Out on a sunny Centre Court enter two men that are different. As different as red clay is to green grass. So different you’d think they were from different planets or at least different eras. And yet both here chase similar dreams – Emulate Bjorn Borg.
Roger Federer, white pants, white vest and white monogrammed blazer with gold trim – like a Swiss banker headed for a club game – and in the process become only the second to win five consecutive Wimbledons.
Rafael Nadal, in a white kneelength thingy, and a white sleeveless t-shirt which displays bulging biceps , like a Spanish fighter aiming to become the only man to win the French and Wimbledon in the same year since Borg.
Bjorn Borg sits in the first row of the Royal Box next to Manolo Santana, the last Spaniard to win Wimbledon, in 1966. They have come to see which player on the court below would join them in the record book.
As has been mentioned on this blog before, this was Federer’s to lose… Not because Nadal’s weakest surface is grass. For that is a myth. The truth is Rafa’s only managed a quarterfinal as his best result at the hard courts of the Australian Open. And that’s also as far as he’s gone at the US Open too (in 2006). This, of course was his second final at Wimbledon. This was Federer’s to lose because he’d won the previous four. And the last time he’d lost anywhere on grass was five years ago.
But all that changes with one simple fact. And thats the Rafa ghost in Roger Federer’s head. A left handed ghost. Ahead of the finals, Roger Federer looked around for someone he could knock a few balls with. A warmup on finals Sunday. He turned to Goran Ivanisevic. There simply were not that many choices. After Nadal, the next left handed player is Jarkko Nieminen from Finland – with a 19-16 record for the year. He’s ranked 23. (The difference in ATP points between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would make Roger #9 in the world today.)
For a long time in yesterday’s match, the Swiss banker got things he was not used to. Often, too often, every high quality transaction was returned. With interest. Andre Agassi, once asked to compare Federer and Sampras said, “There’s nowhere to go when you play Roger”. For Nadal, there is no lost cause. He was making difficult shots. And then, he was making impossible shots while on his backside. It was said that for Roger to lose at Wimbledon, somebody would have to play the match of their lives and Roger would need to have an off day. Well, Roger didn’t have an off day…
In the fourth set, he went down 0-4, questioned a line call, used a four letter word, (Shit, I can’t believe that was called in. Look at the score. That thing is killing me.), asked for Hawkeye to be switched off and generally did a lot of things which were not Roger. Out-duelled and at 2 sets all, it went into the fifth with the momentum clearly with Rafa.
Falling back 15-40 in his first two service games, Federer struggled but hung in there mostly with strong, timely serves. And then. And then it happened : so swift it was hard to believe.
Federer captured the game by means of a sudden explosion of pure and unadulterated brilliance. Playing what might be the finest tennis of his life, and from absolutely nowhere, he ripped Nadal’s service apart. A running forehand pass, an outlandish flip to the corner, and then a miraculous rally.
All of a sudden, Federer was home, and the history boy was saluting Björn Borg, knowing that five Wimbledon championships in a row put him unequivocally in the category of the all-time great. Nadal did his best to spoil it, for that is his job, but it was was Federer’s day, just as it has been Federer’s half-decade.
The match was closer than the Wimbledon final a year ago, when Federer defeated Nadal in four sets.
The two have combined to win 10 consecutive men’s Grand Slam singles titles, dating from the 2005 French Open: Nadal has won three straight French Opens, and Federer has won everywhere else. They have met in the last two French Open and Wimbledon finals, and each has nudged closer to winning a title on the other’s favorite surface.
Roger Federer was gracious enough to call it luck. And to say – at the net to Rafa – that it could have been anyone’s match. But the fact is and history will show, that it was Roger’s.