Tuesday, July 08, 2008

If only they could split the trophy!

“I am just glad I was able to win another one before Rafa starts winning them all" – Federer after 2007 Wimbledon Final.

When Rafa cried in the locker-room after losing a superb five-set final to Roger Federer at Wimbledon last year, he earned a rebuke from his uncle and coach, Toni, that no tennis match was important enough to warrant tears. Rafa cried again last night, and, warrant it did, he just earned an extraordinary victory at his third finals attempt, the claycourt master having just dethroned the king of grass.

Rafael Nadal dethroned five-time champion Roger Federer as king of Wimbledon last night, with an epic 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (8/10), 9-7 win in one of the greatest grand slam finals of all time. It is already counted as the greatest Wimbledon final ever. In the centre court festooned in near-darkness after almost five hours of epic, see-saw tennis, Rafa finally prevailed in one of the sport's all-time classics, vanquishing Roger Federer in his attempt to become the first man since the 1880s to win six consecutive Wimbledon championships. Twenty-seven years after a left-handed John McEnroe wrecked Borg's hopes of landing six in a row, Federer's dreams are also scuppered by another left hander!
The win also ended Federer's six-year, 65-match winning streak on grass. This victory made the 22-year-old Nadal only the third man to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same season, and the first since Bjorn Borg in 1980, while giving Spain its first men's champion since Manolo Santana in 1966.

In doing so, Rafa had to beat not just his rival but the weather and the light! Downpours twice sent the players running for covers. Lewis Hamilton, another victor in equally bad conditions, can count himself unlucky to be thoroughly upstaged on a day when he won the British grand prix. (Ofcourse, he beat no Federer).

Rafa gave us a glimpse of the things to come in the previous year's final. It was a tough loss. Bjorn Borg indeed predicted 2008 would have a traditional Federer-Roger final but Rafa would win it. How true that turned out to be. Somehow, Federer's magic wand does not work when it comes to the majorcan muscleman. He looks very much a mortal, unlike the superhero he looks like while playing others. We have seen the Baghdatis’ and Roddicks’ of the world who run away with the initial set, only to exhaust and fall flat for Federer to walk all over them in the next three sets. Rafa is different; he is a bull dog who never gives up. No two players have met in more grand slam finals in the Open era, and nor has any pair met in three successive finals at two different majors, as did this Swiss and the Spanish pair. Over the years, it looks as if they, with each passing encounter, got affected by each other! Initially, we presumed Federer was all finesse and Rafa, all force and then they started borrowing a little from each other. For, now we see glimpses of that ferocity in Federer even as Rafa refined his game.
Even as they mutually respect each other off-court, they put every ounce of their mental and physical ability into the game and compete fiercely. Four weeks after humiliating Federer in the French Open final, Rafa demonstrated that the balance of power in men's tennis had shifted in his favour when he punched through Roger Federer's aura of invincibility that just kept on growing since 2003. Rafa, the longest-reigning No. 2 in modern tennis history proved that he can win a big one on something other than the red clay of Paris. Rafa had only one title on grass, Federer's total stood at 10. Rafa had a 30-7 win-loss record on grass, the Federer's was a far more impressive 81-11. No one had been able to beat Roger the emperor on his favourite turf for 65 matches. Grass, its his fiefdom.

However, Rafa had a much more impressive warm up to Wimbledon than Federer. Rafa beat Roddick and Djokovic in the same week. He won his first title on grass. He had a 11-6 win-loss record against Federer. He had all the momentum. Such has been the Spaniard's form, entering the contest on the back of a 23-match winning streak, he made even the stylish Swiss look like an ordinary club player when he bagged the first set and clawed back from 4-1 down to take the second. Federer had his opportunities but could only convert one of 13 break points while sending down 52 unforced errors to the world number two's 27.

As the storm clouds moved in, Federer began to lose his trademark cool becoming frustrated with his performance, one commentator remarking that it was "very dark around here and it's not just Federer's mood."

It is almost a Shakespearean tragedy for Federer, the rise and the fall. A 'federer forehand' ends it all for him in darkness where he could hardly see his challenger. "I couldn’t see who I was playing against by the end", Federer said.

As one commentator put it, "Here's Federer with the best forehand the sport has ever seen, and he puts a routine ball into the net. But then, that's the story of Nadal. He always makes you hit one more shot than you want to."

I am a big fan of Federer and it hurts to see him loose after treating us with all those class acts over the years, but then Rafa deserves it and he is indeed a worthy successor, in game and in manners. If Graciousness and humility can still be found at the highest level in world’s professional sports, I guess it’s only here. Maybe it has something to do with none of them being an American or Australian!

