WIMBLEDON, England - When Lleyton Hewitt, No. 2 men's tennis player in the world, discovered he was seeded No. 3 for the Wimbledon championships, he was less than pleased.
If the reason why wasn't clear enough before his semifinal match on Centre Court yesterday, Roger Federer made it so.
The Swiss, seeking his third consecutive men's title, continued his dominance over Hewitt - his dominance over the entire men's field, really - winning in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4), in yet another Wimbledon clinic.
The champion rarely moved to the net, but mixed an overpowering serve, floating slices and sweeping ground strokes that rarely found anything but corners to defeat Hewitt for the eighth straight time.
"I'm very proud to be in my third consecutive Wimbledon final," Federer said. "That means very much to me. I hope I can seize the opportunity."
If he does, he'll be only the third man since 1936 to win three consecutive Wimbledon titles.
Coming into the tournament, Hewitt thought the earliest he would have to face Federer would be in the final, where the pressure and aura of Wimbledon often have a way of minimizing past records.
But using a complicated formula that takes grass victories into account - and a bit of discretion used to accommodate television - Wimbledon organizers moved Hewitt into Federer's bracket and made Andy Roddick the No. 2 seed, setting up a possible rematch of last year's final.
Whether that will happen will be determined today, and then only if the rain ever stops. The past couple of weeks in London have been soggy and the past several days especially so.
Roddick was up 6-5 and had just turned the serve over to Thomas Johansson in their semifinal match when the skies opened and wouldn't close, suspending the match for the day.
Federer's performance yesterday was reminiscent of his semifinal match against Roddick two years ago. Like then, Federer's play yesterday was so smooth, so dominating and so dramatized with flourish that the Centre Court crowd - always thirsty for a five-set match, whoever's playing - cheered the champion even on some early points as if he had just been crowned yet again.
In a single rally during the second game of the second set, Federer showed the combination of fluidity and power that has put him on top of the men's game, especially on grass, like nobody since Pete Sampras. Reaching a Hewitt backhand into the corner, Federer lunged to return a high, backhand lob.
Hewitt moved forward to finish the point - or so he thought - with a driving overhead, but Federer stole the point by positioning himself perfectly and sent a wicked forehand crosscourt that Hewitt couldn't even touch.
The crowd roared in appreciation.
Federer faced only one break point, slapping 10 aces to Hewitt's five and winning 86 percent of his first serves. He managed to return high net shots that Hewitt had pounded into the turf and nailed forehands and backhands alike to keep the Australian scrambling from one end of the baseline to the other.
Yesterday's semifinal matches were the first since 1989 to pit the world Nos. 1 and 2 against each other and the match had all the potential of rendering the final anticlimactic.
Federer said afterward that he expected to go at least four sets, possibly five. Hewitt played well yesterday, as he has throughout the tournament, which he won in 2002.
He had chances in the third set to send the match to a fourth, nailing some unlikely and impressive returns, especially at the net, where he was lightning-quick.
Unfortunately, he was hitting them back to Federer.
"I've got no doubt that I feel like I'm the second-best player going around right at the moment," Hewitt said. "It's just that the best player going around is pretty bloody good."
With his victory, Federer extended his winning streak on grass to 35 matches, including 20 at the All England Club.
He has won 20 consecutive finals. He'll try to join seven-time champion Pete Sampras and five-time winner Bjorn Borg as the only men since 1936 to win Wimbledon three years in a row.
As if he needs any help, he'll have an extra edge with Roddick and Johansson playing again today, giving whoever wins no day off to recover before tomorrow's scheduled final.
Federer, though, is taking nothing for granted.
"I don't feel unbeatable," he said. "There are too many players out there. You start every day, feeling great, but it's zero-zero, sort of like a soccer match."