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Federer focused despite Borg's presence

WIMBLEDON, England -- Bjorn Borg, stylish locks gone a bit gray, remains a stately presence at the All England Club.

On Saturday, he looked down on his heir to history like an omniscient narrator from the Royal Box on Centre Court. The Swede who won five consecutive Wimbledon singles championships from 1976-80 may well see his remarkable feat equaled on Sunday.

Roger Federer advanced to his fifth straight Wimbledon final, slicing up young Frenchman Richard Gasquet 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. Minutes later, Rafael Nadal joined him when Novak Djokovic retired with an infected blister on the little toe of his left foot after splitting the first two sets and trailing 1-4 in the third.

"I saw [Borg] sitting there today," Federer said. "Thank God, only in the second set, so I could concentrate on the first set first. It is tricky when you see him sitting there because he is a living legend."

And so, after a fortnight of wretched weather, order has been restored to the Wimbledon universe. Nadal has beaten Federer in the last two French Open finals on the topspin-friendly red clay of Roland Garros. And now Federer hopes to win his second straight Wimbledon final over the 21-year-old Spaniard on the lawn that plays faster and loves his flatter shots.

"Well, this year I am playing so much better," Nadal said, optimistically. "Sure, he's the favorite. No one have any doubts about this. If I want to win here any day, I need to continue improving my serve, my volley, my slice, my aggressive game, everything."

They are impossibly far ahead of the rest of men's tennis. Federer has been the world's No. 1-ranked player for a record 180 consecutive weeks. Nadal has been No. 2 for 103 straight weeks. Federer leads the ATP race with 7,290 points and Nadal is second with 5,225. Andy Roddick is third, some 2,170 points behind.

"I think we're very consistent in the first place," Federer said. "We're physically and mentally tough. On top of that, we have a very solid game. We don't allow too many hiccups when we have matches."

Said Nadal, "He's a very complete player. He has all the shots. He controls very well the speed of the ball here. It looks like he always has time to get to the ball."

So, can Nadal press Federer? Can he give him a game? Maybe.

Last year's final was a reasonably spirited affair as Federer won, 6-0, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-3. Nadal, who has played only 25 career matches on grass, gets better every time he plays on the surface. He flattens out his shots, but still plays a punishing clay-court game. With the grass playing slower than it did in the days of Borg and even Pete Sampras, rallies last longer, and that plays to Nadal's strengths.

When the rain wrecked havoc with the first week, Wimbledon essentially became a best-of-five sets Masters Series event, where they play through a 64-man draw in one week. Sunday's final will be Nadal's fifth match in five days. Earlier this year, Nadal played five matches in a week's time in four consecutive tournaments -- Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Hamburg. In fact, in Hamburg he played five best-of-three matches in five days -- losing to Federer in the final.

Since his last two matches have gone a total of five and one-half sets, fatigue should not be an issue.

"Not bad, no?" said Nadal, who turned 21 a month ago. "I arrive good physically for tomorrow."

Nadal, you may remember, won 81 straight matches on clay before Federer ended that streak in Hamburg. Federer has won 53 straight matches on grass and Nadal, of course, would love to return the favor.

Federer never played Borg or even saw him play a match in his prime. But he learned of Borg's exploits through his former coach, Peter Lundgren of Sweden. And while the rain was annoying, it did have this positive side effect: While sitting in the locker room, Federer watched a number of Borg's most famous Wimbledon matches replayed by the BBC.

This year, for the second straight time, Borg took in the Dubai final, where Federer defeated Mikhail Youzhny. Last fall, they met for the first time and actually practiced together. Borg's presence, according to Federer, is a boost, but …

"It can also be a negative thing if you put too much pressure on yourself," Federer said. "In the end, you've got to block it out, whoever is sitting there.

"It will be an incredible, awesome feeling for me to achieve this goal, because never, ever -- and I think the same for [Borg] -- we thought we were going to win Wimbledon so many times."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.