Belfast Telegraph

Federer defends his title prospects after Borg voices doubts

A swarm of bees descended on players heading to and from the practice courts yesterday, but the biggest buzz on the eve of Wimbledon appeared to surround fashion issues.

Maria Sharapova revealed she would be wearing shorts at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, while Roger Federer was giving little away when asked about his outfit. "I'm not going to go for a skirt yet," the defending champion said. "But I'll have something. I'll have a cardigan. I'll make sure I'll be a class act on the court."

A class act, maybe, but in the eyes of Bjorn Borg, whose record of five successive titles he equalled here last year, not the favourite. Although Federer is unbeaten in his last 59 matches on grass, Borg considers Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Nos 2 and 3 in the world, to be more likely winners.

"I'm surprised, but I don't mind what Bjorn says," Federer said on the eve of his opening match today against Dominik Hrbaty. "It's his opinion. Both Rafa and Novak had a good Queen's, but they didn't need to prove to me that they could play well on grass.

"They are obviously the biggest challengers. They've had a good beginning to the year, particularly Rafa, who's had the best start ever to his whole campaign by doing the same things he's always done during the clay-court season. He's also been very consistent in the rest of the year. I think these same guys are the favourites for Wimbledon, along with Baghdatis, Hewitt, Murray, Roddick and Nalbandian."

Asked how much he had thought about his defeat to Nadal in the final of the French Open a fortnight ago, when he won only four games in the heaviest Gran Slam defeat of his career, Federer said: "Not a whole lot. It's almost easier to forget a loss like that than, let's say, the Rome final I lost against Rafa when he was two match points down. That took me much longer to digest.

"The French was over in such a hurry, so it's easy just to look forward and concentrate on grass. I won't be on clay for 10 months, so it really hasn't been a problem."

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have been elected to the ATP Player Council. All three have been unhappy with some recent decisions the ATP has made and their presence on the council will ensure that the leading players' views are better represented.

An issue facing all tennis authorities is the continuing need to combat the threat of match-fixing and illegal betting. One of the extra security measures at Wimbledon this year will see anyone other than club staff, players and their coaches banned from the locker rooms.

The All England Club imposed the ban after a recent report by two former police detectives into corruption claims. Ian Ritchie, Wimbledon's chief executive, dismissed reports of further match-fixing concerns. Ritchie said: "Nobody's coming to us with new allegations."

Dark horses Four men and women to look out for this fortnight

*Mardy Fish (US) Age: 27. World ranking: 39

Provided he has recovered from injury, the American Davis Cup player could shock an out-of-sorts Richard Gasquet in the first round with his go-for-broke style of attacking tennis. Beat Roger Federer, Nikolay Davydenko and David Nalbandian at Indian Wells this year before losing to Novak Djokovic in the final.

*Ivo Karlovic (Croatia) Age: 29. World ranking: 22

Uses his 6ft 10in frame to power one of the most damaging serves in tennis, which makes him a threat against any opponent on grass. Rafael Nadal could not break his serve at Queen's recently as Karlovic thundered 35 aces past the Spaniard, who won after the match went to three successive tie-breaks.

*Mario Ancic (Croatia) Age: 24. World ranking: 43

The last player to beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon (in 2002), Ancic has reached a quarter-final and a semi-final at the All England Club. Injuries and glandular fever have dragged him down in the last two years, but good results at Indian Wells, Miami and Queen's indicate a return to the top.

*Ernests Gulbis (Latvia) Age: 19. World ranking: 30

Reached the quarter-finals of the French Open, where James Blake was among his victims, and is well suited to grass, with a big serve, booming forehand and attacking game. A potential threat to Rafael Nadal in the second round, he took a set off Andy Murray at Queen's a fortnight ago.

*Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) Age: 19. World ranking: 11

Although primarily a baseliner, the 2005 Wimbledon junior champion confirmed her grass-court credentials by beating Nadia Petrova in the final at Eastbourne on Saturday. Has already won two titles this year and reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, where she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova, and the fourth round of the French Open.

*Alize Cornet (France) Age: 18. World ranking: 17

The new face of French tennis, as confirmed by her photograph on the front cover of L'Equipe's guide to Roland Garros. The 2007 French Open junior champion has yet to win her first senior title but came close in Rome last month, losing to Jelena Jankovic in the final after beating Svetlana Kuznetsova, Serena Williams and Anna Chakvetadze.

*Lindsay Davenport (US) Age: 32. World ranking: 25

Hardly a new face, but the 1999 Wimbledon champion is making her first appearance at the All England Club for three years. Returned to the tour last autumn after having a baby and has enjoyed immediate success, winning four titles. Never the best of movers, but her pounding ground strokes could trouble the best on grass.

*Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) Age: 17. World ranking: 30

Won 2005 Orange Bowl and 2006 Wimbledon junior tournament. Three wins over top-10 players this year and a run to the Australian Open fourth round have confirmed her potential. Father played professional football in Poland and Denmark, where brother now plays, mother was a Polish volleyball international.

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