It was poignant to see just how much the Wimbledon crowd love Federer--they didn't cheer for him at the end, they roared. But then the old has to give way to the new. And whatever Federer feared has happened.Rafa, as always, was magnanimous in victory: "He's still the number one, he's still the best. He is a five-time champion and I have just the one." He further said "I had match points but Roger is very tough. I want to congratulate Roger because he is great for tennis, win or lose” in his broken-up English. "It's hard for me to appreciate it right now," Federer said afterward. "I can't look at it as a feel-good thing. Probably later in life, I'll be happy about the way I fought, the way it lived up to expectations. And congratulations to Rafa, a great competitor."

"It's rough on me now, obviously, you know, to lose the biggest tournament in the world over maybe a bit of light”.Federer admitted the loss was probably the toughest of his career. "[It was] probably my hardest loss, by far. I mean, it's not much harder than this right now," he said.

"Probably later on in life, you know, I'll go, 'That was a great match'. But right now it's not much of... a positive thing to end this match." "I'm happy we lived up to the expectations, you know. I'm happy the way I fought. That's all I could really do."

Well, just like with a hard-fought victory, a very close loss too takes time to sink and to be seen in perspective. And then Federer can only be proud of the greatest ever Wimbledon final he staged for us. For now, the cardigan must make do with the five buttons! I hope he comes back to his winning ways, beat the Sampras record and then maybe, add the sixth button.


pascric said...

The matching has been the talking point every since yesterday.

The only thing I wanted to comment on was on some media reports which said that this was an 'end of an era' kind of thing.

I personnaly would bet my money on Roger winning the next two wimbledon Championships, unless he is plagued by injuries or his forms slumps as bad as Lance Klusener's after the 1999 world cup.

Amar said...

I agree. I also think Nadal was indeed in 'Federer's head' as some commentators said and somewhere down the line Federer lost his fluency against Rafa, simply out of fear of loosing. Now that he actually lost at Wimbledon and had to forego the coveted record of six-in-a-row, there is nothing more to loose. I seriously think so! He should be now back to his natural self, even against Rafa.

kiran said...

i was waiting for this day.....it almost happened last year, alas! his knee injury.

Amar said...

No doubt, Rafa is continuosly evolving. It would be interesting to see his progress on the hard courts at US open, in 2 months time. I think he could go only till 4 round last year.
Federer has to win there to retain his Number 1 ranking, now that the gap between the two is just 545 points. So that ups the stakes higher.

Sid said...

Indeed it was one of the greatest matches I have seen.

For me, although a little disappointed on Federer's loss, I believe Nadal totally deserved the cup.

Of course, with the classy fight, Federer is still a champion to me!!

sunil said...

nicely written ra amar .. felt like reading a news paper article keep it up buddy

hariesh said...

Truly an outstanding match; the best the pair has fought so far. Congrats Rafa and Federer for playing an unbelievable match. Though i wished Nadal win this year at wimbledon (which he did), i was bit fazed by Federers appraoch.

I think Federers game plan contributed to his defeat. It appeared Federer was playing clay court tennis and his baseline obsession didnt help his cause (evident with the unforced errors).

I hope this rivalry scales new peaks with every encounter.

Amar said...

Hi Sid, Federer, we hope, will put up that classy fight again to retain his No 1 position.

Amar said...

Hi ra Sunil,

Nice to see u here. Waiting to see ur take, dont tell me u didnt see the match!

sunil said...

ya i watched it da ... even i watched the repeat telecast yesterday

Amar said...

Hi Buddy,

As per Federer's baseline game, I can think of 2 reasons. One, I thought he was anxious and was somehow playing safe, especially in view of Rafa's agility and improved volley.
Secondly, i heard Wimbledon got far slower now and so no one seems to be trying to play at the net. That also helped Rafa's cause, although he looks to have improved his serve of late.

Yes, this rivalry will now only get better, i cant wait for US open. We have to just pray Rafa's knees dont give way.

Amar said...


Grt. The match created new viwership records in years in both UK and US. Half of Britain's TV audience seems to have seen the match live.

Shashi said...

Nice one ra Amar, I liked this the best among your recent posts.
I like Federer but also liked to see Nadal win over Federer because if that happend then it would be an awesome match to watch and it turned out the same. Hope to see a similar one in US Open too.. both from Nadal and from Amar :) ..

Amar said...

Flat ra ikkada Shashi [:)].

