- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

PARIS (AP) | No less a tennis authority than Bjorn Borg wonders whether Roger Federer can stave off Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.

Granted, Borg has a rooting interest: He is tied with Federer for the post-1900 record with five consecutive titles at the All England Club from 1976 to 1980, and Federer aims to claim his sixth straight a month from now.

And, granted, Borg wasn’t exactly on the mark when he predicted a tight French Open final: Second-ranked Nadal beat No. 1 Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0.

Still, 11-time major champion Borg’s words carry weight, and after watching Sunday’s championship match at Roland Garros from a front-row seat, the Swede said of Nadal: “If he survive the first couple of rounds this year, I pick him to win Wimbledon.”

Over Federer?

“Yes,” Borg said.

After losing the most lopsided Grand Slam men’s final since John McEnroe allowed Jimmy Connors to take only four games at Wimbledon in 1984, Federer spoke Sunday about wishing he could face Nadal on grass more often.

There are far more tournaments played on clay than on grass, and there’s a strong possibility the rivals will meet on the slicker surface only once in 2008, just as they met once at the All England Club in 2006 and 2007 - in the Wimbledon final.

If Federer’s lucky, he won’t have to play Nadal at all on grass. At this point, perhaps Federer ought to hope that somebody else eliminates the 22-year-old Spaniard before yet another meeting.

Because here is the surprising thing: Nadal has come much closer to beating Federer at Wimbledon than Federer has come to beating Nadal at the French Open.

Never at Roland Garros has Federer really put a scare into Nadal, the first man since Borg from 1978 to 1981 to win four consecutive French Open titles.

In 2005, they met in the semifinals. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, they met in the final. Each of the first three matchups, Federer pushed Nadal to four sets. But the 26-year-old Swiss star didn’t even come close to making a single set competitive Sunday.

At Wimbledon, in contrast, they played four sets in the 2006 championship match, followed by a 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2 “thriller,” as Federer deemed it, in the 2007 final.

Federer is supposed to be the one of the pair with the adaptable skills and all-court game, yet it’s Nadal who has changed the way he plays even more. He will serve-and-volley at the All England Club, and on Sunday at Roland Garros, the left-hander was standing right along the baseline, playing an attacking brand of tennis not generally associated with clay-court greats.

“I am young. I have to continue to improve,” Nadal said. “I think I’m improving, and that’s important. I have to continue to improve if I want to be No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 because a lot of good players are there.”

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