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Wimbledon: 2008 Revisited 06/19/2010 - 8:31 AM

Cover.HardcourtConfidential On the eve of Wimbledon, I thought it might be a nice idea to re-visit the epic Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal final of 2008, just to remind us how hard to wish for a reprise of that battle. But let's look at it through the eyes of Patrick McEnroe, who shares his thoughts on the match in his new book, Hardcourt Confidential: Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches.

Stay tuned as we continue our final countdown to Wimbledon. Bobby Chintapalli will be back tomorrow, with some thoughts on the WTA action.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

-- Pete

I intently watched Nadal, and his entourage suffering in the player’s guest box, as the young Spaniard flopped into his chair on the changeover at the end of the fourth set of the Wimbledon final of 2008.

Toni Nadal, Rafa’s coach and uncle, dropped his head to the railing in the player guest box. Rafa’s father Sebastian stood up and he must have told Toni not to do that, because in a moment his brother was bolt upright again. It was a momentary lapse, a show of despair from a straightforward, even- tempered guy who’s anything but obsessed with winning and losing. What he’s obsessed with— and it shows in his nephew’s conduct and words— is character.

101980353 Toni Nadal used to make Rafa play with poor quality equipment,just to show him that he had to buck up and play with the tools at his disposal. He forbade Rafa jamming his feet into his shoes without untying the laces: “Just because you get them for free doesn’t mean you can ruin them; many people work very hard just to be able to afford the shoes you get for free.” He made Rafa sweep the court before and after practice session, even after the boy had become a

Grand Slam champion. And he made Rafa carry his own bags. In 2005, Rafa scored one of the fi rst big wins on hard courts, winning the big Masters 1000 My ESPN booth-mate Cliff Drysdale and I worked that match, and we were scheduled to call the first match of the Cincinnati Masters, fewer than Twenty- four hours after later. We groused and complained about having to be at the airport to catch a flight on a small commuter airline at six in the morning after the Montreal fi nal, and when we got to the airport we were surprised to see we weren’t the first of the tennis people to arrive.

Toni Nadal and Rafa were already standing in line, patiently waiting to check their bags. “Well,” I said to Cliff. “If Rafa can do it, I guess we can, too.” By then, Rafa’s great rival, Roger Federer, was traveling exclusively by private jet; in fact, after Novak Djokovic beat Rafa and Roger, in back- to- back matches at the same Montreal event in 2007, Roger decided to spare Rafa the indignities of the Com- Air check- in line and gave him a lift to the next event in his private jet.

But back to that fourth set changeover. If Toni had surrendered to despair at the end of that fourth set, I could only imagine what Rafa himself felt. But it was impossible to tell. Beads of perspiration dripped from his damp, dark hair as he sat. He looked curiously at peace with himself, not by any means resigned. He held his chin high and gazed off into the distance, as if
he were watching some strange object crawling across the horizon.

He was devoid of visible emotion, although he had plenty of reason to be captive to feelings, most of them bad. Nadal had won the first two sets by identical 6– 4 scores, setting the stage for the one thing no one had expected: a blowout. He came within a hair’s breadth from winning this match in straight sets, 6– 4, 6– 4, 6– 4. But he faltered, ever so slightly, and lost his momentum.

With the help of rain delays, Federer had found a way back into the hunt. He chipped away at Nadal’s huge lead, and won that third set. And not long after that he had stared down one match point and faced another in the tiebreaker.

 Everyone knows how that 2008 final turned out: Nadal finally won it, 9– 7 in the fifth, under light conditions so poor that had it not developed into the greatest tennis match of our time, it might have been called because of darkness before the last ball was hit.I was really curious to find out what Nadal had been thinking on that changeover at the start of the fifth set, and I found out soon enough. He told us in response to the very first question asked at the official post- match press conference. Did you think you’d blown it after failing to convert those two fourth- set match points?

