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Federer and Murray look the best bet

Nirmal Shekar

Serena appears to be the one who will have the chance to deny Venus a hat-trick

— PHOTO: AP

SMOOTH SAILING: The quality of tennis Andy Murray has played during the first week will certainly be an encouraging sign for him and the home fans.

London: When a British man last won the Wimbledon title, dinosaurs were still around. Well, not exactly. But when Fred Perry won in 1936, he did so in trousers. It was a distant era, another game altogether.

Imagine, then, the pressure on Andy Murray, who has motored along nicely into the second week of the remarkably dry 123rd Wimbledon championships! Not even Tim Henman faced anything quite like what confronts the talented Scotsman. But Henman was over-rated and he was certainly not in Murray’s league as a Grand Slam title contender.

Murray does look like he is the real deal but one question remains. If he gets through all the way to the final and finds one Mr. Roger Federer across the net from him, can he pull it off on the big day? He failed to make a great impression on the Swiss maestro in the U.S. Open final last year but this is his home turf and the quality of tennis he has played during the first week will certainly be an encouraging sign for the home fans.

Of course, Federer himself has been supremely brilliant. But you always expect that of the Swiss genius in these parts. And Rafael Nadal’s absence has come as a psychological boost to the great man even if he believes that he wasn’t in need of any, given his class and form.

If the two men get to the title round we might get to witness a classic although it would be unwise to expect anything that comes about to match the 2008 final. That was one for the ages. And Rafa is not around anyway.

It would take a lot to deny Federer a sixth title but other than Nadal, Murray is the only top-10 player who has beaten the five-time champion more often than he has lost. And he has been triumphant in their last four meetings. Certainly, this will give the Scot a lot of confidence should the two meet in the final on July 5.

Other hopefuls

There are not too many others who might be looking that far — to the second Sunday. But Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic are playing good tennis and so is Lleyton Hewitt, although the Aussie might find it tough to get past Roddick should both win their fourth round contests.

In the fourth round, Federer takes on Robin Soderling of Sweden, the man who he beat for his maiden French title earlier this month. But his first real test might be Djokovic if the Serb gets past his next two opponents, which is not a given considering how well Tommy Haas is playing. Apart from the defeat of Del Porto, the fifth-seeded Argentine, there have not been any major upsets and this certainly makes for an interesting line-up for the second week.

The women’s championship saw the exit of the French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova on Saturday but the Russian was never a serious contender on grass.

Venus Williams still looks the best bet to win a third straight — and sixth overall — title and her sister Serena appears to be the one that will have the chance to deny her a hat-trick on America’s Independence Day — July 4.

First big test

Both are playing with tremendous confidence but Venus has a tough match on Monday when she plays a resurgent Ana Ivanovic of Serbia. It is the champion’s first big test.

But there are quite a few intriguing fourth round contests, both in the men’s and women’s championships.

The former champion Amelie Mauresmo plays the top seed Dinara Safina and Serena too might face some serious opposition from Daniela Hantuchova.

There are two men’s fourth round matches that seem to hold a lot of promise: Fernando Verdasco versus Ivo Karlovic and Tomas Berdych versus Andy Roddick.

With hot weather predicted for the early week, the courts will play quicker and it might be wiser to side with the ones that generally prosper on fast courts.

Ironically, after the All England Lawn Tennis Club spent hundreds of millions of pounds and put a retractable roof on the centre court, the first championship to enjoy the facility has been uncharacteristically dry so far. When the first few drops of rain fell on Wimbledon, it was late on Saturday evening and most of the programme was done.

THE RESULTS

Men: Third round: 3-Andy Murray (Gbr) bt 30-Viktor Troicki (Srb) 6-2, 6-3, 6-4; Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) bt 10-Fernando Gonzalez (Chi) 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Mixed doubles: Second round: 13-Mahesh Bhupathi & Sania Mirza (Ind) bt Colin Fleming & Sarah Borwell (Gbr) 7-6(4), 6-4.

1-Leander Paes (Ind) & Cara Black (Zim) w/o Michal Mertinak (Svk) & Mara Santangelo (Ita).

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