Federer faces Wimbledon dogfight with Nadal

Rafael Nadal has been further buoyed by a first career grasscourt title at Queen's.

updated: June 22, 2008 06:42 IST
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Roger Federer's traditional Wimbledon waltz is set to be transformed into an All England Club dogfight as Rafael Nadal plots to shatter the world number one's dream of a record sixth successive title.

The Spaniard, fresh from his French Open humiliation of Federer which delivered him a fourth Roland Garros crown, has been further buoyed by a first career grasscourt title at Queen's.

He is also bidding to become the first Spaniard since Manolo Santana in 1966 to win the men's title and the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back.

In any other year, Nadal's task would have been deemed impossible, but 2008 has not been an average year with Federer having lost his Australian Open title and then slumping to the worst defeat of his career in Paris.

Federer, who is just two Wimbledon titles shy of Pete Sampras's record of seven, stopped the rot by winning a fifth title in Halle, his 59th successive grasscourt victory, while Nadal was seeing off Novak Djokovic in London.

"For sure he (Federer) will have noticed," said Nadal. "I think I'm playing well. And if I continue playing like this, I'm going to have chances for a good result.

"Why can't I win it?"

Nadal had never played on grass until two years ago, but has reached the last two Wimbledon finals and, twelve months ago, the 22-year-old came agonisingly close to upsetting Federer in an epic five-set title match.

Federer has not lost a match on grass since a first round exit at Wimbledon at the hands of Croatia's Mario Ancic in 2002 and, despite his French Open final trauma where he won just four games, he insists he's not a spent force.

"Many have been a little bewildered that I judge my performance in Paris as a success, but I see it like this and I will not give up my opinion," said the 12-time Grand Slam title winner.

"If you consider that I had a bad start in 2008 (because of glandular fever), I don't think you can call being in a Grand Slam final a failure."

Federer, 26, claims he has never underestimated Nadal's abilities on the faster surfaces and expects another hurricane-strength challenge when Wimbledon gets underway on Monday.

"I don't think Rafa really has to prove himself much more to show that he's a good grasscourt player," said Federer who has won only six of his 17 matches with the left-handed Spaniard.

As at Roland Garros, only Serbian world number three Djokovic looks capable of mounting a serious challenge to the top two.

The Australian Open winner will be weary of facing Nadal having lost to the Spaniard in the last three tournaments in which they have competed including a disappointingly one-sided semi-final defeat at Roland Garros.

Djokovic was also beaten by Nadal in the Wimbledon semi-finals last year although his defeat was an injury-enforced retirement in the third set.

If rankings were a true guide, then world number four Nikolay Davydenko and David Ferrer, the number five, should also be serious contenders but neither has got beyond the fourth round.

That leaves America's Andy Roddick, the runner-up in 2004 and 2005, as probably the only serious challenger to the top three but he is still feeling his way from a back injury which sidelined him from Roland Garros.

Roddick also saw his bid for a fifth Queen's title ended by Nadal in the semi-finals last week.

With Tim Henman now in retirement, desperate British fans have transferred their affections to fiery Andy Murray but the Scot, who missed Wimbledon in 2007 with a wrist injury, has seen his preparations hampered by a thumb problem.