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Made in the Shade

All eyes are on Nadal and Federer again, but Simon Noble asks if Murray can help make it a perfect British summer.

If you canvassed popular opinion on what would constitute the idea of the perfect English summer, common suggestions would probably include three months of continuous sun, an Ashes victory over Australia and a British winner at Wimbledon. Punters would be quoted enormous odds on that treble, but a British player—i.e. Andy Murray—has the best chance of the first British success at the most prestigious of the four Grand Slam events, since Virginia Wade in 1977.

PinnacleSports.com, who cover the ATP and WTA circuits year round, will provide comprehensive betting for Wimbledon (June 22 to July 5), including live betting, with odds that are up to 60 percent better than your traditional high-street bookmaker.

Whether or not Murray or any other British player wins the 123rd edition of The Championships, 2009 will be a truly historic year at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. The famous Centre Court now has a retractable roof which will banish forever the threat of rain disruption, something deeply engrained in the Wimbledon tradition. They tested the new roof on May 17, at a specially organised event, so all being well, Centre Court will remain dry, and a rain-interrupted final—as was the case last year—will be a thing of the past.

Rafael Nadal won his first Wimbledon in the 2008 final in an epic five-set thriller over Roger Federer, which John McEnroe described as “the greatest match I have ever seen.” The match was fragmented by two rain delays and, had the roof been in place a year earlier, could have been more of a rout, with Nadal leading two sets to love going into a tie-break in the third, before the first delay allowed Federer to compose himself and get back into the match.

Since breaking Federer’s stranglehold on Wimbledon, Nadal has gone from strength to strength, whereas the Fed Express appears to have been derailed. Nadal won the first Grand Slam of 2009—the Australian Open—again beating Federer in the final, and readers will know by now whether the King of Clay recorded an amazing fifth straight French Open title. At press time, the Spanish number one is favoured at Pinnacle to go back-to-back in July at Wimbledon. Bettors can back Nadal as the 2.550 favourite, in a two-way market with the odds on someone other than the world’s best player set at 1.571.

Nadal certainly seems to have the Indian Sign over Roger Federer, who’s air of invincibility has vanished, along with his number-one world ranking. The defeat to Nadal in last year’s Wimbledon final ended a 65-match unbeaten streak on grass, and Federer has been very beatable this year on a number of surfaces. And at press time, he is yet to win a title and hasn’t made it to the last day of a tournament since falling to Nadal in the Australian Open final back in January. Federer is listed at 3.050 on the “yes” side of a two-way proposition to win Wimbledon 2009 at Pinnacle, with the “no” on the ATP number two set at 1.417, and all money has been for ‘no’.

In 2008 Nadal become the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon titles in the same season. The signs were there for all to see at the Artois Championship at the Queens Club where the Spaniard secured his first ever title on grass, underlining both his growing confidence across all surfaces and his commitment to dominating the entire ATP calendar.

Nadal has announced that he will defend his Queen’s title in 2009, and though he cannot meet Federer there, as the Swiss Maestro’s preferred route is the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Nadal’s form at the Stella Artois will give an important indication of his chances of defending at Wimbledon.

Greater than Two

Nadal and Federer rightly command all the headlines ahead of Wimbledon, but they are sure to see some stiff competition from the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who has a trio of triumphs to his credit so far in 2009. The Scotsman won the Masters Series Sony Ericsson Open over Djokovic in his most recent payday, and also cashed the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament and Qatar ExxonMobil Open earlier this year.

Murray was scheduled to face Nadal at Queens in 2008 but withdraw from his quarterfinal against Andy Roddick due to a thumb injury. The pair did, however, meet a few weeks later in their Wimbledon quarterfinal, where Nadal won easily in straight sets. Murray is much improved since then, and beat Nadal in the ABN AMRO Final, giving real hope that he can reverse that form.

With three titles to date in 2009, Murray at only 21 has now surpassed Tim Henman’s entire career tournament tally, and will cement himself as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) ever British tennis player should he win a Grand Slam event, Wimbledon in particular. Murray’s odds shortened dramatically ahead of the Australian Open, and many tennis pundits were talking about the Scot as the tournament favourite. When Murray lost in round four to Fernando Verdasco, tennis bettors must still ask whether the pressure got to him and how with even greater expectation at Wimbledon—arriving ranked four in the world—whether to believe the hype.

Though Murray has certainly matured in recent years, reigning in some tendencies toward rash statements, he’s still a very young man prone to erratic behaviour off and on court. Though a fiery temperament didn’t stop John McEnroe winning eight grand slams, the jury is still out on whether Murray can channel his aggression in a positive way, and make the perfect summer for so many Brits.

Wimbledon Women

Venus Williams will be back to win at Wimbledon for the second consecutive year after defeating her sister Serena in the 2008 final. The victory represented the fifth Wimbledon victory for Venus, who lost to Serena in the previous two meetings in the final on Centre Court.

The senior Williams is having another strong season on the WTA Tour, with two tournament wins to her credit. Serena should be the favourite despite some recent bumps in the road, because the junior Williams remains the world’s top-ranked player as of press time, and cashed the Australian Open to kick off the Grand Slam season.

Dinara Safina was the runner-up in Melbourne, and is likely to head into Wimbledon as either the number one 1 or number two player on tour. Safina should contend with the Williams sisters, although she has yet to win a tournament this year. Punters looking for better value should take a close look at Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, or even Maria Sharapova, Wimbledon winner in 2004.

Wimbledon Fact Attack

Men

• Twenty-five of the last 28 semifinalists have reached Round Three of a Grand Slam that year but two of last year’s four had not (Marat Safin and Rainer Schuettler).

• Twelve of the last 14 unseeded semifinalists faced an opponent in Round One who had not reached Round Two the previous year (86 percent).

• Since the start of the 1990s, 26 of the 27 top-10 seeds who lost in Round One were beaten by players who had not progressed beyond Round Two the year before (96 percent).

• Pete Sampras (twice) is the only Queens runner-up to make the Wimbledon final since Boris Becker in 1990.

Women

• The last French Open runner-up to win Wimbledon was Martina Hingis in 1997, and Venus Williams (2002) is the only player to lose both the French and Wimbledon finals since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1996.

• Hingis (1997) is the only player to win Wimbledon after losing either of the two previous Slam finals that year since Steffi Graf in 1993.

• Maria Sharapova is the only winner since 1994 not to have been a prior finalist at Wimbledon, the US Open or the Australian Open.
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