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Federer eyes ninth Wimbledon title but wary of Nadal threat

Eighth time around: Roger Federer kisses the winner’s trophy after beating Marin Cilic in the 2017 Wimbledon final © AFP/File / Glyn KIRK

LONDON, United Kingdom, Jul 1Having seen longtime rival Rafael Nadal tighten his iron-grip on Roland Garros, Roger Federer aims to extend his personal dominance of Wimbledon from Monday by claiming a ninth title at the All England Club.

Despite his 37th birthday fast approaching, Federer will still start Wimbledon as the overwhelming favourite to clinch a 21st major.

Federer set new records 12 months ago when he defeated a hobbling Marin Cilic in the final, becoming both the tournament’s oldest champion and first to claim eight titles.

That came after he decided to skip the entire clay court season, a strategy he repeated this year as the Swiss sit at home watching Nadal romp to an 11th French Open.

“I’m feeling good. I was tired at the beginning of the week because of the nine matches I played in 12 days in Stuttgart and Halle,” said Federer who lifted the Stuttgart grasscourt title before losing the Halle championship match to Borna Coric.

That loss ended a 20-match win streak on grass for Federer who starts on Monday against Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic.

“I think the three months did me again a world of good, that I didn’t play during the clay court season.”

Federer won his first Wimbledon — and maiden Slam title — in 2003.

Since that time he has added seven more at the All England Club with Nadal winning twice, Novak Djokovic three times and Andy Murray taking two titles.

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Lleyton Hewitt, back in 2002, was the last man outside the modern-day ‘Big Four’ to win the championship.

Crowd favourite: Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2017 © AFP/File / Adrian DENNIS

Hardly surprising then that Federer cannot see any great upheaval anytime soon, even tipping Nadal — and his notoriously unreliable knees on a grass court — to go deep in the tournament.

“I think Rafa is one of the big favourites,” said Federer who famously lost the 2008 final to the Spaniard in what is widely regarded as the finest Slam showdown of all time.

– ‘Rafa looking good’ –

“When Rafa is healthy, anything is possible for him.”

Nadal’s Grand Slam count now stands at 17, just three behind Federer with whom he has split the last six majors.

The world number one has endured a bittersweet relationship with Wimbledon despite being champion in 2008 and 2010.

He missed the 2009 tournament with injury and since finishing runner-up to Djokovic in 2011, has gone out in the second round in 2012, first round in 2013 and last 16 in 2014.

In 2015, he was beaten in the second round, missed 2016 while, 12 months ago, lost 15-13 in the fifth set to Luxembourg journeyman Gilles Muller in the fourth round.

After winning Roland Garros this month, Nadal hinted he may skip Wimbledon and also sat out Queen’s.

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But the 32-year-old Spaniard has been practicing on grass in Mallorca and still appreciates the significance of his 2008 epic win over Federer.

“I always have been very clear that probably is one of the most emotional matches that I played in my career,” said Nadal, who faces Israel’s Dudi Sela in the first round.

“After losing two finals, that final created a big impact. The satisfaction that tournament gave me is difficult to compare with other things.”

Djokovic, the 2011, 2014 and 2015 champion, retired with an elbow injury in the quarter-finals in 2017 as his form continued to sink after the emotional high of completing the career Grand Slam at Roland Garros 12 months earlier.

Like Nadal, Djokovic had hinted he may sit out Wimbledon after the indignity of losing to world number 72 Marco Cecchinato in the French Open quarter-finals.

But the rejuvenated 12-time major winner shook off the self-doubt and made the Queen’s final, losing to Cilic despite having had a match point.

Djokovic faces Tennys Sandgren of the US in the first round.

However, one man missing from the event will be Andy Murray who withdrew on Sunday after the two-time champion decided he wasn’t fit enough to compete at the All England Club.

Murray has only just returned to action after 11 months on the sidelines due to a hip injury that needed surgery in January.

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“It’s with regret I’m withdrawing from Wimbledon,” Murray said in a statement.

“I’ve made significant progress in practice and matches over the last 10 days but, after lengthy discussions with my team and with a heavy heart, we’ve decided that playing best-of-five-set matches might be a bit too soon in the recovery process.”

Elsewhere, a lot will be expected of world number three Alexander Zverev who made the fourth round last year.

However, the 21-year-old lost his only grass court match this summer to Coric in Halle.

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