July 05, 2008
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, tennis's glittering top of the bill double act, clash in a third successive Wimbledon final on Sunday to determine who is the world's best player.
The final will be the sixth time the elegant Swiss and the muscular Spaniard have met in a Grand Slam final, bettering the five played by Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl, and then Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in the 1980s and 1990s.
Federer has won two on the grass of the All England Club in 2006 and 2007; Nadal has claimed three on his beloved Roland Garros clay in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Never have the stakes been higher.
A victory for Federer will make him the first man since the 19th century to win six Wimbledons in a row.
A win for Nadal, on the other hand, will take him alongside Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg as the only man to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same season.
He would also become the first Spanish men's champion since Manuel Santana in 1966.
It's hardly surprising that the 26-year-old Federer and Nadal, just 22, are keen to stress that the pressure is on the other.
"For me, Roger is the best in history," said Nadal who stormed to a fourth successive French Open title a month ago destroying Federer in a brutally one-sided final where the world number one won just four games.
That Paris annihilation, coupled with Nadal taking Federer to an epic five-set final here in 2007, has led many to suggest that the era of the Swiss superstar's dominance is at an end.
He may have been world number one for 231 weeks, and can lay claim to 12 Grand Slam titles compared to Nadal's four, but many argue that Nadal, especially with a first grasscourt title from Queen's tucked under his belt, is really the world's preeminent tennis talent.
"If I have the title on Sunday, then on Monday I'll continue to be the number two but I'll have more chances to become the number one in the next months," said a cautious Nadal.
He may boast 11 wins in 17 meetings with Federer, but nine of those have come on clay.
Furthermore, Federer insists that the trauma of Paris is now a distant memory even if the media revel in reminding him of his latest failed French Open campaign.
"That final is out of the picture. I hardly remember it. It went so quickly," said Federer who remains fulsome in his praise of his tormentor.
"I'm not going to draw anything out of that match because Rafa plays so different on clay and grass. He plays so much closer to the baseline that I have to draw from my two previous Wimbledon finals.
"I enjoy the challenge. Rafa is a great competitor. He's got a winning record over me. Every time I play him I want to try to beat him. The thing is, I've played him so often on clay, it's more of an advantage for him in the head-to-heads.
"At the same time, he's now become so good on all other surfaces as well that he's a real threat on anything."
Federer has waltzed into his sixth final virtually untroubled.
He has been detained on court for over two hours only once in his six matches and has yet to drop a set. But he only met one seeded player.
That run has allowed him to take his grasscourt winning streak to 65 matches, a run stretching back to 2002.
Nadal's route was slightly tougher having to see off three seeded players but dropping serve just once against the promising Latvian Ernests Gulbis in the second round.
"My way to the final's been great," said Federer.
"I've just been playing consistently well. I wasn't pushed to the degree where I have to say I played my best tennis ever.
"If I were to win on Sunday, then maybe I can say I've been playing my best ever."