Federer and Nadal poised for Wimbledon epic

LONDON, (AFP) - Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, tennis’s glittering top of the bill double act, clash in a third successive Wimbledon final on Sunday to determine who is the world’s best player.
The final will be the sixth time the elegant Swiss and the muscular Spaniard have met in a Grand Slam final, bettering the five played by Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl, and then Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in the 1980s and 1990s.

Federer has won two on the grass of the All England Club in 2006 and 2007; Nadal has claimed three on his beloved Roland Garros clay in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Never have the stakes been higher.

A victory for Federer will make him the first man since the 19th century to win six Wimbledons in a row.
A win for Nadal, on the other hand, will take him alongside Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg as the only man to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same season. He would also become the first Spanish men’s champion since Manuel Santana in 1966.

It’s hardly surprising that the 26-year-old Federer and Nadal, just 22, are keen to stress that the pressure is on the other.
“For me, Roger is the best in history,” said Nadal who stormed to a fourth successive French Open title a month ago destroying Federer in a brutally one-sided final where the world number one won just four games.

That Paris annihilation, coupled with Nadal taking Federer to an epic five-set final here in 2007, has led many to suggest that the era of the Swiss superstar’s dominance is at an end.

He may have been world number one for 231 weeks, and can lay claim to 12 Grand Slam titles compared to Nadal’s four, but many argue that Nadal, especially with a first grasscourt title from Queen’s tucked under his belt, is really the world’s preeminent tennis talent.

“If I have the title on Sunday, then on Monday I’ll continue to be the number two but I’ll have more chances to become the number one in the next months,” said a cautious Nadal.
He may boast 11 wins in 17 meetings with Federer, but nine of those have come on clay.

Furthermore, Federer insists that the trauma of Paris is now a distant memory even if the media revel in reminding him of his latest failed French Open campaign.
“That final is out of the picture. I hardly remember it. It went so quickly,” said Federer who remains fulsome in his praise of his tormentor.

“I’m not going to draw anything out of that match because Rafa plays so different on clay and grass. He plays so much closer to the baseline that I have to draw from my two previous Wimbledon finals.
“I enjoy the challenge. Rafa is a great competitor. He’s got a winning record over me. Every time I play him I want to try to beat him. The thing is, I’ve played him so often on clay, it’s more of an advantage for him in the head-to-heads.

“At the same time, he’s now become so good on all other surfaces as well that he’s a real threat on anything.”
Federer has waltzed into his sixth final virtually untroubled.
He has been detained on court for over two hours only once in his six matches and has yet to drop a set. But he only met one seeded player.

That run has allowed him to take his grasscourt winning streak to 65 matches, a run stretching back to 2002.
Nadal’s route was slightly tougher having to see off three seeded players but dropping serve just once against the promising Latvian Ernests Gulbis in the second round.

“My way to the final’s been great,” said Federer. “I’ve just been playing consistently well. I wasn’t pushed to the degree where I have to say I played my best tennis ever. If I were to win on Sunday, then maybe I can say I’ve been playing my best ever.”


Rajakaruna defies fate

By Samiddha Rathnayake
Tennis rarely takes the limelight in the local sports circle. But when it comes to wheelchair tennis the story differs. Though, it hardly receives any publicity and the public interest is minimal, wheelchair tennis players have achieved a large measure of success and have brought much fame to the island.

One may not know that Sri Lanka’s wheelchair tennis is rated quite high in the world and our players have shown remarkable improvement during the short history of the game. Upali Rajakaruna is one such player who has shown his colours to his true capabilities. Attached to the Singha Regiment of the Sri Lanka Army, Rajakaruna’s military services came to an end in 1997 during operation Jayasikuru. He lost his left leg ruining his whole life leaving him confined to a wheel chair.

But it wasn’t the end of the road for this gutsy soldier. He went on to take up sports to take his mind off his tragic calamity. Initially he took up almost every sport - athletics, badminton and table tennis. It didn’t really make a difference to him as sports became a consolation in his shattered life.

But his fate took a turn in the year 2002 when a group of disabled soldiers along with him were taken to the Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA) for a wheelchair tennis training programme conducted by Mark Bullock. “Finally there were about fifteen of us getting trained by the SLTA coaches. During the same year we took part in a tournament in Thailand and it was my first experience at a foreign tournament,” Rajakaruna said recalling his past.

It was just the beginning of a bright future for this determined player. His swift improvement in the tennis field was clearly shown in the world ranking list. It was not more than six months ago that he was seeded 365 in the rankings and now he has brought himself up to 85. What more is needed to judge his capabilities and courage.

“I feel like I’m experiencing a totally new dimension in my life. I’m a disabled soldier but my heart and soul tends to deny it. Life in the army taught me some great lessons and if I gained some sort of success as a tennis player it is greatly due to that toughness I experienced in the army,” he said.

In the international arena our wheelchair tennis players are rated quite high and in most cases they easily bag a few medals in every international tournament. “I think it all depends on our mindset. Most of us were soldiers and got directly exposed to war situations. So, matters like handling pressure and the ability to quickly grasp the opponent’s tactics are nothing new to us. Coaches only have to teach us the way to play. So it is only a matter of time to nurture a good player,” Rajakaruna said with a smile. His comment is confirmed by the fact that the national pool currently consists of 15 disabled army personnel and two navy personnel.

