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PREVIEW: Fed welcomes all challengers to Wimbledon singles crown; Serena backtrack off controversial comments

Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player to ever live, knows some think he got lucky to win a major in the decline of his career a year ago at Wimbledon, but he’s ready to prove once again why you can never count him out.

Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player to ever live, knows some think he got lucky to win a major in the decline of his career a year ago at Wimbledon, but he’s ready to prove once again why you can never count him out.

Want To Watch?

WHO: Top men’s and women’s tennis players in the world.

WHAT: 2013 Wimbledon Championships.

WHEN: 7 a.m. today.

WHERE: London, England.

TV: ESPN2.

LONDON — There are few players who would welcome the prospect of facing Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in succession but Roger Federer is made of sterner stuff than most.

The defending Wimbledon champion will stride confidently onto Centre Court to face Victor Hanescu today, 10 years after winning the first of his seven titles here, and he says he is not casting a wary eye beyond the Romanian for what lies in wait.

The opening day’s action will also feature Nadal and Murray, after the tennis fates conspired to group three of the game’s dominant quartet in the same side of the draw.

The remaining member of that elite group, Djokovic, will keep his powder dry until Tuesday, and is a likely final opponent for whoever battles through.

“It was never supposed to be easy winning grand slams,” the Swiss, who is eyeing another title to surpass Pete Sampras and William Renshaw as the most decorated man at the All England Club, told reporters on Sunday.

“I’m ready for the challenge. I like tough draws. I don’t shy away from them…

“I have a very difficult draw with Rafa being in my quarter… If you want to win the tournament here, you have to beat the best. That’s what I’m here for.”

The lopsided draw was thrown up because French Open champion Nadal endured a seven-month injury absence following last year’s Wimbledon, leaving the Spaniard fifth in the rankings behind compatriot David Ferrer.

Nadal, Wimbledon champion in 2008 and 2010, begins his campaign in the less popular surroundings of Court One against Belgium’s Steve Darcis to make way for home hope Andy Murray on Centre.

Federer, who won his first title of the season at Halle last week, resisted any temptation to query Nadal’s seeding, choosing to talk tough instead.

“For me, it’s not even worth the talk because it is what it is,” the 31-year-old said. “It’s not like he’s unseeded. He is seeded within the top eight.

“He is seeded, so you don’t face him in the first round. Quarter-finals are still a long way away.”

Murray, last year’s beaten finalist, faces Germany’s Benjamin Becker after women’s number three seed Maria Sharapova’s match against France’s Kristina Mladenovic.

The Briton is fuelled with hope following a brilliant year that included a straight-sets gold-medal victory over Federer at the Olympics and a U.S. Open title won in a punishing five-set encounter with Djokovic.

A back injury ruled him out of the French Open, handing him a lengthier preparation than his rivals for the short grasscourt season, while victory in the final of the Aegon Championships at Queen’s confirmed he is in top shape.

Federer reduced Murray to tears by winning last year’s final but singled the Briton out as the outstanding grasscourt player heading into the championships.

“For me he seems like maybe most natural on this surface. But then the other guys are already Wimbledon champions, Rafa and Novak. Ferrer’s in the top four. He’s also very good on grass,” said the third-seeded Swiss.

“But to me Andy sort of stands out a little bit over the others.”

The women’s game has been given an extra edge after Sharapova and defending champion Serena Williams became embroiled in a tetchy row on the eve of the championships.

The Russian has been kept apart from Williams in the draw meaning the two rivals will not get the chance to settle their differences on court until at least the final.

World number two Victoria Azarenka is in Sharapova’s half and begins her campaign on Monday with a Court One clash against Portugal’s Maria Joao Koehler.


Serena tries to charm way out of controversial remarks ahead of Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England — Serena Williams launched a charm offensive Sunday as she sought to broker a truce with Maria Sharapova and calm the storm surrounding comments she made about a rape victim.

On the eve of Wimbledon, where she is defending champion, the pre-tournament focus has been on an interview she gave to Rolling Stone magazine that touched on a high-profile teenage rape case in Ohio and brought her into conflict with her Russian rival Sharapova.

The piece included an account of a private conversation between Serena and her sister Venus that the reporter interpreted as an attack on Sharapova’s relationship with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov.

Sharapova, soundly beaten by Serena in the French Open final earlier this month, hit back on Saturday telling the world number one to keep her nose out of other people’s business, adding an edge to the women’s competition at the grasscourt slam.

“I made it a point to reach out to Maria because she was inadvertently brought into the situation by assumptions made by the reporter,” a smiling Williams told reporters. “I personally talked to Maria at the player party, incidentally. I said, look, I want to personally apologize to you if you are offended by being brought into my situation. I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry for this whole situation. I’m the first person to reach out to individuals and people if I feel that something may have hurt them or something may have been misconstrued.”

The controversial interview quoted Serena as talking about a “a top-five player who is now in love”.

It added: “She begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ - it’s so boring. She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it’.”

While Serena did not deny making the comments, she was clearly angry that her private words had ended up in print.

“I’ve been spoiled dealing with professionalism here in the tennis world. I’m used to dealing with professional reporters… not writing or commenting on a private conversation that I may have or listening in or eavesdropping and then reporting on it.

“I was involved in a private conversation that he even wrote in the article that he said he was listening to. I take full blame and responsibility for that because I’ve been in the business for years and years and I should always in a way have my guard up.”

Williams was in a relaxed mood ahead of making her Wimbledon bow against Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella on Tuesday, blowing air-kisses with golfer Rory McIlroy as she waited in the wings to greet reporters.

A light-hearted chat about her prospects of surpassing Venus and winning a sixth Wimbledon title, however gave way after just five gentle questions.

The subject turned to her comments in the same Rolling Stone interview when she appeared to assign blame to a 16-year-old rape victim for being drunk.

She reiterated her earlier apology and said she had been in close contact with the victim’s family.

“It’s really important before you make certain comments to have a full list, have all the information, all the facts,” she added.

“I reached out to the family immediately once the article came out, and I had a really productive, sincere conversation with the mother and the daughter. We came to a wonderful understanding, and we’re constantly in contact…

“I take full responsibility. I definitely wanted to apologise to the family. They’ve been through so much. In talking to them and learning the whole story, you just learn how strong the young girl is, how strong she’s been able to make me through this process, which I think is incredible.”