Wimbledon: Rafael Nadal prepares for 'very difficult' final against rival in form of his life
Rafael Nadal is the most mild-mannered of players, a charmer of whom it is hard to find anybody with a bad word, yet for the second successive Grand Slam final he will face an opponent with whom he has some "previous".
At last month's French Open final Nadal beat Robin Soderling, who upset the Spaniard here three years ago by mimicking the way he tugs at his shorts. Tomorrow he meets Tomas Berdych, who once made the mistake of baiting the crowd at the Madrid Masters while beating Nadal, who did not like his attitude and described the Czech afterwards as "a bad person".
The Spaniard, nevertheless, is not a man to harbour grudges and will be confident that his racket will do the talking when he steps out on to Centre Court to face Berdych in his fourth Wimbledon final. Nadal's record here will make him the outstanding favourite. Since he went out to Gilles Müller in the second round in 2005, the Spaniard has played 27 matches at the All England Club and lost just twice, to Roger Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals.
Berdych's previous best Wimbledon run came three years ago, when he lost to Nadal in straight sets in the quarter-finals. The Czech won three of his first four matches against the Spaniard, but since 2006 Nadal has won all six of their meetings without dropping a set.
However, given Berdych's recent form – the world No 13 reached the semi- finals of last month's French Open and has knocked out Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic here – there is no danger that Nadal will take him lightly.
"Tomas is a very aggressive player, has a very good serve, hits good flat shots from the baseline," Nadal said. "It's going to be very, very difficult. It's very difficult to stop him when he's playing well."
Berdych will need to retain faith in his attacking game. The 6ft 5in Czech has huge groundstrokes but he is not the easiest of movers and will aim to avoid being drawn into lengthy rallies. He admitted after his victory over Djokovic yesterday that he was feeling a little weary.
"After all the stress from the match, you just feel a bit tired mentally," Berdych said. "But that's all right. That's what comes after every winning match, so I hope I'll have this feeling one more time."
The Czech added: "So far I've been playing well here, but there is one more match to go, so I just need to bring all that I have to Sunday's match."
When the 24-year-old emerged on the professional tour he was regarded as one of the outstanding players of an excellent generation, alongside men like Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils.
He won his first senior tournament in 2004 and the Paris Masters the following year, but since then he has added only three more titles, although they include the grass-court event at Halle. Until Paris last month he had never gone beyond the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament, but after his recent run he is set to climb to a career-high No 8 in the world rankings.
Nadal, meanwhile, will strengthen his hold on the world No 1 position. Federer will slip to No 3 behind Djokovic next week, the first time the Swiss has been ranked outside the world's top two since November 2003.
In reaching the final again Nadal has matched the achievements of Bjorn Borg and Federer, who are the only men in the Open era who have played in the finals at both the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year on four separate occasions. Should he win tomorrow it will be the third year in succession that one man has completed the Paris-Wimbledon double: Nadal himself did it two years ago and Federer emulated him last year.
Murray sees Nadal as the favourite. "He's the best player in the world," the Scot said. "He hasn't lost here. He's played three finals in a row – or four finals in a row now – but Berdych is a great player, too. If he plays well, like he has the last couple of matches, it will be very tough."