Surface may favor Federer next time


Rafael Nadal's home-court advantage was again too much for Roger Federer.

Renewing a rivalry that tends to be all about the setting, king of clay Nadal won his third consecutive French Open title Sunday, spoiling Federer's latest bid to complete a career Grand Slam.

The next time they meet &

perhaps at Wimbledon in four weeks &

Federer will likely have the upper hand, with the surface more to his preference. But at Roland Garros, he has lost each of the past three years to Nadal.

"After playing three very good French Opens the last three years, Rafa came along and took them all," Federer said. "So it's kind of Rafa and me."

For the rivalry to equal those of previous generations, either Federer or Nadal needs a breakthrough on his worst surface. For Nadal, that would be grass, and Federer said the Spaniard will be a title threat at Wimbledon.

"When you win one Grand Slam tournament, you can win the others," Federer said. "He knows that on all other surfaces, he can win the title."

Federer beat Nadal in last year's Wimbledon final. They've yet to meet at the U.S. or Australian Open. And at the French Open, Nadal may be on his way to eclipsing the domination of the greatest clay champion, Bjorn Borg.

winning 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, the second-ranked Nadal became the second man since 1914 to win the tournament three consecutive times, and the first since Borg in 1978-81. Nadal improved to 21-0 at Roland Garros.

"I always thought that winning Roland Garros three times in a row would be impossible," he said.

Still only 21, he's tied with four other men for third on the list of most French titles. Borg leads with six.

Nadal spoiled the top-ranked Federer's bid to win a fourth consecutive major title, something last done by Rod Laver in 1969. Federer has dominated the other Grand Slam tournaments, winning Wimbledon four times and the U.S. and Australian Open three times each.

Federer said the disappointment of coming up short again in Paris lasted five minutes, and then he was ready to start thinking about Wimbledon. He'll bid for his fifth consecutive title there, which would match Borg's run from 1976 to 1980.

"It's always easy to forget the clay season," Federer said. "Once you get on the grass, everything is in the past, you know. And I'm very excited about the grass season. This is a huge opportunity for me once again at Wimbledon to win there, and hopefully win my fifth in a row. That would be absolutely incredible. So I hope I can give myself a great chance."

But for Federer, it's hard to imagine the latest French loss won't linger a little. He converted only one of 17 break-point opportunities and committed a whopping 59 unforced errors, including several on potential putaways where he instead whacked an errant forehand.

In short, on big points he looked shaky.

"There was pressure on him," said Federer's father, Robert. "There's so much at stake. He's not just playing for Roland Garros, he's also playing against history."

And against Nadal, who never wavered down the stretch. The Spaniard held every service game in the final two sets, facing only one break point.

With a succession of brilliant shots, Federer won many of the highlight-reel rallies, but the relentless Nadal never flagged.

As the match moved into its third hour, he sprinted at an angle across the court to retrieve a drop shot and flick it for a winner. He leaped into a backhand from beyond the court and yanked it crosscourt for another winner.

"He's such a different type of player, and he kind of wears you out," Federer said. "He's the type of guy that's going to make you miss. ... With Rafa being a lefty, the whole thing gets kind of screwed up. That's the tough part. That's why I can never really say I played fantastic or bad against him, because it's just awkward."

When Federer's final shot landed long, Nadal collapsed on his back to the clay in jubilation.

"It's a dream for me," Nadal said. "I worked very hard to be the best."

For Federer, the story was all too familiar: Since the beginning of 2005, he's 4-7 against Nadal and 199-7 against everyone else.

On clay, Federer fell to 1-6 lifetime against Nadal. But they won't meet on that surface again for a while.

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