Federer extends streak



By Howard Fendrich

WIMBLEDON, England – In his five-piece, tailor-made Gatsby getup, Roger Federer looked like a tennis player from a bygone era, one seen only in black-and-white photos.

As Federer warmed up Monday for what would become his 29th consecutive victory at Wimbledon, and 49th in a row on grass, he wore long trousers, replete with belt loops, and a sweater vest, all white with gold trim. An accompanying jacket, customized “RF” logo on the left breast pocket, was neatly draped over his changeover chair, completing the throwback ensemble.

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His game, as usual, was as modern and colorful as they come, filled with grace and power. It was all too much for Teimuraz Gabashvili, a Russian who is ranked 86th and lost his first career match at Wimbledon 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 on a wet and windy Day 1 at the grass-court Grand Slam, where winners included Andy Roddick, a slightly hobbled Serena Williams and Martina Hingis.

For Federer, it was his first match since losing the French Open final to Rafael Nadal; the Swiss star skipped his usual grass-court tuneup tournament to rest a beat-up body.

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    “I was, of course, a bit worried, maybe, before the first round,” said Federer, trying to equal Bjorn Borg’s modern-era record of five straight Wimbledon titles. “Look, I’ve got so much confidence, so much experience on this surface, that I always expect myself to play good matches on grass. That’s what happened today.”

    If Federer’s result was familiar, Centre Court certainly was not: Its partial roof is completely gone as part of the project to build a retractable one by 2009, temporarily making for a less-intimate atmosphere and the open-air setting is more susceptible to raindrops and breezes.

    “It definitely does look and play a bit different this year,” said Federer, whose match began 2 1/2 hours late because of rain.

    Plus, the hallowed arena now features two video screens for instant replay at the oldest Grand Slam tournament. Federer didn’t challenge any calls. Gabashvili did, questioning whether Federer’s forehand was in, the replay showed it barely caught a line.

    The history books will reflect that the first use of the new technology at the All England Club came at Court 1, during the No. 3-seeded Roddick’s 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory over Justin Gimelstob.

    In the first set, Gimelstob challenged a fault call but the ruling was upheld.

    “So,” Roddick pointed out, “he has the first miss with ‘Hawk-Eye’ in Wimbledon history, as well.”

    Said Gimelstob, a 30-year-old American: “I’d like to have a few more important records, but I’ll take what I can get.”

    He and Roddick are pals, and they spoke afterward about making some all-in-good-fun gentlemen’s bets about how many times Gimelstob would launch his body into the air to dive for shots. They also tried to set up a dive during their warmup session, but that didn’t work out.

    The match was rather lopsided, but Gimelstob did his best to entertain the crowd and enjoy himself in his eighth and possibly final Wimbledon appearance. After one flop-and-roll resulted in a Gimelstob volley followed by Roddick’s passing winner, a fan cried out: “Come on, Gimelstob!”

    To which he responded: “You want more effort than that?”

    With Roddick’s coach, two-time Wimbledon champion Jimmy Connors, looking on, the 2003 U.S. Open champion’s serve was clicking, to the tune of 16 aces. That skill is a big part of why Roddick is considered someone who could give Federer a test if they meet in the semifinals.

    Then again, Roddick lost to Federer at Wimbledon in the 2003 semifinals and the 2004 and 2005 finals, and the American was asked Monday how many times he thinks he might have won the title where they not contemporaries.

    “At least one,” Roddick said, “possibly two.”

    Federer mixed in the occasional serve-and-volley, saved the only break point he faced, and generally reduced Gabashvili to a frustrated foil who muttered at himself after some lost points, stomped his sneakers and rolled his eyes after others.

    To hear Federer tell it, though, the task was tougher than it appeared.

    “He also played a decent match,” said Federer, aiming for an 11th Grand Slam title, which would move him three away from Pete Sampras’ career record. “I had to come up with some shots once in a while.”