Great events natuarlly bring out great posts [;)]. Yeah, seriously everyone seems to be now looking forward so eagerly for the US open.

Amar said...

Firstly, this is not Amar-The Blogger....but Amar-The Reader :)
Nice article...I also agree that with Federer-Nadal its more in the head of Federer than anything else. And I absolutely think that now that the "worst" is over, we'll only see Roger back to his relaxed state of mind. Having said that, Rafa is just too strong mentally, and has nowadays worked on the weaker parts of his game (his 2-handed backhand crosscourt for eg). His serve though leaves a lot to be desired.
I have some qualms about this being the "greatest Wimbledon match" ever. Especially with Roger committing so many unforced errors, it was almost like a different Roger we were seeing (the error on the final point really summed it up). Duration-wise it is ok, but I have seen much better finals involving Sampras, Goran, Agassi and co. Don't know whether you guys agree or not.
And its nice to see a Federer fan acknowledging Nadal's feat (I am a Rafa fan)...it gets irritating when Federer fans believe that its Roger's divine right to win all 4 slams.
But compare this with maybe 4 yrs ago, before Nadal came on to the scene. Men's tennis has just stepped up a gear! Kudos to both the champions...and VAMOS RAFA :)

Amar said...

Nice to meet you here Amar :). BTW, is this Amar Kamat?

Well, i guess this became the 'greatest Wimbledon match ever' just because we fans expected a great match and were awarded a better-than-great match. The fact that Federer was not exactly in his winning ways and that Rafa won his first grass title only increased the hype. Everyone was waiting to see the god fall. The momentary high the match gave made us liberal with labels. Anyway, now i feel its stupid to compare different matches, especially involving different players.

Yes, Federer was at his best only in parts but that could be because he is playing Rafa! Infact i read somewhere that he ushered in Rafa first onto the court deliberately knowing Rafa is superstitious about entering first and would always prefer to follow the other player.Federer lost the mind game. As you pointed it right, Federer, despite 2 tie-breakers in the previous 2 sets (which he won), was not his usual self during the championship point. He lost by then.

Rafa deservedly won, for now.

Sandeep Naredla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sandeep Naredla said...

hey amar...nice article..did you watched the match or not? or else try to watch it on NET its still available but for some cost i think
btw this one is a classic for sure..Tennis seems to be at a complete different level when we watch these two great players play...After watching some breathtaking matches at EURO i didnt expect any thing which will surpass it in near future...but this one has overpowered everything..
The way both players create extraordinary angles for themselves to place the ball is out of my senses...of course they need to, to overcome each other...Fedex said in one interview after match against Safin, where he blew him out in straight sets that he is infact playing the best tennis...and Rafa on the other hand is just playing perfect tennis...so the expectations were so huge....
If any one has seen the post match ceremony...The First Words Federer said were "I did Everything"....he did everything he can to outperform the spaniard but rafa was upto every challenge...As Amar rightly pointed out that Rafa always brings an extra shot in others which they dont expect...he just reaches to anything on the court.....
Except at the start of 2nd set where Federer raced to a 4-1 lead,never in the match he looked completely dominating...he was just saving the game from Rafa, saving championship points....
Rafa looked like he was destined to win on the day..But the GOD has shown that he is the best when it comes dealing with pressure..the amazing composure he has shown in dealing with championship points is an example...The two best shots of the match, i can say of the wimbledon, came in the 4th set Tiebreak..The First from Rafa, a crosscourt down the line back hand where Federer might have thought he covered every angle but nadal produced an inch perfect angle to get to the championship point....Then immediately the next point..Similar shot from Federer Cross Court down the line back hand..Nadal may have thought he almost covered it but NO..Federer saves the championship point..These two shots are worth watching any number of times
ok guys i cant stop talking hours and hours about this amazing match but i need to go...
I will end this with what Federer said in an interview when asked whats his philosophy of life...And the GOD said...

Amar said...

Thnx Sandy.
I watched it, but it hasn't quenched the thirst, naturally. Federer said he tried everything. May be then he did not put his everything into it in all his anxiousness! Yeah, the 4th set tie-breaker was truely gladiatoral. Both of them try moving to the net and get manoeuvred.

So we will see this match for the next few years whenever some scheduled match gets rain affected :)

Amar said...

Hey, yea this is Amar Kamat.
And I didn't know that about Roger ushering in Rafa first...nice piece of trivia :)

Amar said...

Hey Amar, nice to u here and resume our conversations :). It has been quite some time. Hope to have more of these.