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Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal face toughest tests of Wimbledon stars; preview

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Neither Serena Williams nor Rafael Nadal has played a tournament match since the French Open three weeks ago. And of tennis’ giants, it’s Williams and Nadal who received the most difficult draws at Wimbledon.

Williams, taking her sixth crack at tying Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, could face defending champion Angelique Kerber or and an unseeded Maria Sharapova in the fourth round. If she makes the quarterfinals, top-ranked Ashleigh Barty or 2017 Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza could await.

Williams debated daily in May whether to skip the French Open after withdrawing from her previous three events with health problems, namely a left knee injury. She played in Paris anyway, not at 100 percent, and was bounced in the third round for her earliest Grand Slam exit in five years.

The 37-year-old mom, who made the 2018 Wimbledon final after a life-threatening childbirth 10 months earlier, said she’s had “a good week and a half” of prep.

“I just haven’t had enough match play, quite frankly,” said Williams, a seven-time Wimbledon winner. “I haven’t had the best time and preparation that I normally would have.”

WIMBLEDON: Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Nadal is seemingly healthier, having trained on grass in his native Mallorca since lifting his 12th French Open title on June 9. His opportunity at Wimbledon: move within one Grand Slam title of Roger Federer‘s male record 20. But Nadal has gotten past the fourth round at the All England Club just once in the last seven years, reaching the semifinals in 2018.

Just to get to a potential semifinal with Federer, Nadal might have to go through Nick Kyrgios in the second round, two-time Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the third round, 2017 Wimbledon runner-up Marin Cilic in the fourth round and two-time French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem in the quarters. Kyrgios, Shapovalov, Cilic and Thiem have all beaten Nadal in the last two years.

But Nadal is concerned about his first-round opponent, 258th-ranked Yūichi Sugita, who advanced through qualifying this week and beat Lukas Rosol, who shocked Nadal in the second round of 2012 Wimbledon.

“Tuesday going to be my first match,” on grass this year, Nadal acknowledged. “Going to be a tough one, a tough start against a player who already played three matches here. So is a challenge.”

Eight-time Wimbledon winner Federer and defending champ Novak Djokovic are the favorites.

Federer grabbed his 102nd career tour title at a grass-court tune-up event in Halle, Germany, a week ago. He was drawn into a quarter with No. 8 Kei Nishikori and No. 9 John Isner, neither of whom has taken a set off the Swiss on grass. He’s coming off playing a full clay-court season — swept by Nadal in the French Open semifinals — for the first time since 2015.

“I’m happy I was able to adjust again on the grass,” said the 37-year-old Federer, who became the oldest modern-era Wimbledon men’s champion with his last title two years ago. “I came through Halle, the clay court season, French Open, without any injuries, feeling good. I guess I would be ready for longer rallies.”

Djokovic, like Nadal, has not played since Roland Garros. But Wimbledon was the scene last year of his return to the top of the sport after falling out of the top 20. He was the lowest-ranked man to win at the All England Club since 2001, and it catapulted him to titles at the U.S. Open and Australian Open.

“That’s what kind of gave me that push and also a huge relief,” Djokovic said of his fourth Wimbledon title. His road to a fifth could include No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals and Kevin Anderson, whom he swept in last year’s final, in the semis.

But as with Williams and Nadal, it’s tougher to gauge prospects before Wimbledon than perhaps any other Slam without the grass-court experience this season. Williams last played a grass tune-up event in 2011, but she’s also won Wimbledon three times since then.

“I know how to play tennis,” she said, smiling.

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When Michael Phelps raced Libby Trickett at Duel in the Pool

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At the peak of his career, Michael Phelps was upstaged in a race by a swimmer who went four seconds slower.

Australian Libby Trickett did more than hold her own against Phelps to lead off the opening event of the 2007 Duel in the Pool, a mixed-gender 4x100m freestyle relay.

Trickett, then known as Libby Lenton shortly before she got married, became the first woman to break 53 seconds, while Phelps went 48.72 in a head-to-head at the Sydney 2000 Olympic swimming venue.

“I was trash-talking … asking what he has got and telling him if he is going to bring it tonight. I think deep down he was really scared of me,” Trickett said, joking, according to The Associated Press. “Before the race he said good luck. He is a good competitor to race against, and I will remember that for the rest of my life — that I raced against Michael Phelps.”

