Federer wins 4th straight title

Decisive victory over Nadal puts Swiss player in elite company of Borg, Sampras

Wimbledon

July 10, 2006|By DIANE PUCIN | DIANE PUCIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WIMBLEDON, England -- Roger Federer is chasing history and closing in quick. Rafael Nadal is chasing Federer.

Top seed Federer won his fourth consecutive Wimbledon title by beating No. 2 Nadal yesterday, 6-0, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-3, in 2 hours, 50 minutes. Already here at the world's most beloved tennis tournament, Federer is being compared to the greats. He is the third man in the Open era to win at least four straight Wimbledon titles. Bjorn Borg, who won five straight from 1976 to 1980, and Pete Sampras, who won four straight from 1997 to 2000, were the others.

And Federer now has eight major titles. Sampras holds the men's record with 14. Federer will be 25 in August. Sampras had just turned 25 when he won his eighth Grand Slam title at the 1996 U.S. Open. This is a trajectory that will be followed, and the record book will keep beckoning Federer.

But in the past two years, a youngster, an engaging, precocious kid from Mallorca, keeps getting in Federer's way. Just as Sampras always said he enjoyed most of all playing his most talented rival, Andre Agassi, Federer and Nadal are enjoying the chance to push and poke each other.

Having lost all four matches he'd played against Nadal this year even though he was 55-0 against everyone else, Federer never suggested he was anything but eager to face the Spaniard's relentlessly hard baseline strokes. Those had seemed to tire Federer out in Paris at the French Open, but the challenge exhilarated him this time.

"Now I like this rivalry again," Federer said.

Until the first point was struck yesterday, Nadal was the uppity clay-court specialist making it to the Wimbledon finals, plotting a way to beat Federer.

Federer, who wears a specially designed blazer, cream-colored and classy, looks as if he should have a dainty cup of tea held between his fingers.

Federer, who had won 47 straight matches on grass courts, who was aiming to go without the loss of a set for seven straight matches here, for the first time since Borg in 1976.

And here came this youngster without a blazer or even sleeves on his shirt, pumping his fists, flexing his biceps, yelling at the crowd and pounding the ball from the baseline, yes, but also slugging 120-mph serves and coming to the net. What makes Nadal an intriguing foil to Federer is that he makes a plan to improve on all surfaces, even grass, where most of his Spanish compatriots don't bother.

The two players squinted to see the ball through swirling dirt yesterday afternoon and sometimes the gusty winds took balls away from the target and into the corner. Nadal was able to chip away at Federer's perfection here and there, with a running forehand down the line, with a leaping overhead smash followed by a bellow. Mostly not, though. Federer did lose a set but not what mattered, the match.

Coming up next is the U.S. Open, tennis played on a surface a little slower and safer than the chaotic grass courts of Wimbledon that Federer so loves, a little faster and livelier than the sticky red clay of the French Open where Nadal is as happy as a little kid playing in sand.

There will be other players in the U.S. Open, of course. Marcos Baghdatis, who lost to Federer in last January's Australian Open, fought well against Nadal Friday in the Wimbledon semifinals.

American James Blake takes great momentum from the noisy New York crowds and had his best major result there last year before he lost an emotional five-setter to Agassi in the quarterfinals. Agassi, 36, will play his farewell tournament and a year ago lost a four-set final to Federer.

But a rivalry is best left to two men and Federer agrees.

"When we play so often in finals," the champion said, "I think it adds something to the game. He's up-and-coming. I used to be the youngster. Now I'm getting older, he's so young. It's a great rivalry we're having at the moment. Rivalries absolutely can help tennis."

Diane Pucin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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