Players excited about start of World Cup


By Greg Garber, ESPN.com

PARIS -- On Friday, the television in players' lounge was locked down on the World Cup in Germany -- and the first game was still six hours away. A clock in the corner of the EuroSport feed counted down the minutes.

America's sports fans may be focused on the NBA Finals, but the world will be obsessed with soccer's ultimate celebration -- 32 nations competing in 64 games for a month. Tennis players, truly citizens of the world, are especially excited.

The locker rooms are ablaze with talk of France's Djibril Cisse, who will miss the event with a broken leg suffered in the team's last friendly match. England's Wayne Rooney, who broke his foot a month ago, has been cleared to play but may sit out the early games. German captain Michael Ballack is also injured.

Roger Federer, the No. 1 seed here at Roland Garros, regularly has answered World Cup questions in his interviews. He is a big fan of Brazil's Ronaldhino, perhaps the best player on the team favored to win it all. Federer recently edged out Ronaldhino for the coveted Laureus sportsman award.

"He's an excellent player," Federer said, "and I like to watch him."

On June 13, Federer's squad, Switzerland, plays France in Stuttgart.

"I hope not only are they going to play a good match against France, but also a good tournament," he said. "I'm confident we're going to go through the early stages of the tournament. I'll be behind them like everybody else in my country."

Soccer and tennis will be on a collision course in England as Wimbledon unfolds. England, despite the injury to Rooney, is seen as a strong side. The World Cup final will be July 9 in Berlin -- the same day as the Wimbledon final.

Boris Becker, the three-time Wimbledon champion, has already made his choice. A fixture on the BBC's Wimbledon coverage for years, Becker will be part of German television's World Cup coverage. He'll be employed as a pundit, or analyst.

"Obviously, I will miss Wimbledon very deeply," Becker wrote in The Times on Friday. "I hope I'll be picking up the [tennis] challenge again in 2007, but this is a celebration of football that, for Germany, may not come around again for a very long time. I desperately want to be a part of it."


No. 5 Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova

Henin-Hardenne is the defending champion and looks to win at Roland Garros for the third time in the past four years. The Belgian has reached the final in each of the first two Grand Slam tournaments in 2006 and has won four of the past 12 Grand Slam events dating back to the 2003 French Open.

Kuznetsova, the No. 8 seed, has been to only one Grand Slam final before and that was when she won the 2004 U.S. Open. That year, she was one of three Russians to win a Grand Slam title.

On paper, this could be a lopsided match as Henin-Hardenne is 10-1 against Kuznetsova, including 3-0 in 2006 with each win coming in straight sets. However, last season the two met here at Roland Garros. The Russian held a 5-3 third-set lead -- including two match points -- before folding.

Henin-Hardenne is attempting to win back-to-back titles at the French, a chore that has been difficult to pull off. Steffi Graf was the last to accomplish this feat, that was 10 years ago.

The Belgian's road to the final has been smoother than Kuznetsova's. Henin-Hardenne has yet to drop a set and has been on the court for just 7 hours, 49 minutes (2½ hours less than her opponent). Kuznetsova was fortunate to escape her semifinal match vs. Nicole Vaidisova, where she was down a set and a break at 5-4.

With a win Saturday, Henin-Hardenne would match Martina Hingis and Venus Williams with five Grand Slam titles, second among active players to Serena Williams' seven. Also, a win would make her one of five players to win the French Open at least three times in the Open era (Chris Evert, Margaret Smith Court, Monica Seles and Steffi Graf).