|It’s not much of a stretch to believe that either Venus (front) or Serena Williams will be playing for the Wimbledon title. (Sang Tan/Associated Press)|
A pair of traditional favorites
Williams sisters take aim at No. 8
LONDON - Who says the oldest and most tradition-laden of tennis’s major championships doesn’t change with the times?
There is, at long last, a retractable roof atop Centre Court at Wimbledon this year. Video review of line calls and equal prize money for men and women came along ages ago (well, OK, in 2007).
Rest assured: They still use grass courts, they still make the players wear white, and they still schedule a day off on the middle Sunday of a tournament first held in 1877.
Here’s something else that stays the same at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club: Venus Williams and Serena Williams are the women to beat.
Venus, in particular. She’s won five titles, including the last two, at Wimbledon, which begins this morning. Serena has won this tournament twice, beating Venus in the 2002 and ’03 finals and losing to her in last year’s championship match.
The names and faces at the top of women’s tennis keep switching, as players emerge, then recede or retire - Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo.
The Williams sisters? One or the other - or both - participated in eight of the past nine Wimbledon finals, and they’re the top picks of British oddsmakers this time.
“Serena and I, we often talk about that: ‘Wonder what happened to them?’ We’re still here - and we’re not leaving,’’ Venus, who turned 29 last week, said yesterday, two days before she’ll open her attempt to become the first woman since Steffi Graf to win three consecutive Wimbledon championships (1991-93).
“It’s been a real blessing to have the success that we’ve had and to be able to be still playing great tennis at this point, obviously with the outlook of still playing great tennis for years to come,’’ she said, noting she wants to enter the 2012 London Olympics. “I don’t see anything changing for a while.’’
As the defending women’s champion, Venus, seeded third, is slated to play her first match tomorrow on Centre Court, against Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland.
A statistic for Voegele to ponder: Her career Grand Slam record is 0-1, and Venus’s is 180-38.
Second-seeded Serena, 27, starts on Day 1. She will face 154th-ranked Neuza Silva of Portugal on Centre Court after Roger Federer meets Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan in what, in theory, could be the first match in the 132-year history of Wimbledon to be played indoors. There is a 20 percent chance of rain today.
The new translucent roof on Centre Court, an arena that dates to 1922, takes about 10 minutes to close and should forever eliminate those dreary days when tennis is halted because of rain.
“ ‘Update. Don’t be late.’ That’s my motto,’’ Venus said. “So I think the roof is good.’’
Some players question whether it’s fair that only matches on the main court can be carried out when Mother Nature messes with the tournament, but count Federer among those in favor of the roof.
“Might be more intimate,’’ said Federer, who lost a five-set thriller of a final last year to Rafael Nadal, a no-show this year because of bad knees. “You’re not looking for rain, [but] looking forward to experience it.’’