Greatest Wimbledon Final Ever?

20:04 Mon 07 Jul 2008. Updated: 15:58 19 Jun 2009
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I wouldn’t have put a question mark at the end of the title if Roger Federer had won, had completed his comeback from two sets to love down.

This was a heartbreaking match of absolutely scintillating tennis.

I didn’t start watching it until the end of the first set, when Federer couldn’t quite break Nadal to get back on track, but was looking like the stronger of the two players. When he was four-one up in the second set, I thought that would be it, that he’d serve out the set and then take over, as he has so many times in the past. But he lost his concentration somehow, and Nadal broke him not once but twice, winning five games in a row to take a two-set lead.

I still didn’t think Federer would lose, however. I thought that he was the better player overall, and that if he could avoid lapses for the rest of the match, he’d win.

He was the better player throughout the third set, and I expected him to win the tiebreak. He did, seven-five—including a ridiculous four aces. At that point, I thought he’d crack Nadal, that he just needed to get a set and then would do what needed to be done.

Incidentally, I don’t think that the rain delay in the third set helped him particularly. I thought that even before it, even despite losing the second set, he was poised to take over the match.

In the fourth, however, I started to wonder. Nadal threatened constantly, perhaps because he served first in that set and had Federer in sudden death situations at four-five and five-six. Psychologically, I thought Nadal was ascendant.

Federer held him off to bring it to six-all, fourth set. Federer won the first point, and I thought he’d shift up a gear and ace Nadal out. He didn’t, and Nadal took two minibreaks to go up. He then kept on going, and made it to five-two. At that point, I really thought it was all over.

But Nadal tightened up slightly, and that’s all it took for Federer to get right back into it, erasing the minibreaks and bringing it back on serve.

Federer had set point at five-six, but Nadal saved it. The play at this stage was unbelievable, and this was probably the highest-quality passage of the match, exemplified by two critical points. Federer, serving at seven-seven, hit a fantastic forehand into the corner and followed it into the net. It looked like Nadal might not even reach it—certainly no other player apart perhaps from Federer himself would have—and Nadal somehow generated an unbelievable passing shot down the line, blowing it right by Federer, to set up match point.

Nadal was serving at eight-seven, and this time he hit a deep approach shot to Federer’s backhand, and covered the net. Federer, on the run and way out wide, hit a superb shot that came in from outside the court and landed in the corner to save championship point. Eight-eight, and then Federer won the next two to take the fourth set.

Now Nadal did start to look a little shaky, but Federer couldn’t quite break through. I thought Nadal also started to look tired. Still, he reached deuce on Federer’s serve at two-two—and then they suspended play due to rain.

When they came back, Federer served out his game, and they fought on, Federer coming back from fifteen-forty down twice—except that the second time, he couldn’t get out of the game. He got back to deuce, but Nadal’s returns kept landing near the line, and Nadal broke for eight-seven. That was it. I didn’t think Federer could come back, and he didn’t, although I was surprised that he dumped a forehand into the net on match point. He’d fought off another championship point (or two?) already, but finally made a mistake at the wrong time, and Nadal took it.

I think the rain delay in the fifth helped Nadal quite a lot, gave him time to calm down after losing that tiebreak in the fourth, and also helped him rest physically—while many consider Nadal the fitter player, and that might be true in absolute terms, it doesn’t take into account the fact that Federer simply uses less energy to play tennis, due to the fanatastic economy of his movement and strokes. I do think that Nadal was tiring first.

It really was unbelievably good tennis throughout. Nadal was steadier, I think, while Federer was more up and down—and when he’s up, he’s still better than Nadal on grass. When he’s down, he’s only barely worse. That was enough for Rafael Nadal, the first man since Borg to win both the French and Wimbledon in the same year, and the winner of the best tennis match I’ve ever seen.

2 Responses to “Greatest Wimbledon Final Ever?”

  1. Niall Says:

    See, I told you.

  2. Tadhg Says:

    I seem to recall that you told me it wouldn’t be worth watching because Federer didn’t have a chance…

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