Australia went on to win the relay by 2.49 seconds, in large part because Trickett swam .31 faster than the women’s 100m free world record. Normally, relay leadoff swims are eligible to break individual world records.

But FINA later ruled that Trickett’s time was not record eligible because the mixed 4x100m free was not an approved event. (Mixed-gender relays debuted at the world championships in 2015 and will debut at the Olympics in Tokyo next year.)

“I am a little disappointed because I know in my heart what time I swam and that time is faster than the existing world record,” Trickett said in 2007, according to Swimming Australia. “However, having said that, the disappointment can take nothing away from the fact I now know I am capable of swimming under 53 seconds and I will continue to strive to improve every aspect of my swimming.”

Trickett broke the world record officially at the 2008 Australian Olympic Trials, clocking 52.88 to take .42 off German Britta Steffen‘s mark. The world record has since been lowered all the way to 51.71 by Swede Sarah Sjöström at the 2017 World Championships.

Phelps’ time was impressive, his second-fastest 100m free at the point in his career. He raced tired, two days after that year’s world championships finished in Melbourne. Phelps earned seven golds at those worlds, and he has said 2007 was his peak, rather than 2008.

He raced strategically against Trickett, not allowing her to draft off him in the adjacent lane.

“I remember going down the first lap, and she was kind of right at my shins,” Phelps said with a laugh, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is not good.’ I knew she would jump up on the lane line and kind of drag, the smart way to do it. I remember I was going right into the 50 [meter] wall, and I turned and went completely on the other side of the lane.”

Trickett won five golds at the 2007 Worlds and another four medals at the 2008 Olympics, though Steffen edged her for 100m free gold by .04.

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Who is Germany’s greatest Olympian?

Birgit Fischer-Schmidt
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The combined all-time German Olympic medal total (including East Germany and West Germany) trails only the United States and Russia/Unified Team/Soviet Union. Norway owns the most Winter Olympic medals of any single National Olympic Committee, but the Germany/East Germany/West Germany sum is actually greater. A look at five of Germany’s greatest Olympians …

Kathrin Boron
Rowing
Four Olympic Gold Medals

Alternated gold medals between double sculls and quadruple sculls from 1992 through 2004, the last one as a mom, tacking on a bronze in 2008. Boron also earned eight world titles. In 19 total Olympic and world championships starts, she collected 12 golds, five silvers, a bronze and a fourth. An ankle injury kept her out of the 1988 Olympics at age 18, or else she could have been the first woman to take gold at five Olympics.

Birgit Fischer-Schmidt
Canoe-Kayak
Eight Olympic Gold Medals

Considered by some the greatest Olympian in history. Fischer-Schmidt won 12 Olympic medals (in 13 career Olympic events) and 37 world championships medals from 1979-2005, scattered among four retirements, two childbirths and the 1984 East German boycott. Fischer-Schmidt retired after earning her last two world championships bronze medals in 2005 at age 43. Had Fischer-Schmidt extended to one more Olympics in 2008, she could have been on the same team as niece Fanny Fischer, who earned a gold of her own in Beijing.

Georg Hackl
Luge
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only luger with three individual Olympic titles. Hackl was called the “Flying White Sausage” for his build and Bavarian roots, a nickname he opposed. His speed on the sled was not up for debate. Hackl finished second in singles and fourth in doubles in his Olympic debut in 1988. Then he won singles golds in 1992, 1994 and 1998 before bowing out in 2006. He then became a coach for the German team and its next luge great — 2010 and 2014 Olympic champion Felix Loch.

Claudia Pechstein
Speed Skating
Nine Olympic Medals

The only woman to compete in seven Winter Olympics. Pechstein owns Olympic titles in the 3000m, 5000m and team pursuit, the last medal of any color coming in 2006. At 48, she continues to race on the top international level, placing eighth, ninth and 11th at the world single distances championships in February, 28 years after her Olympic debut in Albertville, France. Pechstein served a two-year doping ban from 2009-11 over irregularities in her biological passport. She denied cheating and fought the ban in court for several years after its conclusion.

Isabell Werth
Equestrian
10 Olympic Medals

The most decorated Olympic equestrian with 10 medals and six golds. Werth, nicknamed the “Dressage Queen,” earned her first medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games and now, at 50, currently holds the Nos. 1 and 2 world rankings with two different horses. In 10 career Olympic events, she has never finished worse than second place. No other female Olympian can make that claim.

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