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Wimbeldon 2006 showdown begins

Center Court play began with Roger Federer taking on Richard Gasquet after a delayed start due to rain.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2006 00:37 IST

Roger Federer's bid for a fourth successive Wimbledon crown got underway here on Monday, the drizzle that delayed the start of play on outside courts easing off just in time to allow the centre court action to begin on schedule.

Victory in the final here on July 9, the same day as the World Cup final, would see Federer become the third man, after Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras, to win four consecutive titles at the All England club.

The Swiss, who faced a tricky first round encounter with on-form Frenchman Richard Gasquet, began the tournament as an overwhelming favourite given the way he has dominated for the last three years.

There is nevertheless a feeling among many in the sport that he may be more vulnerable this year after a gruelling, but ultimately unsuccessful bid to win the French Open earlier this month.

Federer was narrowly beaten by Rafael Nadal in the final at Roland Garros and -- although he was still good enough to win the tournament -- appeared jaded as he made his first outing of the year on grass at Halle, Germany.

Victory in Halle extended Federer's unbeaten run on grass to 41 matches, a sequence which included a very tight match against Gasquet which has given the Frenchman hope he can upset the odds on centre court.

The 20-year-old continued his fine form by winning the Nottingham Open for a second consecutive year on Saturday and believes he is in with a chance.

"At Halle, I had four set points in the first, won the second and only lost 6-4 in the third," he recalled.

"This is a grand slam, it's on the centre court at Wimbledon, so it won't be easy to beat him. But I have a chance, I know I am getting back to my best.

"I played really good tennis at Nottingham, but not my best."

Federer, who may well have to face Briton Tim Henman in the second round, has admitted the draw could scarcely have been tougher for a top seed.

"Gasquet should be higher ranked, Tim should be higher ranked. It's a very tough little section. I've definitely got to play very well from the start. I would like to think of Henman's match but first things first.

"Gasquet just won a tournament on grass. I just played him in Halle and almost lost. Better be careful."

Unseeded Henman, four times a semi-finalist here, was due to start his 13th Wimbledon campaign against Sweden's Robin Soderling, who was serving at over 200kmh last week in Nottingham.

Venus Williams will begin the defence of her women's singles title on Tuesday, leaving centre stage on the opening day to French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne.

After beating her Belgian compatriot Kim Clijsters on the way to winning the warm-up event at Eastbourne on Saturday, the diminutive Henin is many people's favourite in what looks to be a wide open's women's tournament.

Henin begins her quest for the only Grand Slam title to have eluded her by taking on China's Yuan Meng.

Over on the court number two, the famous 'graveyard' for so many big names over the years, former champion and world number one Martin Hingis was due to play her first match here in five years.

The 25-year-old, who knows from bitter experience how easy it is to slip up in the early stages having twice lost in first round matches here, was up against the Ukraine's Olga Savchuk.

The 1997 champion retired from tennis in 2002 because of an ankle injury. But after three years out of action, she has defied the odds by making a successful comeback. A quarter-finalist in both the Australian and French Opens this year, Hings won her first title for four years in Rome in May.