Grassy test for Nadal, Serena

Grassy test for Nadal, Serena

Spanish champ, American ace will face varied challenges as seasons third Slam kicks off

World number one Nadal has not lost a match at the All England Club since the 2007 final, ripping away six-time champion Roger Federer's aura of invincibility on the south-west London lawns in the process.

But next week will be the first time the Spaniard will actually walk out as defending champion, having missed the 2009 event through injury.  His tired display when losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Queen's last week showed his sixth French Open title had taken its toll on his fitness, and he will hope to have recharged his batteries after heading back to Mallorca for golf and fishing.

Third seed Federer, beaten yet again by Nadal in the Roland Garros final this month, skipped the Halle grasscourt tournament with a groin problem and Serbian world number two Novak Djokovic missed Queen's with tendinitis in his knee.

Fourth seed Andy Murray triumphed at Queen's on Monday after battling an ankle problem picked up in Paris but despite a few weary limbs, it is difficult to look past the quartet.

Nadal and Federer have won the men's singles title at Wimbledon every year since 2003 and have played each other in three finals, one of them a spine-chilling epic in 2008 which Nadal edged in near darkness.  For the first time since their duel domination began, however, Swiss Federer is not one of the top two seeds.

Nadal heads to London not just defending his title but clinging to the world number one spot by his fingertips, with Djokovic hot on his tail after a run of 41 straight wins in 2011 which was ended by Federer in a French Open semifinal classic.

Federer, whose elegant tennis down the years at Wimbledon has been in such stark contrast to the muscle-bulging power of Nadal, will aim to prove that at 29, there are still a few golden chapters left in his career.

Nadal displayed the depth of his mental fortitude in Paris. Out of sorts to start with, he almost lost to John Isner in the first round and looked anxious before his game caught fire.

The 25-year-old then took his Grand Slam singles title tally to 10 compared to Federer's record of 16.

“I am very confident. I'm going to be there with high motivation and hopefully in perfect performance physically,” Nadal said of Wimbledon.

Federer, overpowered by Berdych in the quarterfinals a year ago, said recently he was playing ‘pressure-free’ for the first time in his illustrious career and now has his eye on a seventh title to match the modern-era record of American Pete Sampras. “Wimbledon for me is always the number one goal in the season,” Federer said after pushing claycourt king Nadal hard in the French Open final. “This is where it all started for me back in 2003.

That's why I always really enjoy coming back.”

Serena’s chance

Serena Williams has won titles after overcoming adversity before but if she retains her Wimbledon singles crown just months after a scrape with death it would represent the American's greatest comeback.

Many thought the 13-times grand slam winner's career was over when she suffered potentially fatal blood clots in a lung during her recovery after slicing a tendon in her foot on broken glass, an injury which itself required two operations.

Instead, with a near-perfect sense of timing, the 29-year-old made her comeback at Eastbourne this week and, despite precious little competitive play, will open Centre Court proceedings on Tuesday as she begins the defence of the title.

She beat Vera Zvonareva in last year's final and the Russian got some revenge this week when she knocked out Williams in the second round at Eastbourne. With sister Venus also back from a five-month lay-off in time for the grasscourt slam the sisters have dominated for a decade, the women's event has suddenly been catapulted out of the shadow of the men's event.

World number two Kim Clijsters has withdrawn with a foot injury but China's Li Na, the French Open champion, world number one Caroline Wozniacki, former winner Maria Sharapova and Zvonareva will all be contenders, while the likes of Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova could also go far.

In the last 11 years, Venus has won five and Serena four Wimbledon singles titles with only Sharapova and the retired Amelie Mauresmo breaking the Williams monopoly. That is why, despite their  fall in the rankings which means Serena is seeded seventh and Venus 23rd, it would not be a huge surprise to see them on opposite sides of the net in the July 2 final.

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