At 22, it could be argued that Rafael Nadal has time on his side to win an elusive Wimbledon Championship.
Nadal stands between Federer and history
LONDON // At 22, it could be argued that Rafael Nadal has time on his side in his determined crusade to add an elusive Wimbledon Championship to the four French Opens he has already amassed. However, time waits for no man, especially at the highest level of international sport. Nadal has had two shots at unseating Roger Federer as the king of the All England Club and taking the crown from a man who could go down as the finest champion in the history of the sport. The Spaniard is ready to bridge the gap in their third final showdown this afternoon and make his principal rival wait a little longer to move within one grand slam title of Pete Sampras's record of 14.
Bjorn Borg, the ice-cool Swede who reigned supreme for five years in a row until 1981, is also expecting Federer to surpass that accomplishment, even though he tipped Nadal for the title before the tournament started two weeks ago. Borg has shifted his allegiance to the Swiss maestro after watching the way the world No1 has dispelled any suggestions that his dominance on grass is about to wane, easing past all six of his opponents so far without dropping a set - and without breaking sweat.
Assessing the form of Federer going into the final has not been easy because he is yet to be extended. Even the former No1 Marat Safin, who disposed of the No3 Novak Djokovic in the second round, was cast aside like a second-rater in Friday's semi-finals. Federer was at his typical gentlemanly best when he spoke about that satisfying victory, but when he reappeared in front of the media yesterday, he displayed a meaner streak, suggesting Nadal has far too often stretched the rules to breaking point in the time he takes between service points.
"The unfortunate part is the umpire will always give him a warning but he'll never give him a point penalty," said Federer pointedly. "It's obviously a fine line. Until he gets into position to serve he takes his 20 seconds, then he takes another 10 or 15 seconds until he really serves. I'm not saying he abuses it, but he never feels the heat that much. "It used to be irritating when I played him a few times in a row and I really felt he was playing very slowly. I think he's speeded up since those times and I felt he was playing fairly lately."
It is most unusual for Federer, who is normally content to let his actions speak louder than words. Nadal, who regards Federer as the best player of all-time, knows that he will have to take his game to another level to deny him his appointed place. "I will try to play my best, with my rhythm and intensity. If he beats me, I will congratulate him like every year. But if I win on Sunday, my career will be changing a bit more, no?"
If Nadal reproduces the devastating form he found against Murray, it might be too much even for Federer. A Nadal victory would make the Spaniard the unofficial world No1 according to Boris Becker, who has won three Wimbledon titles and lost in four finals. Nadal is more respectful, though, of his rival's 230-week reign on top. "If I win the title on Sunday, I will continue to be the number two," added Nadal. "I'm going to have more chances to be No1 in the next months, that's true."