Federer sees room at the top for Tim

Champion's idea of a perfect final embraces Henman - but Roddick and Hewitt may beg to differ

Received wisdom from the bookmakers is that only four men are in with a serious chance of winning Wimbledon: the defending champion and world No 1, Roger Federer, who has been installed as the clear favourite, followed by Andy Roddick, Tim Henman and the 2002 winner, Lleyton Hewitt.

Received wisdom from the bookmakers is that only four men are in with a serious chance of winning Wimbledon: the defending champion and world No 1, Roger Federer, who has been installed as the clear favourite, followed by Andy Roddick, Tim Henman and the 2002 winner, Lleyton Hewitt.

Henman thinks otherwise and, bearing in mind that David Nalbandian baselined his way to the 2002 final against another baseliner in Hewitt, expands his personal list of contenders to nine, since the courts and balls were made slower and heavier respectively.

Perhaps so, but Wimbledon traditionally goes to the bold as well as talented individual and Federer, the bold lad who won it so brilliantly last summer, was nice enough to confide the other day that him versus Henman would be his idea of the perfect final. Tim's, too, you can bet.

Henman's thoughts on his prospects are outlined opposite, but Federer's opinion of our hero is interesting. "Because [Henman] has made it so many times to the semis and quarters, anything is possible. I admire his attitude on and off the court, and I have the feeling that at last he knows his potential and that is why he has become a better player. I understood this early in my career, maybe him a little bit later." And what would such a final be like, Roger? "I wouldn't call it a nightmare, but a nice experience to play him on Centre Court. But it doesn't make it any easier, because you always have the feeling he is going to take more risks because he is meant to be there." Having lost in four sets to Henman in the quarter-finals three years ago, Federer knows of what he speaks.

After what he confesses was a moment of disbelief when he won 12 months ago, Federer has quickly adapted to the changed life that being Wimbledon champion entails. "I wanted to play it low- key at first and pretend everything was still the same. But I have to say it is a different life, much more busy, especially since I also became No 1. I am well known wherever I go, it's a different life whether you like it or not.

"There is a downside to it, not being able to see enough of my family, but there are so many good things, I meet so many people, I can play in the most beautiful stadiums, I can do what I love."

So, then, what are the chances of Federer going on doing what he loves from the privileged status of Wimbledon's top man? He is optimistic: "My game is good, I am happy the way I am playing right now. It is going to be more mental than anything and hopefully I won't have to live through something like last year, the back spasm I suffered. Physically I am fit, mentally I think I am fine too, but until I am on court I won't know. But I feel better than last year because I know what I am capable of.

"My dream would be to defend this title. But if that doesn't work I can always come back and win it a second time. I am still very young [he is 22] and will have many more chances. Obviously I go into every match now with the feeling that players are trying harder to beat me because I am No 1 and Wimbledon champion. But in a way I have felt like this all my life, I have always felt hunted by everybody, so this is not a new situation."

Most obviously in the hunt is Andy Roddick, he of the monster serve and mighty ambition. The American 21-year-old marches into Wimbledon in the peak of grass-court form, having retained his Stella Artois title at Queen's Club a week ago. Federer also has a grass title in his pocket, having won again at Halle in some comfort, and the Swiss also has something of more importance up his sleeve - the fashion in which he demolished Roddick in the semi-finals a year ago.

Roddick has not forgotten that mauling, though he is not the sort to have suffered sleepless nights over it. In turn he possesses the mighty weapon of a serve that keeps upping the world speed record, and three times at Queen's he clocked a new mark of 153 miles an hour.

The American charmingly insists he regards such moments as just one point won, and that if he could hold serve by delivering the ball underarm he would do so, a nice thought in these biff-bang times. He, too, is a much improved performer following a full year under the guidance of Brad Gilbert, and will be hoping to take up the cause of the United States at Wimbledon where Pete Sampras left off in 2000.

Henman's list of those to treat with suspicion and respect will include known performers on grass such as Sjeng Schalken, Jonas Bjorkman and his personal bête noire, Sébastien Grosjean, the acrobats of the court like Paradorn Srichaphan, and as-yet unproven battle cruisers such as Marat Safin, if he is fully fit.

