Wimbledon:The best tennis rivalry in years blossomed a little more in the Wimbledon final, and even Roger Federer was happy about it.
He answered the latest challenge from nemesis Rafael Nadal beautifully.
Federer matched Bjorn Borg's modern record of five consecutive Wimbledon men's titles on Sunday, beating Nadal in the final for the second year in a row, 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2.
"He's a fantastic player, and he's going to be around for so much longer," Federer said. "So I'm happy for every one I get now, before he takes them all. He's improving so much."
Federer continues to reign as the game's dominant player, and not only on grass. Monday marks his 180th in a row atop the rankings, extending his record.
But he has struggled against Nadal, losing eight of their 13 matches. That includes each of the past three years at the French Open, preventing Federer from completing the career Grand Slam he so badly wants.
And the No 2-ranked Nadal is clearly gaining ground on grass. For the first time in Federer's 34-match winning streak at Wimbledon, he was pushed to five sets.
It was an epic reminiscent of Borg vs John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors, fueling the kind of rivalry missing from the men's game since the heydays of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
And Federer said he enjoys the rivalry.
"I don't mind it," he said. "I win my share. He wins his. It's a good rivalry, I think. We've been at the top for over 100 weeks together. It is like building up to one of maybe the great rivalries."
Sunday's showdown was their most dramatic yet, given the stakes, and the best-played. Federer hit 65 winners and only 34 unforced errors. Nadal had 50 winners and just 24 unforced errors.
"We sometimes haven't lived up to the expectations in the past, in our matches in majors especially," Federer said. "You can't always play five-set-match thrillers, you know. I'm happy it happened today. I left as the winner - was perfect."
Nadal was trying to become the first man to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back since Borg from 1978-80. Instead, Federer became the first man to win five consecutive Wimbledon titles since Borg from 1976-80, and the second in the past 100 years.
"It cannot happen to a nicer guy. No bad feelings," Borg said before the match.
"He's an artist on this surface. He can stay back. He can come in. No weaknesses. I believe if he continues the way he's doing and stays away from injuries and has the motivation, he'll be the greatest player ever to play the game."
The women's champion was familiar, too. Venus Williams claimed her fourth Wimbledon title on Saturday, beating Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-1.
Federer needs two more Wimbledon titles to match Sampras' modern men's record of seven. Making the latest championship even sweeter: It came against Nadal, who ended Federer's 27-match Grand Slam winning streak four weeks ago at Roland Garros. Since the start of 2005, Federer is 5-7 against Nadal, 204-7 against everyone else.
They've met in four of the past six major finals. Federer said Nadal played better on Sunday than in the Wimbledon final a year ago, which Federer won in four sets.
"He's playing phenomenal tennis," Federer said. "He has definitely improved yet again, I think. He had more of a game plan this year than he had last year. I think last year he came out, nothing to lose, kind of hit hard but didn't know why.
"This year around, he has changed his game a little bit, plays maybe a bit more aggressive, knows the game of grass much better. That's why I think he's not only just a good clay-courter, he's a good all-around player."
Nadal said the rivalry remains in the formative stages, noting there's no comparisons between his achievements and those of Federer, who at 25 is four years older.
"He has 11 Grand Slams, me three," Nadal said. "But, well, I am young. I am improving every season and try continuing improving every day.
"Today was tough for me, but at the same time, it's good for me to play one final like this against the best in the world on grass, playing at a similar level."
Next week the hard-court season begins, and the rivalry has yet to really take hold on that surface. Federer and Nadal have never met at the U.S. Open, but the matchup is a good possibility for this year's final, when Federer would be seeking his 12th Grand Slam title.
He trails only Sampras, who won a record 14 major championships, and Roy Emerson, who won 12.
Nadal's three major titles have all come at the French Open, but he has made clear he's an all-court player. And he remains intent on becoming the first Spanish man to win Wimbledon since Manolo Santana in 1966.
"Because he came so close today," Federer said, "I think he deserves a title here."