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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 July 2006, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Federer & Nadal leave field trailing

By Piers Newbery
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
Federer and Nadal have played each other in five finals this year

All hail Roger Federer, but thank God for Rafael Nadal.

The men's tournament had looked like being an embarrassingly easy procession for Federer, with the coronation set for around 3.30pm on the second Sunday. Business as usual.

And he was magnificent throughout, making a mockery of a difficult draw, but too many of his opponents were beaten before they stepped on court.

Tim Henman, Tomas Berdych, Mario Ancic, Jonas Bjorkman... they were tripping over each other with superlatives for the world number one.

But late in the second week, the atmosphere changed and Federer could sense it as his nemesis moved further and further through the draw.

Where there had been a sense of inevitability about Federer's victory, there were now question marks.

GOING UP
Marcos Baghdatis
Big smile, big game, big future
Andre Agassi
Going home actually, but left in style with Centre Court defeat to Rafael Nadal
Robert Kendrick
World no.237 played a blinder in almost beating Rafael Nadal
B.Becker
Benjamin was the centre of attention as fans flocked to see if Boris was back in action

Having been beaten four times by Nadal already this year the Swiss star must have thought Wimbledon at least would give him some refuge from the relentless Spaniard.

But after Nadal came through a desperately tight match with world number 237 Robert Kendrick in round two, he never looked back.

By the time he had beaten Marcos Baghdatis to reach the final, Federer was getting edgy. He would not be human if he had not thought: "You again!"

The stage was set for a classic final recalling the days of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, and while it never quite touched those heights we still saw Federer pushed somewhere near his limit.

So dominant are the top two at the moment that everyone else is simply vying for an occasional moment in the limelight.

Andy Murray more than fulfilled expectations by reaching the last 16 of a Grand Slam for the first time, under huge pressure, and his destruction of Andy Roddick was a joy to behold for British fans.

His tame defeat to Baghdatis was a swift reminder of how far the Scot has to go but the appointment of a world-class coach in the near future should make a difference.

GOING DOWN
David Nalbandian
More interested in the World Cup, paid for it when he and Argentina lost on the same day
Marat Safin
Led Fernando Gonzalez by two sets before blowing it with a trademark bad mood
Americans
Not a single US man made the fourth round
Streakers/protestors
Been done before. Repeatedly

Murray's efforts were especially heartening after the early exits of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski to far younger and classier opposition in Federer and Marat Safin, and the British veterans are unlikely to make another significant mark at Wimbledon.

That is certainly the case for Andre Agassi, who made it to the third-round clash with Nadal he deserved as a fitting final appearance on Centre Court.

They are not the only ones who might have seen their best days, however.

Federer's leading contemporaries in Roddick, Safin and Lleyton Hewitt may all be in their mid-20s but they are already in danger of being swamped by a younger generation.

Baghdatis captured the crowd's imagination with his passion but his talent is formidable, while Murray and fellow 19-year-old Novak Djokovic were new faces in the fourth round.

Richard Gasquet was unfortunate to face Federer in round one, while Gael Monfils looked exhausted after an emotional French Open and Berdych will get better.

All of these players have the talent and hunger to challenge in the latter stages of Grand Slams but everyone in the men's game shares a common problem.

Federer and Nadal are simply a class apart and from now on the fans, TV companies and tournament organisers will be praying they meet in the final whenever both are in town.

SEE ALSO
Federer battles to fourth title
09 Jul 06 |  Tennis
Wimbledon final photos
09 Jul 06 |  Tennis


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