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King Rafa 07/06/2008 - 10:36 PM

Nadalwinner It's 3:30 a.m. here in London. I'm back in Islington after my last long commute from Wimbledon. My friends and my wife, who flew in on Friday for a short holiday, are asleep. I have one desire: to watch that match again.

I know there's a large appetite for technical analysis among the readers of our site, and usually I'm game for that. Not tonight. Forehands, backhands, chips, slices, volleys, wide serves, kick serves--all those shots, and all the choices associated with hitting them (when, where, how often, how hard) played their customary roles in this match. I'm not interested in any of it, though. All I want to know--and sadly, I'll never know it--is how two athletes as superb as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal performed at this level despite the expectations (the match had been billed as the blockbuster to beat all blockbusters for three weeks), the pressure (Federer seeking his record-breaking sixth consecutive title, Nadal a major that would confirm his greatness, rather than his clay-court greatness), and the many disturbances (rain delays, wind, cold air, darkness, and an odd blue-red flickering light inside the scoreboard in the final game that didn’t stop Federer from hitting a backhand service return winner on match point). We've all come to expect great things from Federer and Nadal, but this? No, this was too much to ask. We tennis fans are now spoiled for good, because our sport cannot, I'm convinced, get any better than this.

The last two years at Wimbledon, I've thought back to the day before the first Federer-Nadal final here, back in 2006. A few of us visited Nadal at the flat he had rented (with his family) a short walk from the grounds. Nadal invited us upstairs; in his bare living room (couch, television, video game console and not much else) he sat on the floor in the corner, a shy boy who perhaps regretted allowing a small pack of reporters into his home. One remark Nadal that day has stuck with me since. "How will you deal with playing Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final?" the question went, or something close to that. "Do you possibly think you can win?"

"I'm gonna play the final of Wimbledon," Nadal said. He paused. "The final of Wimbledon. I don't want to lose."Fednadal

Nadal was a believer then, and as of yesterday, what few doubters remained in this world came to believe in him, too. No tennis player since Bjorn Borg has been so certain of himself, so unflappable under pressure, so concentrated on the task at hand that nothing--from large worries like the inspired and clutch performing of his opponent, to trivial annoyances like a warning for a time violation--disturbs him. Nadal had a 5-2 lead in the fourth set tiebreaker yesterday and let it slip. How many other players would have started the fifth set with such confidence, with such determination after being one remarkable Federer backhand from the Wimbledon title? None, I say. He may have the best forehand in the world, he may have two of the fastest feet and two of the strongest biceps, but conviction is Nadal's chief talent.

I've tossed stats and analysis aside in this post; I don't want to delve into rankings, either. But I think we can all agree on this. No matter what the rankings say--and they continue to say "Federer"--at this moment in time, Nadal is the best tennis player on the planet. He hasn't lost a match since suffering an injury in Rome. He won in Hamburg. He won the French Open. He beat Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic at Queen's Club. At Wimbledon, he punished six different men and then, to top it all, beat the best grass court player since Pete Sampras--a man in the running for best player of all time--in one of the most intense, enthralling matches in the sport's history (Mr. Bodo, whose thoughts on the match are here, told me somewhere near the end of the fifth set, as we looked on in awe, that this was "the best match of the Open Era"; Bodo, I'm sure you know, doth not speaketh lightly).

Federer played some of the best tennis I've ever seen him play. From late in the third set until early in the fifth set, he missed at most two or three forehands. He drilled ball after ball, but Nadal kept returning the favor, kept running, kept thinking his time would come. It did. It has. It doesn't matter if the point system agrees, or if he fades in the summer hard court season. There can only be one No. 1, and right now, it's Nadal.


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Posted by iliaman 07/06/2008 at 10:51 PM


Posted by Rolo Tomassi 07/06/2008 at 10:52 PM

Tom - Thanks for taking the time to share these thoughts in the wee hours over there. Agree with every word of it, including the part about wanting to watch the whole thing again...right now!

