Simply put, the Nadal v Federer Wimbledon final 2008, exemplified the reason we all love this sport. The breathtaking level of tennis was equalled by the flawless way these two gladiators carried themselves in the face of untold expectation and pressure.
It’s almost unimaginable what it takes for Nadal to walk through the French Open, win at Queens Club and lift his first Wimbledon trophy – all in the space of 1 month. Staggering!
Whilst a Nadal v Federer final was rarely in doubt, everyone seemed to have an opinion as to whether “Federer would bear too many scars from Paris”, “Nadal was now destined to win”, “Federer would up his game to defend his beloved title” etc.
For a couple of sets, Federer appeared to be trying to raise the bar a little more than he was capable of on the day. He obviously knew that nothing less than to throw his full armoury at Rafa would get the win. Let’s face it, Rafa eats for breakfast those players who play carefully against him. Nevertheless, it wasn’t working for Federer as he was making more errors than normal. Having said that, Federer kept plugging away and somehow dragged himself back into the match.
It was as intriguing to see how Rafa dealt with the increasing pressure as Federer clawed his way back. Rafa was obviously becoming increasingly nervous as he missed a lot of chances and even match points, and Federer knew this. Like a boxer who cuts his opponent and nails the cut with more blows, Federer could see the cracks and was punishing them with ferocious forehands.
With a darkening sky overhead and the centre court crowd on a knife edge, Rafa showed us all an iron will that must have his fellow pros quaking in their Nike shoes. He just put his head down and battled for his life. Many of his groundstrokes were now landing shorter and his serve was losing some pace but he still managed to run and grind until finally in near darkness, the cracks appeared in the mighty Federer. All it took was a couple of poor shots from Federer and some magic from Rafa and the game was over.
The manner in which Federer was so graceful in defeat, was matched by the way Rafa was so humble in victory. These two guys are the best thing that has happened to tennis for many years. Long may their friendly rivalry continue.