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Federer needs five for fifth straight title

7/8/2007 - Tennis

WIMBLEDON, England -- Locked in the toughest test of his
Wimbledon reign, against his only real rival in today's game, Roger Federer summoned the strokes and resolve that allow him to chase
records set by the greats of yesteryear.

And after Federer finally overcame Rafael Nadal in a five-set
epic Sunday to win his fifth consecutive championship at the All
England Club and 11th Grand Slam title overall, tying Bjorn Borg on
both counts, guess who was waiting to greet him in a hallway off
Centre Court?

Borg himself. They smiled and embraced, then chatted briefly, a
tete-a-tete between the only two men in the past century to win
Wimbledon five years in a row.

"To see him after the match -- it was very fitting in my point
of view," Federer said. "It made me a bit more proud of myself."

He could swell his chest all he wanted, given everything he's
accomplished. And given the way he beat three-time French Open
champion Nadal 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2 for his 54th
straight victory on grass in a taut match filled with momentum
swings and marvelous shotmaking.

Federer is No. 1, Nadal is No. 2, and they have met in four of
the past six major finals. Federer won both at the All England
Club. Nadal won both at Roland Garros. This was, by far, the best
of the bunch.

"I win my share. He wins his. We've been at the top for over
100 weeks together. It is like building up to one of maybe the
great rivalries," Federer said. "We sometimes haven't lived up to
the expectations in the past ... but you can't always play five-set
thrillers, you know. I'm happy it happened today. I left as the
winner. Perfect."

He's taken 11 of the past 17 Grand Slam titles, including three
apiece at the Australian Open and U.S. Open. Now Federer's total
trails only Roy Emerson's 12 and Pete Sampras' 14 on the list of
career Grand Slam titles.

"I don't know how much longer I can keep it up," the
25-year-old Federer said, "but I definitely feel like I'm mentally
and physically still fit to go on for many more years."

As close as the 21-year-old Nadal is to a barrier -- the Spaniard
does lead their career series 8-5, after all -- Federer's main
challenge for some time has come from trying to live up to
standards set in the past.

Even if Federer doesn't necessarily look at it that way.

"He has so much passion for the game," said his mother,
Lynette. "He's not playing for the record books. He's playing for
the game."

On Sunday, on his game's grandest stage, Federer finished with a
24-1 edge in aces and a 65-50 edge in winners. Numbers hardly do
justice to his excellence or elegance with a racket in hand,
however.

"He's an artist on this surface. He can stay back. He can come
in. No weaknesses," said Borg, whose Wimbledon run came in
1976-80. "I believe if he continues the way he's doing and stays
away from injuries and has the motivation, he'll be the greatest
player ever to play the game."

And those words were spoken before Borg watched Federer's
lastest virtuoso performance from the front row in the Royal Box in
jacket and tie.

Federer also dressed formally for the occasion, sporting his
tailor-made, five-piece Gatsby getup, from the white dinner jacket
with the gold "RF" on the left breast pocket to the white slacks
replete with belt loops. Even his shoes were special, with four
tiny red circles patterned after the Swiss flag, each marking a
year he won a Wimbledon title. A fifth circle needs to be added
now.

Still, just when it looked as if Federer might turn the sunny
afternoon into a coronation by taking a 3-0 lead, Nadal won the
next three games. Just when it looked as if Nadal might be in
charge, breezing through the fourth set, Federer broke twice in a
row to end the match.

Each did what he does best -- and also managed to show a flair
for his foe's fortes.

Nadal is terrific at the baseline, forcing opponents to hit
great groundstroke after great groundstroke just to win a single
point. Yet there was Federer, hanging in there on the longest of
rallies; he won half the points that lasted at least 10 strokes.
Federer believes he's the best server around, yet it was Nadal who
kept producing easy hold after easy hold.

"I tried to play as aggressive as possible," Nadal said.

In the first set, he played serve-and-volley on one point, as if
to say, "See, I can do that, too." And Federer conjured up a
cross-court forehand passing shot on the run, as if to reply,
"Yeah, well, I can do that, too."

Because of all the rain that jumbled the schedule and sapped
some of the tournament's energy, Nadal was playing on a seventh
consecutive day. His right knee was treated during the fourth set,
but he said that wasn't a factor.

"Tired? No, no. Not tired," said Nadal's uncle and coach,
Toni. "He played the first four sets completely even. Even."

Federer has won 34 matches in a row at Wimbledon, and this was
the first to go five sets. He's played in 13 Grand Slam finals, and
this was the first to go five sets.

And he was growing frustrated, both by Nadal's relentless play
and by what appeared, to Federer, to be questionable rulings by the
instant replay system making its Wimbledon debut. After one call in
Nadal's favor, Federer cursed.

"It's killing me today," Federer told the chair umpire.