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/06/2008 at 10:52 PM

An amazing match and tournament. I am speechless. Great articles. Feel a bit sad for Federer. Nadal was amazing. Nothing else to say.

Posted by soto 07/06/2008 at 10:52 PM


Posted by Master Ace 07/06/2008 at 10:58 PM

Still recovering from watching the best match of my life.

Nadal 6-4,6-4,6-7(5),6-7(8),9-7.

Overall, tennis won!

Posted by carrie 07/06/2008 at 11:01 PM

What a wonderful match! I have never witnessed greatness like that before. just to let you know ESPN classic is going to air the match monday at 7p.m.est.
Vamos Rafa !!!!

Posted by Monica 07/06/2008 at 11:06 PM

I didn't care for Mr. Bodo's piece, myself. Too much melodrama and Dr. Phil posturing. But thanks for this sober and fair analysis. I love both Roger and Rafa.

Posted by Sher 07/06/2008 at 11:16 PM

Nadal will be best in the world when he achieves that #1 ranking -- best of luck to him. In the race, yes he is #1 right now. In the overall year: the numbers are the numbers.

Posted by Nom de Blog 07/06/2008 at 11:18 PM

I agree with Monica @ 11:06.

And I do think this was the best match I've ever seen in terms of sustained quality. Hat's off to these two!

Posted by Kikin 07/06/2008 at 11:18 PM

I just want to say. There is a lot mediocrity in Tennis.
I see only 2 players. The rest of players are mediocres.
When are we going to see the parade of good tennis players?
There are a lot players without conviction and they crack too easy.
I can count 99 of 100. It is hard for me to watch tennis with so many mediocrity.

Posted by Juan dela Cruz 07/06/2008 at 11:21 PM

Not only Rafa wins but the entire tennis fans all over the world wins!

Posted by Maddie 07/06/2008 at 11:24 PM

My darling, dearest Roger,
Please, babe, just know this: I LOVE you SO much, that I can afford to HATE you just a little right now. You made me nervous as heck, freaked me out, got me excited, and then disappointed me. Not that your performance was disappointing at all, hon, because you played awesome tennis today. It's just.....SIX in a row....ah, so many chances. But hey, how 'bout you make it up to me by agreeing to play through 2014, winning Wimbledon every year until you retire? Ah, I love you dear. Sorry it had to end so terribly. I have every confidence that you'll win Wimbledon again.
With ever so much love,
P.S.-- Oh, quick question. In either the first or second set, I forget which, there were two serves (which I saw) where you lifted your left toe up at the beginning of the service motion, like you used to do in '01 and '02. You missed the first serve I saw you do this on, and on the second serve you did it on, you let the toss go, and redid the serve, that time not lifting your toe up. What was with that? Did you forget the new form for a second or something?

Posted by Moose 07/06/2008 at 11:29 PM

here's my question regarding Rafa on hard courts. I think he will be a legit threat with the variety he's developed for his serve. obviously hard is more conducive to power serving, but Nadal has dropped in around 130 these days, though usually he does less power with more placement. What are your thoughts on this newfound skill in contributing to his chance of winning a hard court GS?

Posted by MZK 07/06/2008 at 11:33 PM

Well said.

Remarkable to think that if Nadal had defeated Davydenko in Miami and pulled out of Rome altogether, he'd be riding a 39-match winning streak right now, only an event or two away from holding the all-time record. Not that a 24-match one is anything to sneeze at, either. But these are kind of the secondary notions that set in once all the sturm und drang from an historic match like today's has settled.

The rankings should take care of themselves. Federer has less room to improve, with a Canada final, Cincinnati title, and USO title to defend - Nadal only has significant points in Canada to worry about and has plenty of potential to improve elsewhere, so he can still earn the top spot rather than hope Fed loses it (and despite this loss I still see him dominating the summer hard courts as always). The real wild card here is Beijing. Anybody know how the Olympics points will break down? Is it equivalent to a Masters event or just an "Int'l Series Gold"(like Dubai)? Surely Fed will pick up the gold medal he should have won in Athens.