These were his exact words: “I just reminded myself that I am still here. The match is not over, we are at two sets all. When I lost the fourth set I was sitting down, and just say [to myself], ‘Well, I am playing well, I am doing well, I am with very good positive attitude, so gonna continue like this and wait, wait what’s happening. I feeled confident with myself, so for that reason I was confident on the match . . .”

And that, right there, is one of the major keys to Nadal’s success - and a pretty good explanation of how the guy was able to complete what started out as an impossible mission— to catch and eventually eclipse Federer (albeit briefly), and to bring him down on his own turf.

Every player in a tough match, even at a small club tournament, tells himself: Hey, it’s about now. Forget what happened two moments ago, or back in the first set. Stay in the now. Love the game, indulge your passion for it. Players strive mightily to think that way, and it’s a message I’m always trying to drill into my kids. But it may be the hardest of all things to do in this game. And Nadal had the poise, mental discipline, and the deep confidence to not only think but live that mandate in what had to be the darkest hour of his career.

In the aftermath, people inevitably compared the match with its predecessor “the greatest Wimbledon battle of the Open era,” [my brother] John’s clash with Björn Borg in 1980— the five- set war that featured what is now known simply as The Tiebreaker. John won that fourth- set
tiebreaker, 18– 16, saving a handful of match points along the way.

Like everyone else, John expected that his performance in that tiebreaker might break Borg’s steely spirit, but the Swede overcame the devastating effect of that lost breaker to take the match, 8– 6 in the fifth.

The comparison is specious, and if anything it’s unfair to Nadal.In 1980, Borg was already a Wimbledon champion; he was gunning for an outrageous fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, while John had just one major title, earned at the previous year’s US Open. Borg, like Federer (who already had five Wimbledon trophies in 2008), was the more accomplished, experienced favorite.

Sure, you can appreciate the pressure Björn felt as John, an explosive upstart, set about hunting him down. Roger probably experienced the same apprehensions. But could anyone have more confidence to draw on, more reason to believe that he could, and would, win than Borg— or Federer?  John, also the hunter, did not win his ultimate Wimbledon showdown. Rafael Nadal did.

It’s funny, but there’s nothing earth shattering or especially insightful in Nadal’s explanation of what he was thinking. If you’re unfamiliar with tennis, you might even shrug and say it amounted to a string of typical jock clichés.

Some players say something like that, and you think, The guy is full of crap. He’s just talking. . .

But when Nadal says such obvious, simple things, you really believe him. When he says he feels content, even though he lost in the semifi nals of the US Open because “being one of the last four is good, no?,” you believe him because— because you just know it’s coming from his heart, and because he’s right. He makes his point in a way both innocent and preemptive, like a wise child pointing out the obvious to a confused and overly analytical adult.

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Posted by embug 06/21/2010 at 07:54 AM

Good morning to all ... does anyone know what happened to the seven qualifiers that did not enter the men's main draw, giving their prior opponent a Lucky Loser berth? For example, Jesse Levin is playing Feliciano Lopez. However, Lopez's opponent should have been Tobias Kamke of Germany.

Thanks so much!!!!!!!

Posted by humble 06/21/2010 at 08:07 AM

Does anyone here have a good website (for free) where one can watch all the action? I have one, but right now it's sucking wind. So I'm looking for another one. Thanks.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever) - 17th 06/21/2010 at 08:22 AM

humble is streaming all (soccer and Wimby) HD.
Catch is you have to be on one of the internet providers. comcast for example

Posted by Ethan 06/21/2010 at 11:28 AM

Humble: here is a totally free link and the quality is terrific:

Remember to always support Nadal squashing Soderling's VIKING FACE into the elongated, green grass blades.

Posted by Sandra 06/21/2010 at 12:42 PM

I was looking under the TV Listings and I note something called "ESPN U" will be carrying some of the Wimby coverage. Does anyone know what "ESPN U" is? I am familiar with ESPN and ESPN 2, but I've never heard of this "ESPN U".

