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Let the game begin

Many former and current players have tipped Nadal, who will revert to the traditional Wimbledon white when the tournament starts on Monday, to break Federer's 59-match grass court winning streak.

sports Updated: Jun 22, 2008 23:57 IST

Tennis shops near Wimbledon have done a brisk trade in replicas of Rafael Nadal's recent vivid green match-winning shirt, testament, perhaps, to his status as a real threat to Roger Federer's dominance at the championships.

Many former and current players have tipped Nadal, who will revert to the traditional Wimbledon white when the tournament starts on Monday, to break Federer's 59-match grass court winning streak, which has brought him five Wimbledon titles in a row.

Nadal crushed the world number one in the French Open final two weeks ago, allowing him only four games, and went on to win his first grass court title at Queen's a week later to prove he was not a master merely of clay.

The 22-year-old Spaniard, runner-up to Federer at Wimbledon the last two years, is not talking up his chances, however.

He scoffed at reporters this weekend who suggested Federer might be vulnerable, pointing out the Swiss had just won the Halle warm-up tournament.

Big serving American Andy Roddick, runner-up in 2004 and 2005, is also contemptuous of Federer doubters.

Roddick, seeded six, said when he was asked whether the world number one could win the title, "I found that to be one of the most ridiculous questions I've ever answered in my life. "You know he's won it five times. I'm not sure what else he has to do."

Third seed Novak Djokovic, forced to pull out against Nadal in the semi-finals last year with blisters but who has since won the Australian Open, was one of the equivocal voices.

"Quite some things have changed this year," he said.

"It's becoming more interesting to see some new names, new faces winning major titles," the Serb said.

"Roger is still the number one player in the world... it's normal to have ups and downs and he's feeling the pressure a little bit," Djokovic added.

Djokovic's compatriot Ana Ivanovic, who followed his major-winning exploits with the French Open crown, is also aiming to put a new name on the women's title winning board at the All England Club.

It is a daunting prospect for the ever-cheerful new world number one given that several names appearing in the draw also feature on the board.

Defending champion Venus Williams is looking for a fifth title and few would discount her chances or those of her sister twice former champion Serena, given their grass court power game and their love of the big stage.

Maria Sharapova, winner in 2004 at the age of 17, took herself away from tennis "to rest body and mind" after a poor showing at the French Open and returned keen to restore her number one ranking.

"There's lots of big competitors in the draw, different types of players... Hopefully it will all come together," Sharapova said.

The Russian is seeded to meet second seed Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals. Spurred on by the success of her Serbian compatriots, Jankovic said, "It just shows I can also win it."

The Serbian trio have won many fans, not just through their skilful and entertaining tennis but also with their charm and good humour. The easy-going manner belies a steely determination to become the first Serb to win a Wimbledon singles title. Jankovic got a taste with the mixed doubles crown last year. "I think in general as a nation we are very hungry, very motivated," she said and added, "We are very, very talented."