WIMBLEDON, England Add up all of Roger Federer's greatness on grass courts, and the numbers are striking: 40 wins in a row at Wimbledon, 65 overall on the surface.
Now he seeks an additional victory, a victory that would make him the first man since the 1880s to win six consecutive Wimbledon titles, a victory that would give him a 13th Grand Slam championship, one shy of Pete Sampras' career record.
And a victory that would have to come against his only real rival in today's game, Rafael Nadal.
No. 1 Federer and No. 2 Nadal set up their third straight showdown in the Wimbledon final, and sixth meeting in a major title match, by handily beating unseeded opponents Friday. Federer eliminated Marat Safin 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the first semifinal, and Nadal defeated Rainer Schuettler 6-1, 7-6 (3), 6-4.
"There's one more left," Federer said. "I don't think it matters really a lot if I'm the favorite or not. I'm on an incredible winning streak on grass. First somebody has to be able to break that before we start talking differently."
He reached his 16th Grand Slam final, tying him with Bjorn Borg for fourth most in history. Borg was the last man to win Wimbledon five years in a row. The only man with six successive titles was Willie Renshaw from 1881-86, but he merely needed to win one match in each of his five title defenses because back then the reigning champion got a bye directly into the final.
"A little different," Federer said.
On the other hand, the ease with which Federer dominates the All England Club these days sort of makes it seem as though he's getting a pass to the second Sunday. For the second time in three years, he's reached the final without losing a set.
"He didn't even give me a chance," said Safin, a former No. 1 with two major titles.
Federer walked out in his custom-designed cream cardigan, the one with the gold "RF" on the chest. Safin, in contrast, looked as though he might have just rolled out of bed, emerging from the locker room with his T-shirt wrinkled, his sneakers untied, his hair mussed. During the third set, a woman in the crowd yelled, "Come on, Safin, wake up!"
Federer did plenty well, but he served impeccably.
He smacked 14 aces, took 70 of 90 points in his service games and faced only two break points. Both came with Safin leading 2-1 in the second set, and Federer erased them in similar fashion: a second serve delivered right at Safin's body, setting up short returns that led to forehand winners.
Federer's return game was working, too, and he broke Safin in the match's second game and its last one. Asked if it was easy out there, Federer said, "Easy in terms of being able to control a really dangerous player who's got the potential to upset anyone in this aspect, yes."
One example: Safin beat No. 3 Novak Djokovic last week. It was Djokovic who ended Federer's record run of reaching 10 consecutive major finals by stopping him at this year's Australian Open, then wondered aloud before Wimbledon whether the Swiss star was slipping. Djokovic thought Federer's 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 loss to Nadal in last month's French Open final his worst loss in 179 career Grand Slam matches might have left him "a little bit shaken."
Federer has scoffed at such suggestions and did so again Friday.
"For me, anyway, that final is out of the picture. I hardly remember anything of it. It went so quickly," he said, without a trace of irony. "Yeah, for me it's not really that big of a problem."
He also alluded to the fact that while he is only 6-11 against Nadal 0-3 in French Open finals over their careers, Federer does lead 5-2 in matches played on surfaces other than clay. That includes victories in the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon finals, the latter a taut, five-set thriller.
That is why, Nadal acknowledged, "I believe I can win, but I also know he's the favorite."
Like Federer, Nadal faced only two break points Friday, and while the Spaniard did get broken once, he never was in true trouble. Thanks to that break, the 94th-ranked Schuettler went ahead 2-1 in the second set, then served for it at 5-4.
But Nadal broke the 2003 Australian Open runner-up there to pull even, and that was pretty much that. The only thing that really bothered Nadal on this day was the condition of his shoes, which he said were worn out from too much running around on the bare earth where the grass has disappeared near the Centre Court baselines. A member of Nadal's entourage tossed a fresh pair onto the court from the stands, and Nadal was back to his usual perpetual motion.
Afterward, Nadal spoke of how a Wimbledon championship would change his career. He'll try again, just as he did each of the past two years, to beat Federer to become the first man since Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same season.
"It doesn't matter at any tournament who you beat. It matters that you get to take the trophy home," Nadal said. "But beating Federer would be special."
Borg showed up at the All England Club in 2007, and watched Federer match his modern mark of five consecutive titles. Borg returned this year and sat in the second row of the Royal Box on Friday, rising to clap when Federer finished off Safin to close in on breaking that tie.
"He is still hungry to win. He is still the No. 1 player in the world, and he wants to win more Grand Slam tournaments. He still has motivation to win. I think he will play many more years to come," said Borg, who walked away from the game in his 20s. "Sooner or later someone will beat him here at Wimbledon on Centre Court, but that might not happen this year."