Federer vs. Nadal: Potent 1-2 Punch

(By Matthew Stockman -- Getty Images)
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 9, 2006

WIMBLEDON, England, July 8 -- Roger Federer isn't the world's fastest tennis player, but somehow on the grass courts of the All England club, where he has won the last three Wimbledon titles, he seems to arrive at the ideal spot for whacking the ball in the nick of time.

Some believe Federer's special gift is less a matter of foot speed than it is vision -- a preternatural vision that enables him to see where the yellow ball is going while it's still in flight. While there's no doubt the world's No. 1 player has uncanny court vision, it wasn't enough, on the eve of this Wimbledon fortnight, to detect the challenge in store from the world's No. 2 player -- Spain's clay-court master, Rafael Nadal -- whom Federer will face in Sunday's final.

Just two weeks ago Federer surveyed the tournament's 128-player draw and pegged Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, Wimbledon's 2002 champion, and American Andy Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open winner, as the favorites to challenge him for his fourth consecutive title.

Nadal, fresh off his second consecutive French Open title (earned at Federer's expense, no less), wasn't even mentioned.

But Nadal shocked everyone, himself included, by re-inventing his style of play wholesale for this occasion without losing his uncommon passion, confidence or aggression. Nadal's reward is the chance to take on Federer Sunday on Centre Court, where he concedes Federer is at his best.

"I gonna need to play my best match in my life, for sure," Nadal said Saturday. "So I gonna try that!"

With a victory, Nadal would become the first man to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back since Bjorn Borg in 1980. He would also become just the second Spaniard to win Wimbledon, following 1966 champion Manolo Santana, who is here this fortnight to cheer on "Rafita."

Both finalists met with reporters Saturday -- a day otherwise devoted to a light workout, relaxation and a bit of game-planning for Sunday's match.

Nadal spoke in almost reverential terms about Federer. "He is the best on this surface, for sure, no doubt," said Nadal, 20. "He is the favorite by far."

Federer, 24, who has yet to lose a set in the tournament, exuded utter calm and confidence.

"Never really reached a finals of any Grand Slam as easy as this Wimbledon," he said, "so I hope I can finish it off in style."

Though multiple attempts were lobbed in Federer's direction, no questioner managed to elicit even a trace of anxiety about the match or the opponent.

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