The greatest-ever Wimbledon final?

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

When we reflect upon the history of tennis we are greeted with some classic rivalries: Bjorg and McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi, Navratilova and Evert and the Williams sisters.

But the rivalry of this decade is, without question, that between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — arguably the greatest player ever to grace the game against the greatest clay court player.

Federer has defeated Nadal in the two previous finals leading up to the 2008 clash. On each occasion the wily Spaniard had tested the restraint of Swiss ace, but neither of the previous finals could compare to the events of July 6th 2008.

The sheer quality of tennis on display from the two athletes was staggering. There were ferocious forehands, sublime backhands, deft slices and delicate lobs. It was simply mouth-watering tennis that did not come to an end until 9.15pm. With darkness descending over centre court, the strokes from both players illuminated the arena.

Nadal ultimately claimed an inaugural Wimbledon title.

But the moment that remains imprinted in the memory of most tennis fans is a shot that came deep in the fourth set tie break. Federer faced match point at 7-8 down and was on the brink of finally surrendering his crown after five glorious victories.

In the previous point, Nadal had manufactured an unerring forehand when he seemed to have lost the point and handed Federer set points. Centre court had erupted. Federer waited to pounce.

Nadal served, with Federer replying with a slice before the Spaniard angled a forehand across the court. The world number one played a divine backhand down the line which Rafa Nadal appeared to have covered.  The shot which emanated from Federer’s racquet was un-returnable and it simply left Nadal floundering.

It was one of those truly great moments in sport. It was a moment which defines true champions; differentiates between the greats and those who were simply good. Federer had been bullied into a corner by Nadal and instead of wilting, he came out fighting, producing some of his best tennis.

Yet the credit should be directed towards Nadal. The Spaniard sparred with his rival for over five exhausting hours. He had to endure a delayed start and two rain breaks. The intervals usually favour those behind in the match.

Nadal remained strong. He surrendered two match points in the fourth set tie breaker. But even these grave and often potentially decisive factors were not enough to perturb the mental strength of Nadal.

The final had all the necessary ingredients to be defined as a classic. An epic battle which lasted for four hours and 48 minutes and will undoubtedly live long in the memory.

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