Posted by Jerell 07/06/2008 at 11:40 PM

"The Thriller on the Centre Court Villa" is what I dub it

"Thoughts of whether this match would be grand enough for one day loomed larger and larger, in similar proportion to the drama it was producing. Both men clinical on serve at the resumption of play, revealing in the all court war of explosion that each inflicted on each other. The fans seemly divided into an imaginary demarcation of being on the side of one “R” or the other “R.” Both sets of supporters, whether it was Federer’s longtime girlfriend Mirka or Nadal’s parents, about as tight as their players’ headbands. It was truly a moment when you felt like holding the hand of maybe even your mortal enemy."

Great job Tom, great stuff.

Posted by Cecil 07/06/2008 at 11:44 PM

A lot have been said about Rafael Nadal, He didn't have to go 4 hours and 48 mins to prove that he can beat Roger Federer, we knew this kid he is a threat. Tom Perotta(repoter) was able to give us good depth of the game. I couldnt disagree any more.. No matter what the ATP rankings stand. Nadal is the best tennis player on the earth at this moment. We have talked enough about Federer. Enough said, I watched the whole game and I can't wait to watch again Monday in espn classic at 7ET. I have been watching Tennis for the past 15 years but not one of this magnitude even when Andy Roddick play with Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco in australia open 2003 at semifinal for 5 hours plus and the fifth set a record of (21-19) which was the longest 5th set in the history. I am thrilled with this kid since he came up, couldn't even speak English, He has improved all areas. Go.. RAFA.. You deserve this!!

Posted by Tom in Smalltown 07/06/2008 at 11:50 PM

Good commentary. Rafa was better in all aspects except for the forehand. I'm now convinced that Roger's is the best, but that it takes much more than the best forehand to beat Nadal right now.

Posted by shyra 07/07/2008 at 12:02 AM

it was indeed a privilege to witness the unfolding of a great match what has surpass all expectations!!! i almost even bust down in tears !!! it was Nadal's time!!! the win was great, the match was even better!!!

Posted by daylily (proud owner of "bubbles") 07/07/2008 at 12:40 AM

thank you for the lovely thoughts. word.

Posted by daylily (proud owner of "bubbles") 07/07/2008 at 12:42 AM

thank you for the lovely thoughts. word.

Posted by daylily (proud owner of 07/07/2008 at 12:43 AM

thank you for the lovely thoughts. word.

Posted by susie 07/07/2008 at 12:56 AM

i wanted roger to win soo badly. you just hate to see him lose!! i felt so bad for him when he started tearing up during mccenroe's interview. but as much as i want to hate rafa for taking fed's title away from him i really couldn't ! he played amazing tennis and was very gracious during his interviews. poor rog.

Posted by nehmeth 07/07/2008 at 01:28 AM

It was truly an amazing match that almost ended in three sets had not a few nerves from Rafa crept in. In the end, it was nice to see Roger willing to fight rather than just go away. Last year, Fed himself said that this was going to be harder this year. He was correct. Very happy for Nadal to be able to win it against Fed and not someone else... it makes the victory all the sweeter and for history something that will always be remembered.

Posted by aussiemarg 07/07/2008 at 01:56 AM

I watched the match live from Sydney,didn,t finish till 5.30am,I still haven't slept,it was the best final I have seen.,full marks go to two wonderful champions,tennis was the absolute winner,as a very proud Nadal fan I am in awe of this incrediable young man!!!!!!.

Posted by Bethany 07/07/2008 at 02:25 AM

Speechless, and pretty sick too. I'm sure I developed an ulcer willing Rafa to win, just stick it out it would come. I was so gutted after that 4th set tie-break loss. But the kid hung in there and triumphed. What a champion, and he did it the hard way - beating Federer.

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