Tennis: Focus on Federer, Nadal, 2 sisters at Wimbledon

AP, Monday 27 Jun 2011

Roger Federer insists he hasn't been fretting about when or _ perhaps more to the point _ if he will win a 17th Grand Slam championship

Federer, Serena Williams, Nadal and Venus Williams
Nadal, Serena Williams, Federer and Venus Williams

"I don't go through days thinking, like, 'My God, I haven't won a Grand Slam in so long,"' Federer said. "It hasn't been that long, to be honest." Its only long by his remarkable standards; his record-extending 16th major trophy came at the Australian Open in January 2010. That nearly 18-month drought could end at Wimbledon, where Federer already has won six titles, one behind Willie Renshaw (who played in the 1800s) and Pete Sampras.

"It doesn't come in phases; I'm always hungry," Federer said. "And that's a good thing." Serena Williams' bid for what would be her fifth title at the All England Club, and 14th overall at major tournaments, also was still in play with Week 2 of the grass-court Grand Slam set to begin Monday.

"I'm still alive, and it feels good," said Williams, who could become the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1991-93 to win Wimbledon three years in a row. "You know, I'm hoping to be around _ and planning to be around _ a lot longer." As the 125th edition of the tournament heads into the fourth round, all of the principal players are still around, as are the story lines that drew the most interest at the start, from the Williams sisters' comebacks to the dominance of the leading men.

After Sunday's traditional day of rest, action was to resume with all 16 men's and women's fourth-round matches.

Two stood out in particular: Top-seeded Rafael Nadal against No. 24 Juan Martin del Potro, and No. 23 Venus Williams against No. 32 Tsvetana Pironkova in a reprise of a 2010 quarterfinal won by the Bulgarian.

The Williams sisters have combined to win nine of the past 11 Wimbledon singles titles, and while Serena has played only five matches in the past 11½ months, and Venus missed about five months with a hip injury, both are clearly capable of producing top-level tennis.

Also in the picture are top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, hoping for her first Grand Slam title, and 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova.

"There's no doubt you have to improve with the second week coming. That's always the toughest part," said Sharapova, who's won three major titles but none since 2008. "That's where you hope you raise your level." The top four men _ Nadal, No. 2 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Federer and No. 4 Andy Murray _ filled out the semifinals at the French Open, and no one would be too surprised if they did that again at Wimbledon. They lost a total of three sets during Week 1.

Djokovic and Murray are two-time semifinalists at Wimbledon, but neither has been to the final. Murray hopes to give Britain its first male champion at the All England Club _ at any Grand Slam tournament actually _ since 1936.

Djokovic, whose 43-match winning streak ended with a loss to Federer in the French Open semifinals, faces No. 19 Michael Llodra, at 31 the oldest man left and finally in the fourth round on his 11th appearance at Wimbledon.

Murray meets No. 17 Richard Gasquet, while the last American man in the field, No. 10 Mardy Fish, plays 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych.

One thing worth keeping an eye on is Nadal's fitness. He slipped behind the baseline a couple of times during his third-round victory over Gilles Muller, and afterward acknowledged he was bothered by a right leg muscle.

But he also said he can "play with that, without problems.

"After so many years of dominance on clay _ he won his sixth French Open championship this month _ Nadal has become quite good on grass. Since the start of Wimbledon in 2006, he is 29-2 at the tournament. His only losses were to Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals; Nadal won the 2008 and 2010 titles, and was sidelined in 2009 by tendinitis in his knees.

"Against him, you should play unbelievable tennis. You should play everything perfect, and then maybe you have a little chance," said del Potro, who was forced to play every day from Monday through Saturday because of rain.

"He will be the big favorite." That might be true. But even though del Potro lost in the second round in all three previous visits to the All England Club, his chances against Nadal shouldn't be dismissed.

At the 2009 U.S. Open, del Potro did beat Nadal in the semifinals, then Federer in the final; the only time someone beat both in the course of a single Grand Slam tournament. It's also the only time in the past 25 major tournaments that a man other than Federer, Nadal or Djokovic took home the title.

The Argentine is working his way back after missing most of the 2010 season because of surgery on his right wrist, and while he's seeded 24th, Nadal pointed out that "his level is much better than what the ranking says today." Women's matchups include No. 7 Serena Williams against No.

9 Marion Bartoli, the 2007 runner-up; Wozniacki against No.

24 Dominika Cibulkova; and No. 5 Sharapova against No. 20 Peng Shuai of China.

Venus Williams' straight-set loss against Pironkova a year ago represented only the third time in the American's past 11 trips to Wimbledon that she didn't reach the final.

"Unfortunately, I didn't play that well. Regardless of how I play, I know I'll be competing this time," said the older Williams sister, who has won five of her seven career Grand Slam singles titles at the All England Club.

"Last year, I let a few games get away, and instead of coming back, I let it all get to me. You can't do that, especially in a Wimbledon quarterfinal," she continued.

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