A big event is at hand for Rajakaruna. The 2008 Para Olympics that will be held in China this September is the immediate goal for Rajakaruna. “I’m going for a medal, what should I target other than that. I know that it won’t be an easy task but without trying no one can achieve anything. Players who are seeded beyond 50 will not cause that much problems, but games will be tougher when I meet the top ranked players,” he said.

Before winding up Rajakaruna thanked his coach, Jagath Welikala, physical trainer, Ranil Harshana, his family, all the SLTA staff and particularly the support rendered from the his senior army officers to continue his game. “I will continue in the sport as long as I keep my fitness. And losing my fitness won’t happen soon,” he said smiling.


Australia takes 4-0 lead with one-run win

BASSETERRE, St Kitts, (AFP) - Shane Watson kept his nerve, and the seventh-wicket pair of Denesh Ramdin and Darren Sammy failed to carry West Indies over the threshold, as Australia completed a thrilling one-run victory in the fourth One-day International on Friday.

Australia had set West Indies 283 for victory from 50 overs, and successfully defended the target score, when Watson - with the home team needing eight runs from the last over - conceded six runs from the final six balls. The victory handed Australia a 4-0 lead in the five-match series

It also set the Aussies up to make a swing at a rare ODI series sweep in the Caribbean. Only South Africa (5-0 in 2005) and Pakistan (3-0 in the same year) have achieved this in the Archipelago.
Australia looked set to suffer their first defeat in the series, as West Indies captain Chris Gayle marched to a run-a-ball 92, Ramnaresh Sarwan coasted to 63 from 79 balls, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul gathered 53 from 71 balls. But Australia responded with a crucial wicket every time West Indies appeared to be getting into the swing of things.

Brett Lee was the most successful Australia bowler with three wickets for 64 runs from 10 overs.
Earlier, Andrew Symonds hit the top score of 87 and David Hussey supported with 50, as Australia, sent in to bat, reached 282 for eight from their allocation of 50 overs on a hard, true pitch.

Australia made just one change, bringing David Hussey in for his ODI debut for injured captain Ricky Ponting, whose stiff right wrist has precipitated his early departure from the Caribbean, so that Clarke led Australia to victory for the first time in an ODI.

Scores: Australia 282-8 (50) (S Watson 20, M Hussey 37, M Clarke 36, A Symonds 87, D Hussey 50, F Edwards 2/53, D Powell 2/66)
West Indies 281-6 (50) (C Gayle 92, R Sarwan 63, S Chanderpaul 53, D Bravo 31, B Lee 3/64).


Sir Alec Bedser turns 90

LONDON: Sir Alec Bedser, one of England’s greatest cricketers and one of the best fast-medium bowlers of all time, celebrated his 90th birthday with a special lunch at his Oval home ground here on Friday.

Former Australia cricketers Richie Benaud, Arthur Morris, Ken Archer, Neil Harvey and Alan Davidson, who all played Test cricket against Surrey legend Bedser, were among those attending.

Few men have given as much to English cricket as Bedser, who took 236 wickets in 51 Tests, including 39 at an average of just 17.48 during England’s 1953 Ashes triumph at home to Australia.

Then, after his retirement as a player in 1960, Bedser served as an England selector for 23 years and was chairman of selectors from 1969 to 1981, as well as manging the team on two tours of Australia.

He also had the distinction, according to Sir Donald Bradman himself, of bowling the best ball cricket’s greatest batsman ever faced when dismissing the Australian for nought in an Ashes Test at Adelaide during the 1946-47 series.

Bedser, known for his mastery of the leg-cutter, told the Daily Telegraph: “The ball was swinging in a little bit.
“With my ninth ball I held it with that new wider grip. It swung in and pitched leg, cut away and hit off. He (Bradman) said afterwards that it was the best ball that had ever got him out.”

In all Bedser took Bradman’s wicket eight times and dismissed him in five consecutive Test innings.
While helping Surrey win seven County Championship titles in a row during the 1950s, Bedser became a boyhood hero of the future British Prime Minister John Major, who was also due to attend the lunch.

Looking forward to the event, Bedser said he was particularly keen to meet up with the five Australians.
“It will be really nice to see them all again,” Bedser said in a Surrey statement. “The interesting thing about the five is that I played in all of their debut Test matches against England, which I suppose is an unusual feat.”

Surrey chief executive Paul Sheldon added: “Sir Alec is one of the most revered and respected names in the history of our county.
“He has dedicated his whole life to the game and it is a thrill for us to be celebrating this special landmark with him.”
Former Surrey wicket-keeper, Arthur McIntyre, a team-mate of Bedser’s, is the only living England Test cricketer older than Sir Alec.

McIntyre, whose England career was restricted to three Tests by Kent’s Godfrey Evans, celebrated his 90th birthday in May.
Bedser’s identical twin brother Eric, an off-spinner and batsman who also played for Surrey, died two years ago. [Bureau report]