Defending Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will resume tennis's greatest current rivalry at the All England Club on Sunday, with only Mother Nature standing in the way of a historic result.
The top two men's players have met in five previous Grand Slam finals in London and Paris, but this year's clash is the most anticipated match in tennis at least since Pete Sampras faced Andre Agassi at the 2002 U.S. Open. Some sport observers are even drawing parallels to the classic duels of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe at the tournament in 1980 and 1981.
Federer on Saturday seemed to sense the significance.
"I don't know how it will be looked at in many years' time, because at the moment, you are right in it, and you try to win the matches that come along against your main rival. It's hard," Federer said. "I know it's something special what we're going through at the moment."
Tennis luminaries have weighed in with predictions, albeit tentatively, given the nearly flawless play of both players at Wimbledon. Borg and John McEnroe are leaning towards Nadal, with Nick Bollettieri and Tim Henman of the opinion Federer will retain the championship.
The fly in the ointment is the forecast, with showers expected on Sunday. Centre Court will be under a roof by this time next year as part of the club's overhaul, but the possibility exists that one last time a winner will be crowned on Monday.
Sampras's Slam record in sight
World No. 1 Federer is gunning for his sixth consecutive Wimbledon title, which would break the modern record he holds with Swedish legend Bjorg. Willie Renshaw won six consecutive in the 19th century, a streak that required that less than two years' worth of matches by current standards.
Federer, who turns 27 later this month, would also win a 13th career Grand Slam title, one shy of the mark established by Pete Sampras. Federer would be two years younger than Sampras was when the American captured his lucky No. 13.
Second seed Nadal, 22, can become the first man since Borg 28 years ago to win the French Open on clay and Wimbledon on grass court in the same year.
Nadal also did something this year that Bjorg didn't in 1980, a big reason why this meeting is so anticipated. The Spaniard won the Queen's grass court championship in June for his first career title on the surface, impressively beating Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick along the way.
He has won 23 consecutive matches, including a comprehensive beating of Federer on his favourite clay court at Roland Garros in the French Open.
Nadal has dropped just one set in six matches at Wimbledon — to Ernests Gulbis in the second round — and his peerless footwork has been accompanied by an improved serve and groundstrokes, on particular display in his quarter-final dismantling of British hope Andy Murray.
It's hardly the resumé of an underdog, but Federer's brilliance at Wimbledon has not abated despite the loss in Paris and a bout with mononucleosis earlier in the year.
"He plays specially, very nice all the time, very easy," said Nadal. "Sometimes you [get distracted] watching his game."
Federer has won 65 consecutive matches on grass surfaces dating back to 2003, and has captured 120 of 128 sets during his Wimbledon winning streak.
Federer has not dropped a set in six matches at the tournament and allowed just two break point chances the entire match — both in the same service game — in his semifinal win over former Grand Slam titleist Marat Safin.
While Nadal holds a 11-6 edge over Federer, the Swiss star has the edge in matches not played on clay. While Nadal provided more of a scare to Federer at the 2007 Wimbledon final than in the previous year, the end result was the same.
Nadal will look to duplicate fellow lefthander McEnroe, who lost in five sets to Borg in 1980 before passing his rival with a win in four sets the following year.
The rivalry is heated but void of anything that even resembles a verbal jab, let along trash talking. Federer even let Nadal hop aboard his jet after last year's Rogers Cup in Montreal when the Spaniard encountered a scheduling snafu on the way to the U.S.
While Nadal won't pass Federer in the actual men's rankings, a win will make him the consensus choice by many as the top men's player in the game.With files from the Associated Press