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Matches with Nadal are special for Federer Add to ...

After the epic match of the ages two weeks ago at Wimbledon, Roger Federer hibernated for a week at his lair in Dubai and tried to forget about his toe-to-toe battle with the swashbuckling Rafael Nadal, the new Wimbledon champion.

Although he was humbled by Nadal at the French Open, Federer rediscovered his brilliance on the grass in Britain. But Nadal's narrow win abruptly halted Federer's Wimbledon winning streak at five.

And that hurt.

"I haven't read the press at all the last two weeks," he said Sunday, ready and eager to play at the $2.615-million (U.S.) Rogers Cup in Toronto this week.

"I tried to get away from it all and tried to forget really the loss. But at the same time, I heard rumours through friends … that people really picked up on this unbelievable match. And it is great to hear."

Federer said he's only been practising for about five days, but that he loves the hard court and the way the ball bounces at the Rexall Centre. And that means Nadal had better have his running shoes this week, should they meet again.

The Rogers Cup has never had a Federer-Nadal showdown in the final, but Federer won the event in 2004 and 2006.

Nadal won in 2005, upsetting Andre Agassi, but Federer did not play in Canada that year.

Last year in Montreal, Novak Djokovic upset Nadal in the semi-finals and then went on to upset Federer in the final.

Nadal has established himself as Federer's archrival in the eyes of the public, and Federer seems to be conceding him the same respect.

"I enjoy playing against him to some degree," Federer said, his coffee-bean brown eyes frank and direct. "I mean, it is always good to have a rival.

"I don't like when matches turn out like they do at the French Open, when you have high hopes and after a few games you realize it is probably not going to happen for you."

Going up against Nadal "in a fair-play match in surroundings that are unbelievable like at Wimbledon or other tournaments, it is definitely a thrill for me," Federer said.

Federer doesn't yet put Nadal in the category of Agassi or Pete Sampras. He admitted Sunday that he missed playing against the two formidable Americans.

"Me playing against [Agassi and Sampras]was always sort of the biggest moment in my career," Federer said Sunday. "And now I think Rafa has proven himself as a great guy and a great champion as well.

"So when I play against him, it is not like I was playing Agassi, Sampras, but it definitely becomes more and more special the more times we play against each other."

But was Wimbledon the defining match that showed off Federer-Nadal at their best?

Not for Federer. There have been other tremendous tooth-and-nail matches in the past that didn't get the same recognition, he said.

"It takes a big match like this to really break through for both of us, unfortunately," Federer said. "But I think we did that, and I think … every match we play from now on will be very interesting between us."

So who is chasing who now?

"It all depends on how you look at it," Federer said. "I guess I am chasing another Grand Slam title after he snatched the last two. … But in the rankings, he's still chasing me."

The Wimbledon loss won't slow the Federer express train one bit, the 26-year-old Swiss said. He said his play there gave him confidence.

Federer has been the world No.1 for four years - since Feb. 2, 2004 - and counting. Along the way, he's had challenges from everybody: Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Agassi, Juan Carolos Ferrero, Marat Safin, Novak Djokovic, Nadal.

"I've worked as hard as I could, trying to always stay ahead of the pack," he said.

"It hasn't really changed a whole lot. Obviously Rafa has made his move now. He's come closer."

Just as Nadal is inching closer, however, Federer said he feels poised to take off again. He is happy with his level of play after a rough start to the season, when he was suffering from mononucleosis.

"[It]wasn't easy," he said. "I didn't play very much. And then I struggled a little bit. But I'm back playing well.

"Unfortunately I didn't get the reward I was hoping for with a big title after working maybe harder than I had to in the past, just getting back into shape."

He hopes he'll find the reward during the second half of the season, in which he's also aiming to contend at the Beijing Olympics.

 

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