'If I had lost to Nadal it would have been a big blow'

For a man who had just won a fourth consecutive Wimbledon title, Roger Federer was hardly overcome with emotion in the immediate aftermath on Centre Court. There was none of the falling to his knees which had marked his first win at SW19. Instead, as he raised his head to the heavens, he looked overwhelmingly like a man relieved.

As well he might be after a match where the 20-year-old opponent who had beaten him in six of their last seven matches, including the French Open final a month earlier, looked briefly as if he was ready to extend his reputation as the supreme clay-court player to the surface which was supposed to be Federer's own domain.

"We are loving this rivalry," the BBC's Sue Barker said to him in her post-match, on-court interview. "I guess you are not feeling the same way?"

Federer responded, with a grin: "Now I like it again," raising a ripple of laughter from a crowd which had been so deeply appreciative of his grace and talent even as it rooted raucously on occasions for the more dramatic flourishes of the young Spaniard.

The Swiss acknowledged afterwards the particular pressure that had come to bear on him in this tournament, and this final. "I was very well aware of how important this match was for me," he said. "If I had lost to him, obviously it would have been a hard blow, losing the French Open and Wimbledon back to back. It was important for me to beat him for a change. I thought Wimbledon was going to be my easiest way, but it turned out to be tough."

For all that he has embellished his credentials as a player en route for the high achievements of Bjorn Borg, whose total of five Wimbledon wins he plans to equal next year, and seven-times winner Pete Sampras, Federer revealed that he had had doubts on the eve of these latest Championships.

"Coming from maybe the loss in Paris ... then I looked at the draw. Everybody was talking about the streak from Borg. I thought, this draw looks like this streak might come to an end very soon. Not because I might play bad, but because I have really dangerous opponents. These things go through your head. And I didn't think that maybe I hold the trophy again. It only came once I beat Ancic in the quarters."

Nadal took comfort in the way he had rallied after losing the first set 6-0, but he could not help but reflect ruefully on losing his serve while serving for the second set at 5-4. "Maybe in these moments, maybe I lost the match, no?" Federer, too, pinpointed that moment as being crucial.

The contrast in styles could hardly have been greater before the match. Federer stood at the net awaiting the toss looking so relaxed in his personalised cream blazer that it seemed as if he might not bother to take it off for the match. Nadal arrived like a boxer coming forward to touch gloves, wired with nervous energy, dancing from foot to foot.

You wondered for a moment if the young man who had joked about putting his opponent off in the locker-room by giving him a shove might throw a couple of sharp lefts to the champion's chin.

Instead he turned and sprinted back to his baseline as if desperate to get things under way. It was Federer, however, who did the racing as he took the first set to love, using his sliced backhand to nullify the scope of Nadal's hugely powerful groundstrokes.

However, Nadal made Federer uncomfortable enough, often enough, to provide real hope for a future breakthrough. "It is important for me for the future to believe I can win here," he said. "I can beat Roger too." Can he eventually prove to be McEnroe to Federer's Borg? Don't bet against it.

Wimbledon roll of honour

* MEN'S SINGLES Roger Federer (Swit)

* WOMEN'S SINGLES Amélie Mauresmo (Fr)

* MEN'S DOUBLES Bob Bryan & Michael Bryan (US)

* MIXED DOUBLES Vera Zvonareva (Rus) & Andy Ram (Isr)

* BOY'S SINGLES Thiemo De Bakker (Netherlands)

* GIRL'S SINGLES Caroline Wozniacki (Den)

* MEN'S OVER-45 DOUBLES Kevin Curren and Johan Kriek (US).

* MEN'S OVER-35 DOUBLES Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde (Aus)

* WOMEN'S OVER-35 DOUBLES Ros Nideffer (US) and Jana Novotna (Cz Rep)

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