Top players are still in play at Wimbledon

By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / June 27, 2011

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LONDON — About 18 months removed from his last Grand Slam championship, Roger Federer figures it’s about time for another — his record-tying seventh at Wimbledon.

Despite nearly a year away from the game because of a series of health scares, Serena Williams warns that she “wouldn’t bet against’’ herself.

And even though he’s yet to drop a set through three matches — something he’d never managed to do at the All England Club — Rafael Nadal keeps talking up his opponent’s chances.

As the 125th edition heads into Week 2, all of the principal players are still around.

After yesterday’s traditional day of rest, action resumes today with all 16 men’s and women’s fourth-round matches. Two stand out: Top-seeded Nadal faces No. 24 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, while No. 23 Venus Williams faces No. 32 Tsvetana Pironkova in a rematch of a 2010 quarterfinal won by the Bulgarian.

The Williams sisters have combined to win nine of the last 11 Wimbledon titles, and although Serena has played only five matches in the last 11 1/2 months and Venus missed about five months with a hip injury, both are clearly capable of producing top-level tennis.

“Yeah, I’m still alive, and it feels good,’’ said Serena. “I’m hoping to be around — and planning to be around — a lot longer.’’

The top four men — Nadal, No. 2 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Federer, and No. 4 Andy Murray — filled out the semifinals at the French Open, and no one would be too surprised if they did that again at Wimbledon.

Djokovic takes on No. 19 Michael Llodra, at 31 the oldest man left. Murray meets No. 17 Richard Gasquet, while the last American man in the field, No. 10 Mardy Fish, plays 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych.

After so many years of dominance on clay, Nadal has become quite good on grass. Since the start of Wimbledon in 2006, he is 29-2 at the tournament.

“Against him, you should play unbelievable tennis. You should play everything perfect, and then maybe you have a little chance,’’ said del Potro.

But even though del Potro lost in the second round in all three previous visits to the All England Club, his chances against Nadal shouldn’t be dismissed.

Del Potro is working his way back after missing most of the 2010 season because of surgery on his right wrist, and while he’s seeded 24th, Nadal pointed out that “his level is much better than what the ranking says.’’

Federer, who plays No. 18 Mikhail Youzhny, won his record-extending 16th major title at the 2010 Australian Open.

“I don’t go through days thinking, like, ‘My God, I haven’t won a Grand Slam in so long.’ It hasn’t been that long, to be honest,’’ said Federer.

Women’s matchups include No. 7 Serena Williams against No. 9 Marion Bartoli, the 2007 runner-up; Caroline Wozniacki vs. No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova; and No. 5 Maria Sharapova vs. No. 20 Peng Shuai of China.