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No. 1 vs. No. 2

Dream matchup in Wimbledon men's final

By Charles Bricker

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

WIMBLEDON, England -- Twelve days ago it was absurdity. Friday, it became reality.

In only his 15th match on grass, six of them coming in this evolutionary fortnight, the wondrous Spanish magician Rafael Nadal pulled himself out of a hat and reached the Wimbledon final against Roger Federer, a man who may have been prematurely anointed as the greatest player ever.

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When this most prestigious of Grand Slams began June 26, few would have predicted that Nadal would reach the championship.

But since rallying from a two-set deficit in the second round against Robert Kendrick, he has looked like a man born to the Wimbledon lawns, and he was never stronger or more concentrated than Friday afternoon in a 6-1, 7-5, 6-3 semifinal victory over the extraordinarily talented Marcos Baghdatis.

His gripping victory, in which he extended his streak of unbroken service games to 80, followed Federer's total domination of Jonas Bjorkman by 6-2, 6-0, 6-2.

And so they will convene on Sunday in a repeat of last month's French Open final, where Nadal defeated Federer for the fifth time in a row.

Federer will be heavily favored this time and victory would mean a grand celebration of his fourth Wimbledon title in a row.

But his experience and 47-match grass court winning streak can't possibly come to grips with the psychological edge Nadal is forging in this series and, unless Federer crushes Nadal, there is bound to be some re-examination of his growing legacy.

"Confidence against Rafa? I mean, it's there. I know I can beat him. I guess I don't need to think of playing him. I need to focus on me playing on grass, my style of play, playing aggressively," Federer said.

Whatever happens, Federer couldn't go into this final feeling better about his play.

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"I was flawless. I thought it was great," he said. "I had high expectations to win this match, and then to come through and play at a level I did today, I think that's great."

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