Posted by Momus 06/21/2010 at 01:01 PM

Yes, we know think the 2008 final was the best ever, that you are a big Rafael Nadal fan and the you've co-authored Patrick Mcenroe's book. But we have heard all of that before (and more than once), so please move on and find something else to write about.

Posted by Geellis 06/21/2010 at 05:19 PM

In the match between Djokovic and Rochus we see the power of belief. Djokovic is by far the more accomplished player, and a far more talented player. However, Rochus has his number and they both know this. So Rochus doesn't give up and Djokovic has a big question mark in his mind regarding this player. For you Fed fans, Fed will see this more and more as players who beat him outside of the slams try harder and harder to beat him at the slams. The match with Falla today was a good indication of that and if Falla had a better serve, he could've served out the match in str8s.

Posted by Samantha Elin(Caro to the haters, Don't you wish your pusher was hott like me) 06/21/2010 at 07:06 PM

Lira Vega, I just read in the previous post you called me a "blatant liar" for stating that I had a debate with you over you stating that Kournikova was a better player than Caro. Well I went back and found your post. Please refer to the Sunday at Queen blog dated 06/14/10 at 9:44, you wrote this in a reply to me saying Caro was the better player: Lira Vega, "Anna deserve some credit for having more game than Caro." I got this from the archives. So no, I didn't lie and when you call someone a liar, just make sure there is no proof that they are telling the truth. Thanks.

Posted by Frances 06/21/2010 at 08:41 PM



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Posted by Ethan 06/21/2010 at 11:11 PM

Soderling plays tomorrow.

Hopefully his VIKING FACE will be violently and repeatedly pounded into the newly planted grass.

Posted by MindyM 06/22/2010 at 02:02 AM

What I will always remember from that great 2008 Wimbledon, is what happened after Fed and Rafa had to leave the court for what would be the last of multiple rain delays in that match. The story goes that Rafa's entourage was so worried and nervous, that he felt the need to reassure them. He said - "Be calm, I am going to win." That really sums up all you need to know about Rafa. This was a just turned 22 year old telling his family not to worry as he was in the fight of his life in the twilight at Wimbledon. Where does this come from? If we knew the answer then there would be a lot more champions like Rafa. He is one of a kind, one in a million.

When it came right down to it, as the light was fading and it came down to only a few points, it was young Rafa who held his own. I know that as long as I live, I will never forget it.

Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President,Oh My its Pimms Time Again 06/22/2010 at 10:11 AM

MindyM Great post thank you.Rafa did hold his own and the inner calm he had in that epic match was outstanding.Pity I didnt have his inner clam.We can all learn something from this amazing youn man.

Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President,Oh My its Pimms Time Again 06/22/2010 at 10:13 AM

Ok order is restored in my world

Thanks GB finally got into the link.I love John Mac and his comments

Vamos Rafa!!!!!!

Posted by mel 06/22/2010 at 03:33 PM

To Anne; i feel exactly the same way with Rafa- I feel so maternal towards him. But that's because he is such a humble and kind soul which contrasts to his dogged, grinding type of play with the fist pumps and all.
To The Big Apple: If Rafa is mentally incapacitated, then what does that make of the guy he bludgeoned to 6-0 in the third set of the 2008 French Open Final, in the fifth set of the 2008 Wimbledon Final and the 2009 AO final? Don't be such a sour, dour, mean-spirited person. We Rafa fans are just having fun and extolling Rafa's virtues. Go ahead and extol your idol's virues too- like when he cried after losing to Rafa in the 2009 AO final and Rafa was so visibly uncomfortable and he had to delay his celebration and comfort Federer! Like when he won Rafa Owon the epic AO 2009 semi-finals against Verdasco and your idol said it was long because it took so long between serves (referring to Rafa's deliberate serving style). Like when Rafa beat your idol in the 2008 Wimbledon Final and referred to him as the greatest of all time? Where did you ever find a Grand Slam winner who consistently praised the greatness of his opponent and always said "Sorry for your loss today"?
And you grudge us when we extol Rafa's virtues. Come on, give us a break.

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