Final favors Federer

It is the dream matchup, the latest installment of the greatest head-to-head rivalry in individual sports.

Yet thanks to the unfair and boneheaded planning of the Australian Open organizers, the men's final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is in danger of being a bust.

Nadal's five-set marathon against Fernando Verdasco went into the early hours of Saturday morning and finished more than 24 hours after Federer's own semifinal victory over Andy Roddick.

The Australian Open is the only Grand Slam to schedule semifinals on different days. In this instance, it has tilted the odds massively in favor of the Swiss maestro for the first Slam final of the year.

Federer has been magnificent ever since he survived a scare against Tomas Berdych in the fourth round, and he would have entered his showdown with Nadal as the favorite in any case. But what the tennis public deserves to see is these two brilliant warriors squaring off on even footing - not with one player receiving a huge advantage.

Federer has had since Thursday evening to rest up and prepare himself for the final, and he will have two days of freshness in his legs when he steps on court at Rod Laver Arena. As he prepares to go head to head with Nadal for the first time since losing that epic Wimbledon final last year, he could not have wished for a bigger edge to take into the match.

"It is an unbelievable opportunity for me, trying to beat the No. 1 player in the world and get my 14th Grand Slam," Federer said.

If Federer wins, he would match Pete Sampras' all-time career Slam record of 14 titles ... at the age of 27.

Nadal is competing for his sixth Slam, having won four straight times at the French Open plus Wimbledon in 2008.

The Spaniard is better equipped than anyone else in the game to recover from a grueling contest and bounce back strongly. His physical reserves are remarkable; while Verdasco looked utterly spent at the end of their semifinal, Nadal still seemed to have something in the tank.

But the farther things go against Federer, the more the odds must tilt away from Nadal. It is hard to imagine that he has another long five-setter in him, especially against a man who has enjoyed an extra day of relaxation.

Expect Federer to continue to ride his wave of momentum and win in four hard-fought sets.

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