/ 18 December 2007

Federer eyes Sampras’s grand-slam record

Roger Federer again came close to winning the Grand Slam in 2007, reaching the final at all four major tournaments and winning three of them.

This year, however, the top-ranked Swiss also came tantalisingly close to losing his record 54-match winning streak on grass at Wimbledon, and then struggled a bit after winning the United States Open.

Federer still ran his Grand-Slam total to 12 by winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. He could break Pete Sampras’s record of 14 in 2008.

”Every year brings new challenges, and I am proud that I have been able to raise the level of my game when needed,” Federer said.

Justine Henin again dominated the women’s tour, winning her third straight French Open and another US Open title. The Belgian finished off her record-breaking season with a 10th title at the Sony Ericsson Championships.

The Williams sisters also showed they still can be a force, with Serena winning the Australian Open and Venus earning her fourth Wimbledon title.

Five-time Grand-Slam champion Martina Hingis, however, retired from professional tennis again after being accused of testing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon. She denied it, but said she wouldn’t fight the doping case.

The United States finally won its 32nd Davis Cup title, beating Russia at home for the Americans’ first title since 1995.

In the Fed Cup, Russia won its third title in the last four years by beating Italy in the final.

Federer again started the season in dominating form, winning the Australian Open and beating nemesis Rafael Nadal at the Hamburg Masters to end the second-ranked Spaniard’s record 81-match winning streak on clay.

But Nadal then won his third straight French Open title at Roland Garros, beating Federer in the final.

At Wimbledon, Nadal was forced to play day after day as rain plagued the tournament. Federer, however, got a week’s rest midway through the tournament because the rain and an opponent’s withdrawal left him with no one to play.

Still, with Federer trying match Bjorn Borg’s streak of five straight titles at the All England Club, Nadal came on strong and pushed the final match to five sets before Federer was able to drop to his knees in victory — just like Borg used to do.

Federer went on to add Grand Slam title number 12 at the US Open, beating Novak Djokovic in the final. But following that victory, Federer seemed to struggle, losing to David Nalbandian twice in less than two weeks.

”It’s not easy being aggressive against him when you’re three metres behind the baseline,” Federer said after losing to the Argentine at the Paris Masters shortly after his defeat at the Madrid Masters.

Also in 2007, Federer twice lost to Guillermo Canas and Nadal, and also fell to Djokovic and Filippo Volandri.

Federer, however, still broke Jimmy Connors’ record of 160 consecutive weeks as the top-ranked player in men’s tennis and finished the year at number one after winning the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai.

Nadal stayed number two throughout the year, and Djokovic moved up to third.

The fourth-ranked player, Nikolay Davydenko, was at the centre of match-fixing rumours.

Online betting exchange Betfair, in an unprecedented move, voided bets on a match in Poland in August after Davydenko withdrew against 87th-ranked Martin Vassallo Arguello in the third set because of a foot injury. The ATP is still looking into that match.

Other players came forward said they had been approached by outsiders to give information would could affect the outcome of a match.

All the talk prompted the ATP, the International Tennis Federation and the WTA to join forces in an effort to keep the game free of corruption.

The women’s tour steered clear of most of the gambling talk, but few players were able to shake off Henin.

The top-ranked Belgian skipped the Australian Open because of personal issues — she got divorced from her husband of about four years — but she came back and became the first woman to pass $5-million in earnings for a year.

”This has definitely been the best season of my career,” said Henin, who was 63-4 in 2007. ”It has been a very challenging year overall, but I have stayed positive and proved that nothing is impossible if you work hard.”

Serena Williams’ eighth Grand Slam title came as a bit of a surprise. Coming into the tournament ranked number 81, she is only the second unseeded woman to win the Australian title in the Open era.

Venus Williams entered Wimbledon ranked number 31, then used a dominating run to claim her fourth title at the All England Club.

”I was really motivated because no one picked me to win,” Williams said after beating surprise finalist Marion Bartoli. ”They didn’t even say, ‘She can’t win.’ They weren’t even talking about me.” – Sapa-AP