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1 vs. 2: Federer, Nadal square off in final

WIMBLEDON, England - Now Roger Federer gets Rafael Nadal on his turf.

With a performance he deemed flawless, three-time Wimbledon champion Federer won the most lopsided men's semifinal in tournament history, beating Jonas Bjorkman 6-2, 6-0, 6-2 on Friday.

Top-ranked Federer's reward?

A championship match Sunday against No. 2 Nadal, who got past No. 18 Marcos Baghdatis 6-1, 7-5, 6-3 to extend his surprising run at the All England Club.

Federer is 0-4 against Nadal in 2006, 55-0 against everyone else. But three of the losses came on clay, including in last month's French Open final, and they've never met on grass - where Federer has won a record 47 consecutive matches, including 27 at Wimbledon.

''He is the best on all surfaces,'' Nadal said, ''but here more.''

That's for sure. Federer will try to join Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras as the only men since World War I to win four straight Wimbledon titles.

Nadal stands in the way.

''I know I can beat him,'' said Federer, who's won seven major titles. ''I don't need to think of playing against him. I need to focus on me playing on grass, my style, playing aggressive. It's going to be easier on grass to do that than on clay.''

Clay is slower, grass is slicker, and each make different demands on footwork and shotmaking. That's why it's so rare for players to succeed on both: No man has won the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back since Borg did it in 1978-80.

And it's been 54 years since the same two men met in the finals of these two Grand Slam tournaments.

This is how big-time rivalries are born.

''They're very close. They're the two best players in the world at the moment,'' said Baghdatis, who lost to Federer in the Australian Open final. ''You cannot say one is the best - you have to take both of them.''

There will be a Grand Slam final rematch in the women's championship match today, too, when No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo plays No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne. Mauresmo's first major title came at the Australian Open, when Henin-Hardenne quit in the second set, citing an upset stomach.

Neither woman has won Wimbledon, and Henin-Hardenne will be aiming to complete a career Grand Slam.

Federer's bid to do that fell short at Roland Garros, when Nadal beat him for a second French Open title. Federer wanted another crack at his nemesis, saying before Nadal-Baghdatis was finished: ''Obviously, I would like to play Rafael, because of the matches we've had in the last couple of months.''

Both men were brilliant Friday. Nadal saved all nine break points he faced against Baghdatis and compiled a 43-16 ratio of winners to unforced errors.

Federer, meanwhile, was simply sublime against the 34-year-old Bjorkman, the oldest Wimbledon semifinalist since 1987 and a player who's greatest success has come in doubles, with eight major championships.

The way Federer played, one wondered whether Bjorkman would have had a chance even if there'd been another player at his side.

''I felt like I played a guy who was as near to perfection as you can play the game,'' the 59th-ranked Bjorkman said. ''I had the best seat in the house.''

He did, indeed, as Federer mixed speeds, volleyed with precision, and alternated serves like a pitcher going from fastball to changeup and back again. One of Federer's shots was so hard, it nearly knocked the racket out of Bjorkman's hand.

Federer never faced a break point, went 7-for-9 on his break chances, conjured up 30 winners to only 13 unforced errors, and won 11 games in a row. He's closing in on being the first man to win Wimbledon without dropping a set since Borg in 1976.

''I can't rely on a performance every time (that's) flawless, straight sets, no worries, no break points, all this stuff,'' Federer said. ''A final is always very different because the pressure is much higher.''

He should know, having reached the finals of his past 16 tournaments, including five Grand Slams. If a spot in the Wimbledon final almost feels like a birthright for Federer at this point, no one expected the 20-year-old Nadal to get there this quickly.

Not Federer. Not Nadal.

No one.

''Two weeks ago, I didn't even think about this,'' said Nadal's uncle and coach, Toni. ''I am surprised.''

Nadal, close to tears after beating Baghdatis, said: ''I'm very emotional. It's amazing to be in the finals.''

His record 60-match winning streak on clay was built with punishing strokes and unbridled tenacity. But grass doesn't afford him the same amount of time to track down opponents' shots, nor does it allow him to slide into position.

He arrived at Wimbledon with a 5-4 career record on the green stuff.

What a quick study.

''When he's on defense, he's playing unbelievable,'' Baghdatis said. ''And when he's attacking, the ball is so fast.''

After Federer's 77-minute stroll, Nadal and Baghdatis engaged in thrilling exchanges for 2 1/2 hours.

The most spectacular point came when Nadal broke to 3-1 in the third set. He slipped while corralling a drop shot, but Baghdatis' passing attempt clipped the net cord and popped up. Nadal rose and swatted a reflex volley to end the point.

Baghdatis - cheered on by people wearing T-shirts reading, ''It's in the Bagh'' - made one last stand, getting to love-40 while Nadal served at 4-2.

On the third break point, Baghdatis smacked a forehand right near the baseline. It was called long, but replays showed the ball caught the line. Baghdatis argued a bit, to no avail, and later earned yet another break point but slipped on the muddy baseline, lost the point, and banged his racket on the ground.

At the end, Nadal dropped to his knees, arched his back and raised his arms, the sort of pose usually reserved for winning the title. He or Federer will get to kiss the trophy Sunday.

''If they both bring the tennis we've come to see, how can you ask for more than that?'' said Jimmy Connors, who played in classic Wimbledon finals against Borg and John McEnroe. ''It's the 1 and 2 players in the world - sweet.''