Federer extends grass-court streak to 42

6/28/2006 - Tennis

WIMBLEDON, England -- Roger Federer won his record 42nd straight grass-court match Tuesday, beating Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to open his bid for a fourth consecutive Wimbledon championship.

The top-ranked Federer broke the record he shared with Bjorn Borg, the five-time Wimbledon champion who won 41 straight matches on grass from 1976-81.

"It's nice to get any streak," Federer said. "I'm still going, so even better if I can maybe postpone it and make it even last longer. I'm surprised myself I've kept it that long. To come through today was my only wish -- not to break the streak, but to have it come together is nice."

Federer led Gasquet 6-3, 1-2 on Monday when the match was suspended by rain. The pair returned to Centre Court under cloudy skies, and Federer needed only 37 minutes to finish off the 20-year-old Frenchman, setting up an intriguing second-round encounter against Britain's Tim Henman.

Also winning on Centre Court was Andre Agassi, the 1992 champion playing in his last Wimbledon. The 36-year-old American, the oldest player in the men's draw, got off to a slow start before beating 71st-ranked Boris Pashanski of Serbia-Montenegro 2-6, 6-2, 6-4,

Agassi, who announced Saturday that the U.S. Open in September will be his final tournament, had 17 aces and capitalized on 11 double-faults by Pashanski -- two coming on the last two points of the match.

"I was a bit lost out there in the first set, a bit too nervous, then I settled in and managed to find a little bit of rhythm," Agassi said.

In his customary fashion, Agassi bowed and blew kisses to all corners of the court as the fans gave him a rousing ovation. Among those in the crowd was his wife, seven-time Wimbledon champion Steffi Graf. Agassi wore a necklace with letters spelling out "Daddy Rocks," which he said was made by the couple's 4-year-old son, Jaden Gil.

Agassi said he was moved by the loud reception he received.

"You expect to be overwhelmed with the whole situation anyhow," he said. "To feel that sort of support meant the world to me. I just wanted to do 'em proud. I got a little bit nervous and was trying too hard early."

Second-seeded Rafael Nadal, a two-time French Open champion but relative novice on grass, started in impressive fashion by beating British wild card Alex Bogdanovic 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-4. The Spaniard had 36 winners and played mainly from the baseline but finished
the match in style with a forehand drop volley and celebrated with a customary fist pump.

Federer closed out his match with an overhead smash and then smacked a ball into the stands and basked in a huge ovation. He left the court the same way he arrived -- donning a custom-designed cream-colored sports jacket emblazoned with his name and a special crest on the breast pocket.

Federer's last loss on grass came in the first round of Wimbledon in 2002, when he fell to Mario Ancic in straight sets. His win streak includes three titles at Wimbledon and four at the warmup tournament in Halle, Germany.

Federer said he considers Borg's grass-court streak more impressive than his own because all the Swede's wins came at Wimbledon. Borg won five straight Wimbledons before losing in the 1981 final to John McEnroe.

"Wimbledon stays Wimbledon after all," Federer said. "The five Wimbledons and six finals is something almost beyond possibility for any player. For me, he [Borg] stays a hero."

Gasquet was coming off a victory at the grass-court warmup at Nottingham, England, but proved no match for the player who is an overwhelming favorite to become the third man in the Open era to win four straight Wimbledons. Borg and Pete Sampras (1997-2000) are the others.

Federer will next face Henman, a four-time Wimbledon semifinalist who overcame Sweden's Robin Soderling 6-7 (8), 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3. The British player is unseeded for the first time in 10 years because of a drop in his ranking.

Henman leads Federer 6-4 in career matches, including a four-set win in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2001.

"It feels really good to be playing a match here at Wimbledon with really very limited, very little pressure and expectation," Henman said with a smile. "I just want to go out there and let it happen."

Fourth-seeded David Nalbandian, runner-up in 2002, crushed South Africa's Wesley Moodie 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. Eighth-seeded James Blake was a 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 winner over Danish qualifier Kristian Pless.

Thomas Johansson, seeded No. 12, was eliminated by fellow Swede Jonas Bjorkman, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1; and No. 21 Gael Monfils of France lost to Russian Igor Kunitsyn 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-3, 6-4.

Wild card Mark Philippoussis, runner-up in 2003, served 39 aces in a 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (12) win over Paul-Henri Mathieu.