Tennis-X Wimbledon Preview: Federer v Baby Fed



Posted on June 25, 2006


By Richard Vach, Tennis-X.com Senior Writer

Tennis internet fanboys were literally sobbing into their keyboards Friday after the Wimbledon men's draw came out, with protestations of "Roger Federer's draw is too tough!" or "Rafael Nadal's draw is too easy!" or "My skin is so white because I never leave my computer to get any sun!"

In reality, 2006 is one of the best Wimbledon draws ever -- unless you're a British player, or a British tennis fan.

While the ATP Masters Series events usually provide blockbuster match-ups from the get-go with their exclusively-tight 64-player fields, the Slams usually require a few days to gather momentum, with the 32 seeded players fairly insulated from difficult opening-round matches.

But not this year.

Due to various injuries and slumps in 2006, the Wimbledon field is littered with unseeded grasscourt threats, former No. 1s on the mend and even an unseeded former runner-up.

Federer is going after a slew of records at Wimbledon: an opening-round win would break his tie with Bjorn Borg, setting an all-time record with 42 consecutive grasscourt wins; a title would put him in the presence of the only players to win four consecutive Wimbledons, Borg (who won five in a row) and Pete Sampras; and a win would go considerable distance in helping the Swiss forget about his claycourt woes against rival Rafael Nadal.

The world No. 1 opens against French-kid Richard "Baby Fed" Gasquet, who last week at Halle stretched Federer to three sets in a loss. Gasquet is much like Federer in his formative years on tour, all talent and no ability to win big matches at Slams.

"I saw the draw just before this match and I was sad," said Gasquet, one of only three players with Rafael Nadal and David Nalbandian to beat Federer over the last two years. "But it's also a dream to know I will play on Centre Court at Wimbledon in the opening match...I know I have no pressure at all and I really hope to play a great match against Roger Federer."

Potentially waiting in the second round for Federer is British hope Tim Henman, who faces Swede Robin Soderling in his opener.

"I feel in very good shape," Henman told The Independent. "If I could get the opportunity to play Roger, then it would be fantastic, but first and foremost I have to worry about Soderling. He's dangerous."

The other unseeded Brits (non-wildcard or qualifier) are also worried, as Greg Rusedski opens against former No. 1 Marat Safin (and would then next face (10) Fernando "Gonzo" Gonzalez), and Andy Murray first faces reigning Olympic champ (31) Nicolas Massu.

All Britain is hoping Murray can survive at least two matches for a meeting with two-time defending runner-up Andy Roddick. A-Rod and Murray are in the third quarter, where Roddick and Hewitt would be favored to reach the semis.

Whoever emerges from the third quarter would likely face the top dog coming out of the bottom quarter, a hodgepodge featuring Rafael Nadal, Ivan Ljubicic, Andre Agassi and Mardy Fish.

In the top quarter Federer would likely face (7) Mario "Baby Goran" Ancic in the quarterfinals, then in the semifinals the victor of the dustcloud battle between James Blake, David Nalbandian and Thomas Johansson.

Johansson, a former grasscourt winner at Halle and Nottingham, must first get past doubles specialist and former No. 4-ranked Swedish countryman Jonas Bjorkman.

"Unfortunately I've probably the worst draw for Wimbledon I could have had," said Bjorkman on squaring off against his buddy Johansson, who he has won four of 10 meetings against. "I'd rather play Roger Federer because Thomas is my closest friend. We travel together, go out to dinner and spend all the time we can. We also have the same coach in Todd [Woodbridge], so when it comes to the draw for a grand slam you want to avoid this. But that's tennis. It could have been better, but you have to go out and be professional."

Monday will kick off the beginning of Federer's test of profession, that of grasscourt royalty, breaking Borg's record with always, always Sampras' Slam record in sight.

Richard Vach is a senior writer for Tennis-X.com who can currently be seen on The Tennis Channel's "Tennis Insiders: Super Insiders" episodes, and was recently awarded "Best Hard News" story for 2005 by the United States Tennis Writers Association. You can belittle him at rvach@tennis-x.com.