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Federer's conqueror faces refreshed Rafa

WIMBLEDON, England — For the first time since 2002, the last match at the All England Club won't include six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. Instead, Rafael Nadal today takes on the player who eliminated Federer in the quarterfinals, first-time Grand Slam finalist Tomas Berdych.

They'll be hard-pressed to equal the drama of the past three Wimbledon finals. Federer beat Nadal in 2007, Nadal beat Federer in 2008, and Federer beat Andy Roddick last year. All three matches were decided in the fifth set; last year's was a 16-14 thriller.

But Nadal's Wimbledon comeback and Berdych's Grand Slam breakthrough are compelling stories.

Nadal missed last year's tournament with tendinitis in both knees, then had a prolonged slump. The Rafa of old resurfaced this spring, and he capped an undefeated claycourt season with his fifth French Open title. Since mid April, Nadal has gone 30-1 and regained the No. 1 ranking.

Nadal has added a dimension to his game, using his speed and agility to attack as well as retrieve.

"I didn't win a tournament for 11 months," said the Spaniard, who is one win from his eighth major title. "When you have tough moments and you are another time in the top, it's more special."

The 6-foot-5 Berdych's fortunes are on the rise, too. He has displayed flashes of brilliance since age 18, when he upset Federer in the 2004 Olympics.

At 24, he has achieved milestones twice in the past month, reaching a major semifinal for the first time at the French Open and advancing further at Wimbledon. He's 4-1 this year against top-five players.

"It would be bad if I say I'm in fear of somebody," said Berdych, who is the first Czech man to reach the Wimbledon final since Ivan Lendl in 1987. "I beat really great players. So it gives you the confidence."

Federer's conqueror faces refreshed Rafa 07/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 8:25pm]
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