As for Henman, finding himself seeded fifth behind the Argentinian pair, Guillermo Coria and Nalbandian - until the latter's withdrawal yesterday due to a rib injury - must have come as a surprise after the benevolent way he has been regarded in the past by those who make such decisions at the All England Club.

But he has come well out of the draw, avoiding Federer's half and finding himself with easy matches in prospect until a possible clash with Mark Philippoussis in the fourth round. The absence of Nalbandian certainly helps, and then, if all pans out as expected, it would be Roddick for a place in the final. Roddick, remember, is one of the big names Henman defeated on his way to taking the Masters Series title of Paris last November. So we are not talking mission impossible here, especially in view of Tim's current mile-high confidence.

Hewitt, also safely in the other half of the draw, is the sort of pest Henman has never been able to shake off or overcome, which is further good news for the sole serious British interest. Hewitt is a firm believer in the "four serious contenders" theory and, being a realistic sort of chap, he has included himself in the quartet. Having plummeted from a two-year reign at No 1 to end last year with a ranking of 17, Hewitt has scrapped his way back into the top 10, though he of all people ought not to be discounting no-hopers wielding a broadsword.

The memory is still fresh of the Centre Court scene last year, with Hewitt staring high into the sky and forcing a smile to congratulate the 6ft 10in Ivo Karlovic on ending his ambitions of retaining the title before tea on the opening day. That sort of thing couldn't possibly happen this time round to Federer against Britain's Alex Bogdanovich, could it?

THE LEADING EIGHT MEN AND WOMEN

Men's seeds

1 Roger Federer (Switz)
Holder has complete game. Forget his three first-round defeats at SW19; remember straight-sets title romp.
Championships played: 5.
Best result: winner 2004.

2 Andy Roddick (US)
Fastest serve in the world (153mph); is also contender for scruffiest beard. Proven winner on grass.
Record: 3; semi-finals 2003.

3 Guillermo Coria (Arg, below)
Clay specialist yet to win a match at Wimbledon; a baffling seeding.
Record: 2; 1st round 2001, '03.

5 Tim Henman (GB)
This year? The draw has been kind, but Roddick looms in the semis.
Record: 11; semis 1998, '99, 2001, '02

6 Juan Carlos Ferrero (Sp)
Former world No 1's form is spotty after chickenpox earlier in year.
Record: 3; 4th round 2003.

7 Lleyton Hewitt (Aus)

Live wire back on track after dismal 2003, when he lost in first round.
Record: 5; winner 2002.

8 Rainer Schüttler (Ger)
Compulsive shirt-changer, but unlikely to clean up from baseline.
Record: 6; 4th round 2003.

9 Carlos Moya (Sp)
Clay-courter making first appearance since 2001. Don't expect fireworks.
Record: 6; 2nd rd, 1997, '98, '99, '01.

Women's seeds

1 Serena Williams (US)
Going for hat-trick. This year's Belgian-free zone will help, but eight-month lay-off in past year won't.
Record: 5; winner 2002, '03.

2 Anastasia Myskina (Rus)
Won French Open, but less confident on grass. A screamer on court, who swears by (and at) her coach.
Record: 4; 4th round 2003.

3 Venus Williams (US)
Not the force she was. Don't bank on a Williams sisters' final this time.
Record: 7; winner 2000, '01.

4 Amélie Mauresmo (Fr)
Has the attacking power to win, but confidence is perennial problem.
Record: 4; semi-finals 2002.

5 Lindsay Davenport (US)
Hard hitter, but most mobile thing about her these days is her phone.
Record: 10; winner 1999.

6 Elena Dementieva (Rus)
Poor serve a problem against the best, but thrashed Mauresmo in Paris.
Record: 5; 4th round 2002, '03.

7 Jennifer Capriati (US)
Youngest seed here 14 years ago, at 27 is survivor with a fighter's chance.
Record: 10; semi-finals 1991, 2001.

8 Svetlana Kuznetsova (Rus)
Yet another rapid Russian; has risen from world No 30 to No 9 this year.
Record: 2; quarter-finals 2003.

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