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Who will win Wimbledon 2006?

With summer just around the corner in the UK, it’s almost time to hang up the umbrellas and Wellington boots and get ready for strawberries and cream and a touch of later-day Henmania as the Wimbledon Championships roll around from June 26 until July 9.

In a moment, we’re going to guide you through the favourites for this year and the best odds available on them, but lest we forget it has been quite a year since last year’s event where Roger Federer and Venus Williams emerged victorious at the 119th Championships – Federer was triumphant for the third successive year, while Williams, whose form and ranking had been in freefall due to injury, pulled off a spectacular result as the 14th seed and collected her third Ladies' title in six years. It has been a year of much and little change since then, with Federer remaining as omnipotent as his straight-sets victory over Andy Roddick in last year’s final indicated, taking him to 36 consecutive victories on grass; just five short of Bjorn Borg's record. However, newcomer Andrew Murray has quickly risen to prominence and is already eclipsing compatriot and Brit favourite Tim Henman as the flag bearer of the country’s hopes. As exciting as this is for the local fans, it’s hard to conclude that any bet against Federer presents much more than purely hypothetical value.

On the women’s side, injuries have thrown the title wide open, but the young Russian dynamo, Maria Sharapova stands as a narrow favourite. However, with the brute force of defending champion Venus Williams and many other fine players including Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne close on her heels, this certainly remains the side of the draw where a little imagination and last minute form watching could reap massive dividends.

Men’s

Roger Federer (Best Price 1/2 – Admiral, betinternet, Bodog, Gamebookers, VC Bet)

The outstanding favourite for Wimbledon 2006 is the omnipotent Roger Federer, whose dominance on grass looks certain to extend to another title this year.

Federer is on a career high with victories already this year in the Australian Open and in Dubai and at 24 years of age, the Swiss whiz is not likely to disappear from prominence for many years.

Similarly, his focus and thirst for victory have not been diminished despite career prize money exceeding $21 million, and the winner's cheque of £630,000 from Wimbledon 2005 was clearly less important than the title itself. This was evident by the manner in which he collapsed and cried tears of joy after the final point of his demolition job of Andy Roddick. Ominously for the rest, Federer seems to be setting new standards for his peers and pulling further away from the pack. When asked about his victory last year he confirmed the upwards curve of his influence, commenting that, "this is the best match I have ever played". Bet against him at your peril!

Andy Roddick (Best Price 10/1 – VC Bet)

As clear as Federer is for the favourite spot, the ultra-motivated and determined American Andy Roddick is the next man in line should an upset occur. Roddick remains a well established and competitive force in men’s tennis at 23, demonstrated by a third consecutive top three finish in the APT rankings and consistent results across the board including consecutive runner-up spots at Wimbledon in 2004 and 2005.

He suffered a dispiriting 6-2, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 loss at Federer’s hands last year in only 1 hour and 41 minutes during the final, but you can count on the fact that this will only add fuel to his fire, and if the favourite falters in the slightest, Roddick will certainly be on hand to pick up the pieces.

Lleyton Hewitt (Best Price 19/1 – ToteSport)

The aptly named “Aussie Battler”, Lleyton Hewitt exploded on the tennis scene a few years back and has mostly maintained his top ranking despite a few injuries. 2005 saw a mixed bag of results – he won his only ATP title in January in Sydney and then reached the final at Indiana Wells after a two month absence from the circuit. A toe injury and a fall at home put him out of action for the entire clay season (including the French Open). He returned to the circuit at the traditional Wimbledon warm-up tournament at Queens before then making a good run at The Championships, which ended in a semi-final drubbing against Federer who consistently out-played and out-powered him.

Anyone wishing to bet on cries of ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” to accompanying this year’s trophy presentation should follow Hewitt’s progress in the next months keenly, as the end of 2005 and start of this year have yet to see a full return to form, with more injuries with his first child taking up energies at home.

Andrew Murray (Best Price 24/1 – Gamebookers, Sean Graham, Sportsinteraction)

‘Murraymania’ may only be mildly threatening to overtake the traditional ‘Henmania’ at this year’s Wimbledon, but the Scottish teenage sensation has marched up the rankings in the last couple of years, proving that the transition from juniors wunderkind to seniors star is a viable one.

His moment of recognition came during last year’s event when he reached the 3rd round only to lose to Daniel Nalbandian. Since then, Murray has also officially become Britain's top-ranked tennis player following the release of the latest ATP rankings at 42nd in the world – above Rusedski at 43rd and the slipping Henman at 49th. An outsider to be sure, but never underestimate the advantages of a nation’s support and a home crowd’s influence.

Womens.

Maria Sharapova (Best Price 4/1 – Stan James, Admiral, Gamebookers)

The Russian-American prodigy, who broke onto the world stage in 2004 with a stunning Wimbledon victory at age 17, has proved that grass is her preferred surface despite falling at the semi-final stage in 2005 to a determined Venus Williams.

Notwithstanding being beset with injuries during the second half of last year, the start of 2006 has showed promise with semi-finals and finals appearances in Australia, Dubai and Tokyo and, with the work rate instilled in Sharapova, there is still plenty of time for her to regain peak performance. These factors, along with the adversities other players have faced, make Sharapova the marginal favourite this time around.

Kim Clijsters (Best Price 5/1 – Bet Euro, Ladbrokes, Stan James, VIP Sports, VC Bet)

The current number one ranked player has an excellent chance of victory this year after a meteoric rise following rehab and surgery in mid-2004 that peaked with victory at the US Open and close to $4 million in prize money – the second highest figure ever (she also holds the record).

2006 has been a mixed bag so far for Clijsters with a semi-final appearance at the Australian Open curtailed due to injury. However, despite these setbacks, Clijsters managed to regain the number one spot on Jan 30, having last held it in November 2003 – this is in spite of having dropped as low as 134th in March 2005.

This recovery and her overall talent and experience will bode well for her during a year so much is at stake – the key for Clijsters will undoubtedly be her health and fitness in the run up to Wimbledon.

Justine Henin-Hardenne (Best Price 5/1 – Gamebookers, ToteSport, VC Bet)

The Monaco resident originally from Belgium, is the third point on the triangle of 2006 favourites. An injury beset 2004 was almost long-forgotten during 2005 where a win at Roland Garros and a 24-match winning streak on clay materialised but soon after injuries flared up, making for an inconsistent year.

However, 2006 has seen everything come back together with very near victory at the Australian Open returning her to the top five and then in Dubai beating Sharapova took her to the number three spot and her career earnings to over $10 million. If anyone has the momentum building as summer approaches, Henin-Hardenne is the one.

Venus Williams (Best Price 10/1 – Admiral)

2005 saw a sensational return to form for Venus when she regained the Wimbledon women’s trophy despite being seeded 14th, beating defending champion Sharapova 7-6, 6-1 in the semis despite having never won a set against her in two previous encounters, and then accounted for Lindsay Davenport in the longest women’s singles final ever – 2h 45mins.

However, the latter half of the 2005 season was all downhill for Williams with patchy results being further compounded by injury and illness – including influenza and a left knee problem. Whether she becomes competitive in the run up to Wimbledon will be a great uncertainty, so expect these odds to go either way.

One thing that is certain though, Venus is no quitter. The gap between victory at Wimbledon 2005 and her previous grand slam title was a massive 4 years, and even then she faced match point in the third set was often close to defeat, only to claw her way back to win an epic 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) 9-7 match.
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