Ball’s in the centre court of top tennis

2011-06-18 19:34

With the French Open final battle between ­Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer still fresh in the mind, tennis connoisseurs will be salivating as the 125th Wimbledon Championships start tomorrow.

The tournament finishes on July 3.

Since 1877, when Spencer Gore emerged from a field of 22 players to win in front of 200 spectators who had paid one shilling each to watch the final, the event has produced many ­rivalries.

The last time Nadal and Federer met on Centre Court was in 2008 when they produced an epic battle that left scribes running out of superlatives by the denouement that served the longest men’s final with Nadal winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7.

The winner both in the gents and ladies singles finals will win £1.1 million (more than R12 million).

Federer will be looking at his seventh Wimbledon title as well as his 17th career Grand Slam, while victory by Nadal will add to his two titles in this event and 10 overall Grand Slam crowns.

Their fierce rivalry started in 2004, a year in which they were ranked number 1 and number 2 respectively, and things stayed like this for a record 160 consecutive weeks before Nadal earned the top spot on August 18, 2008.

The prospect of yet another pulsating Nadal vs Federer final can only be spoiled by the ­evergreen Novak Djokovic.

His 41 matches unbeaten at the start of the season saw him come close to toppling the Spaniard from the summit until he was stopped by Federer at the French Open semifinal.

The Serb is currently ­sandwiched between Nadal and Federer at number 2.

Just as an uncredited sports quote goes: “The true picture of a champion is someone bent over, sweat dripping from their face, their lungs on fire, feeling like if they take another step they will pass out, but they keep pushing with no one around to see just how hard they trained,” the pair’s numerous, vicious ­encounters have rekindled memories of great tennis rivalries.

Who can ever forget the ­heroic matches between ­Americans John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors between 1977-1991?

They met 34 times in that ­14-year period with the short-tempered “Super Mac” emerging victorious in 20 matches while “Jumbo Jim” overcame his ­adversary on 14 occasions.

Then there was the John McEnroe vs the ice-cold Ivan Lendl impressive wars of 1980-1992. Lendl, ­surprisingly, is said to have been quite vocal away from court where he would shoot his mouth off on any subject even saying he was the best. McEnroe ­rarely ­suffered fools silently.

The Czech-born Lendl, who took up US citizenship, went by the name “Mr Say Nothing”.

He let his racquet do the talking, while “Mr Gobby” – a nickname given to the loudmouth that McEnroe was as he ­questioned almost every call from the chair that went against him – sent the crowd into delirium as he mouthed phrases such as “You cannot be serious” and “Are you kidding?” at umpires.

Another interesting rivalry that preceded this was between McEnroe and the blonde Swede Bjorn Borg – he of the wooden racquet – that produced 14 encounters and ended up tied at seven apiece.

They won one Wimbledon title each against each other, Borg in 1980 and “The Brat” the ­following year.

Other notable male battles were between German Boris Becker and Sweden’s Stefan ­Edberg, Americans Pete ­Sampras and Andre Agassi.

Women are not left behind in these rivalries with the most ­recent being the sister act of Venus and Serena ­Williams.

The duo boasts 80 career ­titles between them, which include 13 Grand Slam ­titles for Serena and nine for Venus.

Serena comes in as the ­defending champion and can make it a hat trick as she also won the title in 2009.

Victory will also see her catch up with big sister Venus who has claimed the coincidentally- named Venus Rosewater Dish a record five times.

Serena is currently ranked 26th but was slotted in as seed number 7 by the Wimbledon committee on Friday following the withdrawal of world number 2 Kim Clijsters. Venus is ranked 33.

Before the sisters’ domination of the ladies’ game, there were scintillating matches pitting Chris Evert against Martina ­Navratilova who played 80 matches between 1973-1988.

The latter won 43 while Evert conquered in 37 duels.

The two met an unprecedented 14 times in Grand Slam ­finals with ­Navratilova dominating by winning 10, including
all five of their meetings at Wimbledon.

Other epic ladies battles ­pitted Navratilova against Steffi Graf from 1985-1994 and the latter was again involved with Monica Seles in 15 matches ­between 1989-1999.

The stage is set for enthralling tennis for the next two weeks where the crowd will be ­enjoying the traditional strawberries and cream.

Let the games begin!

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