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Wimbledon

Wimbledon preview: Federer's reign over?

Roger Federer has a chance to make a historic statement at Wimbledon this year as he takes aim at a record sixth straight title. But in light of his recent struggles, the world's No. 1 player since 2004 might wind up sending a different message from the All England Club: Roger, over and out. Asked whether the Swiss star might actually be considered an underdog, ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe responded in a conference call by saying, "I wouldn't go that far, but I certainly wouldn't say he's the overwhelming favorite that he's been the last four or five years."

Since the Australian Open, when Federer fell to Serbia's Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, McEnroe has had his doubts about the man with a dozen majors titles to his name. "Now if Roger were to win Wimbledon, he's right in the mix as far as finishing this year again No. 1. But the reality is he's been the third-best player in the world this year."

Second-ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain has the hottest hand. He demolished Federer this month at the French Open, winning this fourth straight Roland Garros title (while Federer managed to win only four games in the final).

For the year, Nadal has amassed a 49-7 match record with five singles titles.

Then there's No. 3 Djokovic, who won his first major in Australia and has built a 37-8 mark with three singles titles.

Federer, who has held the top-ranking for 229 straight weeks, is in the same ballpark: 37-8 with a pair of singles titles. But he hasn't played with the consistency of Nadal and Djokovic and no longer seems invincible on grass, where he has won 59 straight matches.

"He's still maybe the greatest grasscourt player ever, along with Pete Sampras," McEnroe said. "But I don't think he's as clear-cut a favorite."

Baby, he was Bjorn to run

A look back at the remarkable Wimbledon run of Bjorn Borg may shed light on Roger Federer's quest for the record. Consider these uncanny comparisons from the tournament's Web site, wimbledon.org:

. Borg, a right-hander, won his fifth consecutive title in 1980 by beating lefty John McEnroe in five sets. Federer, also right-handed, won his fifth in 2007 by defeating lefty Rafael Nadal in five sets.

. In 1980, Borg — known as the Ice Man — was 24 and McEnroe 21. Last year, the similarly cool Federer was 25, Nadal 21.

. Borg was coping with injuries and upset losses to Victor Pecci and Rolf Gehring as the 1981 Wimbledon began. Federer dealt with glandular fever this spring and was upset by Mardy Fish and Radek Stepanek.

. In his bid for a sixth title, a struggling Borg lost to McEnroe 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 4-6. Federer would clearly like the comparisons to end there.

"If he continues the way he has been doing and stays away from injuries, he will be the greatest player ever," Borg said. "I think the motivation is the key thing." Will it be a Williams?

Venus and Serena Williams have won four of the past six Wimbledon women's championships and own 14 majors titles between them. That fact alone makes them hard to overlook in guessing who'll win the women's title. "You have to give them a bit of an edge," ESPN analyst Mary Jo Fernandez said.

But the sisters have struggled this season, including third-round losses in the French Open. Seventh-ranked defending champ Venus has won four times at Wimbledon but hasn't reached a tour final this season, and sixth-ranked Serena's last Grand Slam finals appearance came with her 2007 Aussie Open triumph.

This year, Serena enters the tournament with a 25-3 match record, with three singles titles. Venus is 14-7 with no singles wins.

Meanwhile, Serb Ana Ivanovic, 20, continues to soar. She has assumed the top spot vacated by the recently retired Justine Henin, after her first major title at the French Open. She's 27-6 in match play with two singles victories and has reached the finals in three of the past five majors.

On the radar: No. 2 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia (33-10, one singles title) and Russia's No. 3 Maria Sharapova (30-3, three titles). Sharapova has won three majors, including Wimbledon in 2004 and this year's Australian Open. Miscellany

If Rafael Nadal finally takes the title, he'll become the first men's player since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win Wimbledon and the French Open in the same year. He's coming off a 7-6, 7-5 win over Novak Djokovic on grass at the Artois Championships last week. … ESPN2 and ESPN Classic will air three half-hour specials on Roger Federer on consecutive Sundays at 7:30 p.m. — Roger Federer: The Making of a Champion (today), Roger Federer: The Champion on June 29 and Roger Federer: The Man on July 6. Information from the Associated Press was used in this story. Dave Scheiber can be reached at scheiber@sptimes.com.

Wimbledon preview: Federer's reign over? 06/21/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 21, 2008 9:22pm]

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