WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – The best view of Roger Federer’s latest masterful performance at Wimbledon belonged to Lleyton Hewitt, and even he felt compelled to call out, “Too good, mate!” when one perfectly placed forehand flew past.

It certainly sounded like an attractive semifinal: Federer vs. Hewitt, No. 1 in the rankings vs. No. 2, Wimbledon champions both. Instead, it was just another showcase for all of Federer’s talents.

Taking charge almost from the start, Federer subdued the normally resilient Hewitt 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) Friday to move within one victory of joining Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg as the only men to take three consecutive Wimbledon titles since 1936.

“This performance is definitely good enough to win Wimbledon,” Federer said. “I sort of still can’t believe that I did it, so smooth in straight sets.”

He hit stretch volleys, sent big serves at Hewitt’s body or spun them nearly to the stands for aces, mixed flat backhands with confounding slices, and, as always, used his forehand to put quick ends to rallies.

Federer finished with 46 winners to Hewitt’s 31 and faced only one break point.

“I’ve got no doubt that I feel like I’m the second-best player going around right at the moment,” said Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002 and the U.S. Open in 2001 but has been beaten at four of his past six majors by Federer. “It’s just that the best player going around is pretty bloody good.”

How’s that for an understatement? Federer has won 35 matches in a row on grass, second only to Borg’s 41 from 1976-81. And now Federer will try to extend his streak of 20 straight victories in tournament finals, a tour record.

His next opponent will be Andy Roddick or Thomas Johansson, and they’ll have the added disadvantage of less rest ahead of Sunday’s final. Their semifinal was stopped because of rain Friday with Roddick ahead 6-5, and Johansson about to serve.

Roddick, the runner-up to Federer last year, and Johansson will resume their match Saturday on Centre Court. That will be followed by the women’s final between 2000-01 Wimbledon champion Venus Williams and 1999 winner Lindsay Davenport.

The top-ranked Davenport needed four minutes Friday to wrap up her 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo. The match was halted by showers Thursday night, with Mauresmo serving at 15-0 in the ninth game of the final set.

“To come back in that situation, it was brutal,” Davenport said. “Mentally challenging to absorb.”

When play continued, Mauresmo held serve at love to make it 5-4, then Davenport held at love to end it and reach her second major final of 2005. Not bad for someone who 12 months ago talked about retiring and never playing at Wimbledon again.

Mauresmo, meanwhile, lost her fourth straight Slam semifinal, three at the All England Club.

“Did I cry? Not yet,” Mauresmo said.

For Williams and Davenport, it will be a rematch of the 2000 Wimbledon final, when Williams collected the first of her four major titles.

“I don’t really remember too much about it,” Davenport said. “I remember losing.”

One day, that’s how Hewitt will refer to this stretch against Federer. Hewitt won eight of their first 10 matches, but since then, Federer has taken eight in a row.

Here’s an example of why: On a 12-stroke exchange at 2-2 in the second set, Federer lunged to one corner for a backhand lob to keep the point going. Hewitt pounced, smacking an overhead toward the opposite side of the court, but somehow Federer got to that, too, and ripped a cross-court forehand passing winner.

Most players – perhaps all but one – would be content to try to keep the ball in play there. Not Federer. He goes for a winner, and he delivers.

Federer, who won three majors last year without the help of a coach, has enlisted Tony Roche, the 1966 French Open champion who used to work with Ivan Lendl and Patrick Rafter. Why? To stay a step ahead.

“There’s all those little areas you can work on and you can improve on, and I think that’s very important that he continue to do that,” Roche said. “He’s sort of taken the game to another level, and he knows the other guys are going to be working a little bit harder.”

Then again, as Hewitt simply stated: “I don’t know what he’s got to really work on.”

Other than a brief blip in the match’s third game, when Federer made four unforced errors to get broken, Hewitt – generally regarded as his generation’s best returner – just could not get a read on the Swiss star’s serve.

Federer mixed it up so well that he repeatedly had Hewitt leaning to the wrong side, which is no way to confront a small ball moving at 125 mph. Federer won 20 of 23 points during his service games in the second set.

It was the type of play that’s helped Federer go 57-3 with seven titles in 2005. Two of those losses were in Grand Slam semifinals, to eventual champions Marat Safin in Australia and Rafael Nadal in France.

“I believe strongly in my capabilities. I’m very motivated. There’s a lot of confidence as well, with my record on grass and in general over the years,” Federer said. “I’ve built up this feeling on big points that I can do it over and over again.”

AP-ES-07-01-05 1627EDT

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