Defending champion retains mastery on grass



Roger Federer lost a set to Rafael Nadal before capturing his fourth straight crown.
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- When Roger Federer stepped onto Centre Court, dressed for success in his creamy white, custom-made blazer, one thought was prominent as he prepared to face Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final:
He absolutely had to beat this guy -- after all, how could Federer make the case he's the best tennis player ever if he's not even the best of 2006?
Untouchable early, steady enough late, the No. 1-ranked Federer did indeed vanquish his nemesis, No. 2 Nadal, 6-0, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-3 Sunday for a fourth consecutive Wimbledon championship and eighth Grand Slam title.
Federer is 55-0 this year when he plays anyone other than Nadal.
But he began Sunday with a 1-6 career mark against Nadal, 0-4 this season, when all four losses came in tournament finals, including at last month's French Open.
"I'm very well aware of how important this match was for me. If I lose, obviously, it's a hard blow for me -- he wins French, Wimbledon back-to-back," Federer said.
"It's important for me to win a final against him, for a change, and beat him, for a change. At Wimbledon, I knew it was going to be the place for me to do it the easiest way."
Grass-court legends
The keys to the grass-court kingdom have been passed from Bjorn Borg to Pete Sampras to Federer, who joins that duo as the only men since World War I to win this Grand Slam title four years in a row.
"This is Roger's backyard," his coach, Tony Roche, said. "It was played on his terms."
Federer sure strode in as though he owned the place, wearing the jacket his sponsor made especially for him.
It features a crest on the breast pocket with three rackets to represent his previous three Wimbledon titles; Federer wants a new one now and will donate the old blazer to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.
He kept the blazer on for the coin toss, standing with a hand in his pocket while Nadal bounced on the balls of his feet, raring to go.
The 20-year-old Spaniard is the very picture of perpetual motion from the moment he sets foot on court until the final point, using his powerful legs to get to shots others can't and his big biceps to bludgeon balls.
On clay, where the ball stays in the air longer, Nadal forces opponents to hit extra shots over and over to win a point.
That's part of the reason he's won a record 60 consecutive matches on the red surface. On grass, though, balls skid and footwork is different, and while Nadal might stretch a point by a shot or two, even he couldn't make Federer work too hard.
"He's unbelievable," Nadal said.
Serve broken
Nadal held serve 80 consecutive times from the second round through the semifinals, but it took Federer all of one game to break, blocking back a 128 mph serve and eventually flicking a running forehand winner that caught a corner to make it 2-0.
Federer broke Nadal again in the match's fourth and sixth games, closing a masterful first set with a cross-court backhand passing shot.
The message in Federer's play was unmistakable: This is a whole new ball game, kid.
"The start was absolutely perfect. I played fantastic, didn't miss any shots," Federer said.
"It was over in a hurry."
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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