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The protagonists

The pulsating rivalry between five-time champion Federer and clay king Nadal has rekindled Borg’s love affair with the sport.

sports Updated: Jun 22, 2008 00:42 IST
Dave James

For Bjorn Borg, there's no escaping a legacy which yielded 11 Grand Slam titles, countless riches as well as heartbreak in his private life.

But the Swede, whose post-tennis traumas featured two divorces and a costly business disaster, has found that the pulsating rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal has helped rekindle his love affair with the sport. Almost 30 years since his last Wimbledon win, Borg, the master of a generation which boasted wooden racquets, tight shorts and headbands, is now a benchmark against which Federer and Nadal are measured.

<b1>Twelve months ago, Federer pulled level with Borg as a five-in-a-row winner of the Wimbledon men's singles title and is now bidding to become the only man to win a sixth successive trophy.

Less than two weeks ago, Nadal equalled the Swede's record as a four-in-a-row champion at Roland Garros.

Now the Spaniard is attempting to be the first man since Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back. “You have this rivalry between players. It was the same when me and John McEnroe played, or Sampras and Agassi and Edberg and Becker,” said Borg.

“But Nadal and Federer, it's two different styles, two different people and they always produce good tennis. They are two unbelievable players, and they produce good tennis, great points, and that's what we like to see. It's the same when they played the Wimbledon final last year. It was an unbelievable final.”

Federer defeated Nadal for the second successive year in the epic final in 2007, but not before the world number two had his chances in the last set to destroy the Swiss star's five-year unbeaten grasscourt run and become the first Spaniard to win the men's title since Manolo Santana in 1966. When Nadal destroyed Federer in the Roland Garros final, Borg had a front row seat in the VIP box, only his second trip to the French Open since he quit in 1981.

Borg believes that Nadal, who collected his first grasscourt title at Queen's last weekend, should not be ruled out as a potential All England Club champion this year. “If he survives the first two or three rounds, then I pick Nadal to win Wimbledon,” said the Swede.

“He's playing really good on grass. He's feeling very comfortable and the way he played last year, it was an unbelievable final. He was very unfortunate not to win.”

Borg, however, admits that he has a soft spot for Federer and will be more than happy to see him make it six out of six.

“Records are meant to beat. I was very happy when he equalled my record last year to win five times. If he wins for six times this year, I will be the first one to congratulate him.”

Venus out to enjoy a rare luxury

For Venus Williams, returning to Wimbledon as defending champion allows her to enjoy a luxury she cannot get at any other tournament. Having chosen a career in which her routine is set on a day-to-day basis by various tournament officials, she particularly savours the tradition at the All England Club where the defending women's champion opens Centre Court proceedings on the first Tuesday of the tournament.

As a result, the moment she picked up her fourth Wimbledon crown on July 7 2007, she was already looking forward to playing her next match at the grasscourt Grand Slam on June 24. “Coming out as defending champion is definitely more special here... (because) I'm just excited to be playing on Tuesday and taking it from there,” the American said on Friday.

“It's always fantastic as usually everything's up in the air and (I'm) waiting to see when will I play and when will they put out the schedule so that I know when to practice and so on. So (here) it's not up in the air for me. I know exactly when I'll be playing and I can be prepared and ready.”

Williams returns to her favourite stomping ground this year determined to add a fifth Wimbledon title to her collection. Twelve months ago, the American broke her own record of being the lowest seed to win the women's title London.

When she captured the title in 2005, she was seeded 14th. Last year she was an even more of a longshot for the title as the 23rd seed. While this year she cannot improve on that mark as she is ranked seventh on the rankings, she is eager to join a select handful of players — including Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf — who have won at least five singles titles at the citadel of grasscourt tennis. “I definitely enjoyed the last 52 weeks as Wimbledon champ, and now I've got to do it again,” grinned Williams.