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By Rohit Sharma
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Roland Garros great Ivan Lendl once said that if he could, he would happily trade all his French Open crowns with one elusive Wimbledon title. The statement and it's mention here certainly do not bring down the high merits of the prestigious Clay court championship, but highlight the history and exclusivity of the Grand Slam that almost every tennis player, big or small, atleast once dreams of winning.
It's June and the Mecca of tennis is pouring in with loyal spectators and the world's best tennis players, all trying to be a part of the history. The withdrawal of the defending champion Rafael Nadal does lessen the excitement a little bit, especially to all the Mallorcan's fans around the world. But perhaps it comes from the fact that the 2008 final between Nadal and Federer is considered by many as the best match in the history of the Sport.
Nadal's unavailability wide opens the draw for others to take advantage of, most notably of whom is the 5 time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. To say that Federer's chances for a sixth title here brighten with Nadal's withdrawl would somehow be-little the Swiss maestro's legendary status and spirited capabilities. Statistically, the last four Grand Slams have been equally split between the two players, though, it was Nadal, who emerged triumphant with a win over arch nemesis Federer in Wimbledon last year and then in Melbourne Park this year. Federer just seemed to be benefitted by Nadal's loss to other players in New York and then in Paris, recently. Federer's gutsy performance on the red clay proved his mettle and the fact that he is here to stay. And with such invincible form, another crown at the All England Lawn Tennis Club is not an unattainable task.
Interestingly, Federer thinks that Andy Murray has the ability to perform well at the Slick lawns of Wimbledon - “Andy Murray’s best surface might be grass – I think he’s playing excellent,” Federer revealed. Certainly Federer is not the only one with such a prediction. Tim Henman also believes that Murray has a genuine chance to lift this year's trophy. Murray has been in impressive form this year and has won four titles including a wimbledon warm-up at the Queen's Club.
With Federer and Murray being the front runners for this year's championship, the one's with an outside chance are Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro. Juan Martin Del Potro has had wins over both Nadal and Murray on different surfaces this year and he literally stretched Federer to limits in their semifinal match at the French Open.
Djokovic, on the other hand, drastically improved his game and took it to another level, thanks to his brilliant performance during the claycourt season and an impressive win against Federer. Even with such a regaled resume', Djokovic is an outsider as far as contendorship is concerned.
Others who may not bring the title glory home but are capable of pulling major upsets are Andy Roddick, a two-time finalist here, Fernando Verdasco, who, irrespective of his clay-court mastery, can be held responsible for some big exits from the top five and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whose accompolished play at the net might fetch him some shocking results.
In the women's draw, Williams is the one word which seems to comeback every year no matter what the seedings are and what the performance has been. Seven of the last nine victories have belonged to a 'Williams', which is a fact that can not be denied when the contendors for this year's title are being discussed. Five time champion Venus Williams has had the privilege to break her own record as the lowest seed to win Wimbledon when she lifted the crown in 2007 as the 23rd seed after her 2005 triumph as the 13th seed to win the Venus Rosewater dish, the trophy which quite coincidently recites the 6'1'' tall American's legacy at the lawns of the All England Lawn tennis Club. The fact is that Venus can never be excluded from the list of contendors, even if she comes into the championships without a single match win.
Apart from the two-time defending champion, the 2002-03 champion Serena Williams also has the ability to bring home the crown. Serena's performance slump since her win at the year's first Grand Slam in Australia has made her stakes at this year's title quite doubtful. Surprisingly, her quarterfinal run at the French Open gives a testimonial of her grit and determination to do well at the majors. A quarterfinal finish at Roland Garros followed three consecutive first round losses in Marbella, Rome and Madrid which simply explain that apart from injury, there are very few distractions in Serena's road to the finals.
Current World number one Dinara Safina seems hungrier than the entire lot as another runner-up finish at Roland Garros has placed a question mark over her stakes at the title. The most surprising and should we say disappointing loss for Safina came at the hands of Thai Tamarine Tanasugarn in the semifinal in 'S-Hertogenbosch. Safina looked much brighter in her quest for French Open as compared to Wimbledon, where she seems to be an outsider, even with a top seed status.
The players who are more likely to challenge the Williams' hegemony are Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki. Azarenka toppled an injured Serena for the Miami title in March, which was an aberration for Williams, being a five time champion in Key Biscayne. However, from then on, Azarenka has improved miraculously and has proved her mettle on the red clay of Roland Garros with a quarterfinals finish. Wozniacki, on the other hand, enters the AELTC with a grasscourt title in Eastbourne. Although an injury cut short her run at the French, Wimbledon seems more likely to bring the best out of her.
And in the end, the 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who, despite all her past failures on the green grass at SW19, has the game and the courage to deny anyone a chance at the silverware on a given day. Her win over Serena Williams in the quarterfinals came as a sweet revenge to her loss in the semifinals in Australia which turned out to be quite soul-stirring for the two time Grand Slam event champion from Russia.
The potential upsetters in the women's draw include names like Indian Wells champion Vera Zvonareva, French Open semifinalist Dominika Cibulkova, Serbians Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, 2008 surprise semifinalist Zheng Jie and past champions Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova, who has been granted the 24th seed as opposed to her World no. 59 ranking, only because of her startling performance post a nine month layoff due to an injury and a courageous quarterfinal run at the French Open this year.
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