Djokovic to serve up championship opener

 

TENNIS:WATCHING DAVID Soul accept a wheelchair ride to a London-bound Aer Lingus flight yesterday afternoon at Dublin airport, walking stick perched on lap, underlined that the only place where time occasionally pauses is in the mind’s eye.

This, after all, was an actor who used to leap across the bonnet of a Ford Gran Torino in Starsky and Hutch during the 1970s.

Perception, though, can often distort. Wimbledon begins today and for many years the preserve of opening the championships on centre court fell to the six-time champion Roger Federer. From 2003-2009 inclusive, he won Wimbledon six times in seven years; his only defeat during that period came in 2008 when he lost a five-set epic to Rafael Nadal.

Since that victory in 2009, Federer has twice reached the quarter-finals at the All England Club and gone no further. Indeed his last Grand Slam victory was the 2010 Australian Open. There have been nine Slams since then, divvied up between Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Federer’s first match, against 24-year-old Albert Ramos from Barcelona, is scheduled for second on Court One.

The honour of opening on Centre court falls to the defending champion, Djokovic. The Serb takes on a former world number one – now 38th in the world – in Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 32-year-old clay court specialist whose sole Grand Slam success came at the 2003 French Open.

Djokovic was largely unplayable in singles for much of last year but six defeats since January, most recently in the French Open final that brought to an end a Grand Slam match-winning streak of 27 matches and denied him the chance to hold all four titles at once, offers some encouragement.

Ladies world number one and 2012 French Open winner Maria Sharapova will follow Djokovic on Centre court hoping to reclaim a Wimbledon title she won as a 17-year-old in 2004. She is opposed by naturalised Australian Anastasia Rodionova. Indeed there will be four other female Grand Slam winners on view today: Kim Clijsters, Venus Williams, Li Na, Samantha Stosur.

Arguably the most eagerly anticipated is that of crowd favourite Clijsters and former world number one Jelena Jankovic of Serbia. That’s the third match on Court One but in a delicious sense of timing, given recent headlines, the contest that will open proceedings on that court involves the scourge of linesmen, David Nalbandian. The Argentine was recently defaulted during the final at Queen’s Club when in petulantly kicking an advertising hording and caused a one-inch gash to the linesman Andrew McDougall’s leg. He plays Janko Tipsarevic in one of the clashes of the first round. Play, on the show courts, begins at 1pm.

CENTRE COURT (1.0): Men’s singles: Novak Djokovic (1) v Juan Carlos Ferrero

Ladies’ singles: Maria Sharapova (1) v Anastasia Rodionova Men’s Singles: Ernests Gulbis v Tomas Berdych (6)

COURT ONE (1.0): Men’s singles: David Nalbandian v Janko Tipsarevic (8); Roger Federer (3) v Albert Ramos Ladies’ singles: Kim Clijsters v Jelena Jankovic (18)

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