In arguably the greatest tennis match of all-time, Rafael Nadal barely edged out Roger Federer to win his first Wimbledon championship on Sunday. Three times it took Nadal to finally dethrown Federer of a Wimbledon title. Roger made sure it didn't come easy. Both entered the finals practically unscathed through the first six rounds. Nadal dominated the competition, only dropping one set en route to the finals. However Federer did one better, never losing a set along his journey to the final day. There never seemed to be any doubt that another rematch was in store. And what a rematch it was.
Coming into the final, many analysts believed this was to be Nadal's year. I myself, felt the same way. Nadal had always been without a doubt the better player on clay, while Federer dominated every other surface. But Nadal's inferiority on the hard and grass courts was far less extreme than Federer's had been on Nadal's best surface. I always had the feeling Nadal could close that gap of inferiority. After the first two sets on Sunday, my theory seemed as strong as ever. Rafa handled Federer as easily as any player could, breaking two clutch games in each set, while maintaining a lockdown on his service points as well. Nadal took the first two sets 6-4, 6-4, and for the first time at Wimbledon, seemed poised for an upset.
In the third set, Federer and Nadal went back and forth winning service after service until the rain finally came to cool them off. During the delay, Federer held a 5-4 lead over the Spaniard. At that time, a friend of mine caught his first glimpse of the score and said something along the lines of, "Wow, Nadal's finally got this one". I replied saying, "Don't be so sure. I wouldn't count Federer out yet". I proved to be right. When the skies cleared and the tarp came off, Federer showed the world why the television screen has a #1 next to his name. He dominated Nadal with ace after ace and marched his way back. Although Nadal couldn't break any of Federer's services, he held strong with his own and forced tiebreakers at the end of the third and fourth sets. The first tiebreaker belonged to Federer with ease as he won the set 7-6 (7-5).
The second set, however, appeared to be dominated by Nadal. With a 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker, Nadal had the serve. This was it. This was the time he would finally close the door on Federer. Right? Wrong. Federer demonstrated the mental advantage he has over every other player in the world, and showed just how cool he was under pressure. With ice in his veins, Federer took the point on both of Nadal's serves, survived a championship point, and sent the match into a final set with a 7-6 (10-8) victory in the fourth.
With the comeback complete, and the match all square at 2-2, it seemed like Federer would get the best of Nadal once again. This wouldn't be the first time Federer overcame an 0-2 deficit of Rafa either. But Nadal never quit. He refused to let this one get away from him. And in the end Nadal survived the third tiebreaker of the match to win his first Wimbledon title, and finally take down Federer in his best element. As Federer's backhand ball hit the net and fell to the ground to give Nadal the 9-7 set victory, Nadal fell to the ground as well in sheer jubilation. The fall showed the physical and mental wear and tear Nadal was faced with in the record-long title match. And what a match it was.
I can confidentally say that I think everyone that watched that day found an appreciation in the match they saw. People I know that have no care in the world about tennis couldn't believe how great a championship it was. It was, in my eyes, the best tennis match of all-time. Nadal and Federer are without a doubt, above and beyond, the two best players in the world, and if they can stay healthy, there should be years of exciting tennis to come. As far as I'm concerned though, while Nadal may have had the upper hand on Sunday, I still saw Federer as the best in the world. Rafael still has much to prove. Don't forget, Federer was a 5-time defending Wimbledon champ. He'll be back again to regain his title for sure next year.
With Wimbledon over, there have now been three unbelieveably exciting championships in the year 2008. If the SuperBowl, U.S. Open, and Wimbledon have any indication of what's to come for the rest of 2008, it should be quite an exciting year in sports.
Image taken from Yahoo! Sports