Wimbledon, July 6: After perhaps the greatest match in Wimbledon’s history, Rafael Nadal ended Roger Federer’s incredible era of dominance with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 victory that established the Spaniard as the game’s most dominant player.
The rain-delayed, riveting contest ended in near-darkness after 4 hours, 48 minutes of play — the longest and most dramatic men’s final in Wimbledon history — when Federer slapped a forehand into the net on Nadal’s fourth match point and second of the game.
Nadal, who crushed Federer on the clay of Roland Garros last month, surged into a two-set lead with an astonishing display of power tennis before Federer began his fightback.
The Swiss world No. 1 took the next two sets, both on tie-breaks, both characterised by an astoundingly high level of play. But Nadal was not to be denied.
It was Federer’s first defeat at Wimbledon since 2002, and ended his hopes of surpassing Bjorn Borg’s mark of five successive titles at the All England Club.
Perceived as a typical Spanish baseliner in the early days of his career, Nadal’s triumph on the grass courts of SW19 is a staggering feat. At just 22, Nadal has now won five grand slam titles, and it will be intriguing to see how Federer responds to his remarkable rise.
Right from the start, Nadal produced near-flawless tennis against the defending champion, breaking in the third game of the match when Federer missed two consecutive backhands. With Federer unusually hesitant, Nadal served out to take the first set in 47 minutes.
Starting the second set with renewed aggression, Federer pressured the Nadal serve and broke for a 2-0 lead with a searing forehand cross-court winner.
Despite an unusually high unforced error count, the momentum seemed to have switched back to the champion, who served out his third love service game out of four to sweep into a 4-1 lead.
But Nadal responded by threatening Federer’s next service game, a loose forehand from Federer giving the Spaniard break point, and a ferocious backhand succeeded in suddenly pulling Nadal back into the set.
Inspired, Nadal stepped up his game, ruthlessly dominating from the back of the court to go 0-40 up on the Federer serve, and converting his second of three break-point chances to turn the set on its head and go 5-4 up.
Second time around, Nadal had to work equally hard to serve out, surviving a bizarrely-timed time violation at 30-30 and an epic rally on break point down before holding to take the set 6-4 for a two-set lead.
Nadal sparked an injury concern when he slipped chasing a Federer forehand winner in the third game of the third set, but after receiving the attention of the trainer during the changeover, he showed no obvious ill effects.
The rain drove the players from the court at 2-2 in the fifth, but not one member of the Centre Court crowd contemplated leaving.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH