Federer-Nadal Rivalry Goes Beyond The Surface

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 6, 2008

WIMBLEDON, England, July 5 -- The earth's surface, textbooks say, is roughly 70 percent water.

In Roger Federer's worldview, it is composed of three elements -- grass, clay and hard court. And the greatest of these is the Centre Court grass at the All England club, host of Wimbledon, where Federer has won the past five championships.

That feat, combined with Federer's four titles on the hard courts of the U.S. Open, has helped make him the world's No. 1 ranked tennis player for the last 230 weeks.

Like a benevolent ruler, Federer has been willing to concede a small patch of his tennis realm, the clay courts of the French Open, where second-ranked Rafael Nadal has won the last four championships. It has generally been a satisfactory arrangement for Federer, whose efforts to beat Nadal on clay took a major hit with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 defeat in last month's French Open final.

But Federer's world order will be restored the moment he reasserts his supremacy in Sunday's Wimbledon championship, where Nadal will once again try to shake the mantle of being the world's best clay-court player and win on Federer's beloved Centre Court grass.

"We want a piece of each world, you know, but the other person hasn't given in yet," Federer said Saturday. "I think it's a great rivalry."

There is a tremendous amount at stake for Federer, 26.

A sixth Wimbledon title would move him within one of Pete Sampras's record 14 Grand Slam event titles. With a victory, he would also become the first in the Open era to win the men's singles title for six consecutive years. (Bjorn Borg won five, from 1976 to '80.)

Nadal is playing for history, too. Only two men in the Open Era have won both the French Open and Wimbledon the same year. Nadal would love to join Rod Laver and Borg, the last to do so.

Sunday's Wimbledon final will mark the sixth time Federer and Nadal have squared off for a major title. Nadal has deprived the Swiss star of the last three French Opens; Federer has beaten Nadal in the last two Wimbledon finals.

But the latest installment should be the most compelling yet.

Nadal forced Federer to five sets in last year's Wimbledon final. And the Spaniard has never looked stronger on grass than he has these last two weeks.

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