Timetable chaos threatens to leave Woodbridge doubled up

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The Independent Online

No rest for the wicked or the doubles player. Todd Woodbridge, supreme exponent of the art, must follow A Hard Day's Night of men's doubles with The Longest Day of mixed if he is to deprive Martina Navratilova of a 20th Wimbledon title today and win a ninth of his own.

Late last evening the 32-year-old Australian with the Michael Owen looks partnered the Swede Jonas Bjorkman to a successful defence of their men's doubles title against the top seeds, Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi, 3-6 6-3 7-6 6-3.

The old cliché of taking each game as it comes was never more important for the amiable Woodbridge, who goes into a mixed doubles quarter-final today and then, if successful, a semi-final and final, partnering the 18-year-old Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova. With or without hindsight, it would have been more sensible to have played one of the mixed matches earlier, which would still have allowed time before the final. But Wimbledon has its own way of dealing with these things. What the chaotic timetable emphasised was how little leeway there is for the whole tournament, given that only a couple of days in the fortnight were affected by rain.

Woodbridge's workload, though still formidable, had been eased slightly by a comfortable ride to the men's final. But with Bjorkman reaching the singles quarter-final, the matches had come thick and fast over the last couple of days.

The pair may have been playing their 10th final in 19 tournaments together, but it was still something of a shock to see one half of the "Woodies" partnership without the other. Mark Woodforde retired after the 2000 Olympics, in which he and his Sydneysider mate had to settle for the silver medal. They had taken 11 Grand Slam titles, six of them at Wimbledon between 1993-2000 (with a defeat in the final in 1998) and become the most successful pair in tennis history in completing a haul of 61 titles.

All four men had been subjected to the uncertainties of the Williams match, and so the four musketeers got on to court at a quarter to five, just about the right time for an Australian television audience returning from a Saturday night out. There were three spectators and two security men in the Royal Box to watch them.

Bhupati, from Madras, is a renowned doubles practitioner who also changed partners, splitting last year with his countryman Leander Paes, with whom he had reached all four Grand Slam finals three years ago. His fierce serving was the feature of the first set, while all around were losing theirs; the 6ft 5in Mirnyi, "The Beast", was first to crack, in the opening game but Woodbridge - whose serve is the weakest part of his game - followed suit. So did Bjorkman, to put the defending champions 2-4 down, and when Mirnyi unleashed a 129mph serve shortly afterwards, the first set was won and lost in 25 minutes.

The Belarussian is a versatile character, who has won titles with 10 different partners en route to becoming the year's highest-ranked doubles player. At that stage the physical power at his end of the court, complemented by Bhupati's touch at the net, was threatening Woodbridge's assault on a whole crop of records.

Woodbridge's prospects improved as the champions took the second set, interrupted only as Bjorkman initially missed three set points and Concorde passed deafeningly overhead, "by special arrangement" we were assured. The Centre Court crowd, prone to applaud anything and everything, put their hands together for the pointed plane and then the point that mattered, volleyed home by the Swede.

The tactical battle involved much secret finger-pointing behind the back from Bhupati to his partner, while Bjorkman and Woodbridge settled for more conventional whispering behind their hands.

By the third set, each system was working equally well. Everyone had relaxed a little, the serving was better, and after Woodbridge and Bjorkman saved three set points, a tiebreak was required, in which Mirnyi conceded two mini-breaks and Woodbridge finished matters.

Those with early trains to catch were by now on their way home. They missed a fourth set which became the final one as Mirnyi was broken in the sixth game thanks to Bjorkman's fine returns. Woodbridge, appropriately, tied up another title with an equally impressive service game.

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