Federer the king ready to hold court

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The Independent Online

After breaking Guillermo Vilas's 29-year-old record of 53 successive victories on clay at the French Open last month, Rafael Nadal was presented on court with a trophy. If Roger Federer breaks Bjorn Borg's 25-year-old record of 41 consecutive wins on grass when he begins his attempt to win a fourth successive Wimbledon title against Richard Gasquet on Centre Court this afternoon, do not expect any award ceremonies.

"It's not the right thing to get a trophy for streaks," Federer said at the All England Club yesterday. "They did it at the French, which I thought was a little strange... You get a trophy at the end of a tournament, not after a first-round win."

Federer's lack of interest in such feats should not be confused with any failure to appreciate his own place in history. The world No 1 spoke yesterday both of his appreciation of Andre Agassi's feat in winning all four Grand Slam tournaments - his own hopes of holding the four titles at the same time were dashed when he lost to Nadal in the French Open final - and of his ambition to win the 2012 Olympic title at Wimbledon.

If Federer is still chasing titles in six years' time it will be a major surprise if he has not left the records set by Pete Sampras in his wake, although he says he has hardly thought about beating the American's record of seven Wimbledon crowns. "As long as I'm not past halfway, there's no point thinking about it," he said.

Federer, 24, has arrived in London feeling in great shape. "I was very tired last year coming to my Wimbledon preparations," he said. "The year before I was very nervous because I was the defending champion. This year I'm much more relaxed. I've had a great start to the season. I haven't had a match where I played poorly all year."

Statistically the last 12 months have been the most successful in Federer's career. His only defeats have been in the Masters Cup final to David Nalbandian in Shanghai and finals this year in Dubai, Monte Carlo, Rome and Paris.

However, the fact that those last four defeats have all been to Nadal has detracted from Federer's aura of invincibility, even if it would be a major surprise if the Spaniard could take his clay form on to grass, despite his promising performances at Queen's Club earlier this month.

Although he should beat Agassi if he meets the American on his Wimbledon swansong in the third round, Nadal's half of the draw also includes grass-court specialists in Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt. Roddick has been runner-up for the last two years, but his recent results have been indifferent and Hewitt, the winner at Queen's last weekend, seems a much better proposition. After a difficult time with injuries, the Australian is looking more like the Wimbledon champion of four years ago.

Federer faces difficult challenges from the start. Gasquet, who beat him in Monte Carlo 14 months ago, is a hugely talented player - Federer said the Frenchman's ability on all surfaces reminds him of himself - and in the second round he could face Tim Henman, who has an outstanding Wimbledon record. The former British No 1, who must first beat Robin Soderling, has won six of his 10 matches against Federer.

Nalbandian is another potentially tough opponent provided he has recovered from the abdominal injury which forced him to retire from their semi-final in Paris, but Federer's greatest threat could come from Mario Ancic. The Croat, who is seeded to meet the champion in the quarter-finals, was the last player to beat him at Wimbledon (in 2002) and has enjoyed an excellent spring campaign.

The British challenge? Greg Rusedski will do well to get past Marat Safin and probably Fernando Gonzalez in the first two rounds and Henman would surely founder against Federer, which would again leave Andy Murray to fly the Union Jack. He could have a decent Wimbledon if he gets past Nicolas Massu in the first round, but Roddick and Hewitt are prospective opponents in the third round and quarter-finals.

The women's competition appears wide open. Justine Henin-Hardenne, who followed up her French Open title by winning at Eastbourne last week, is the form player and could come through the bottom half of the draw if she beats Martina Hingis in the quarter-finals. Maria Sharapova, the 2004 champion, appears to have a reasonable path to the last four, where she might meet Amélie Mauresmo or Venus Williams, who made such a wonderful comeback to win 12 months ago and has been hitting good form again recently.

It is 20 years since the men's and women's titles were both successfully defended, by Boris Becker and Martina Navratilova. The feeling here is that Federer and Williams can emulate them, by beating Hewitt and Henin-Hardenne in their finals.