus is 34-3 at the All England Club since 2000; her previous play on grass is why her seeding (No. 6) is better than her ranking. "It seems," she said, "like my game goes to another level here." Taking the game to another level Andy Roddick might be hoping that happens for him again, too. He's reached the final the last two years at Wimbledon, and was a semifinalist in 2003, each time losing to eventual champion Roger Federer. Roddick's been in a bit of a funk in 2006, going 24-11 without a title, but his powerful serve and forehand allow him to dictate points on grass. "We get three months on clay a year, and we get only three weeks on grass, so I have to try and make the most of it. I really look forward to it," he said on Sunday. "You know what it is - this surface is favorable for my game, I like the conditions, it suits me. The recipe is there for something really good to happen." At least one other person also believes the 2003 US Open champion can regain his groove over the next two weeks: Federer. Why? "Because of his game and of his name and because of his experience, what he's achieved on grass the last few years," Federer said. "The former No. 1s, the former Grand Slam champions - any tournament, they can all of a sudden turn it around and win and be extremely dangerous and tough. No different for Andy." As the defending champion, Federer gets the honor of playing the first match on Centre Court on Monday. A win would be his 42nd in a row on grass, breaking Bjorn Borg's record set in 1976-81. The draw didn't do Federer any favors, however. He opens against Richard Gasquet of France, who won a second straight title at the Nottinghman grass-court tuneup last week and was edged by Federer 7-6 (7), 6-7 (7), 6-4 the week before at Halle, Germany. Federer, who's won seven of the past 12 Grand Slam tournaments, paid Gasquet the highest of compliments on Sunday: "Reminds me a bit of me sometimes." If Federer gets through that test, he could face four-time Wimbledon semifinalist Tim Henman of Britain in the second round. "It's one of the toughest draws I've had in a long time," said Federer, attempting to become only the third man since 1913 to collect four consecutive Wimbledon titles, joining Borg and Pete Sampras. "But to win the tournament, you've got to beat everybody, so that's obviously my aim." (AP)

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