This was at a time when the rivalry was at its strongest, back in 2008. Rivals that openly admired each other and couldn’t sing one another’s praises highly enough. Federer had been the undisputed King for years. Rafa was (and of course still is) the undisputed king of clay. Trouncing Federer for the loss of just four games (6/1 6/3 6/0) in the Paris showpiece a few weeks prior to this. The loss was expected for the Fed-Express but not the severity of it on the Court Philippe Chatrier. Nadal had the head to head 11-6. Though his wins were predominantly on clay at that point you could feel the momentum shift in his favour. Centre Court was Federer’s manor though and he had beaten Nadal, as expected in the previous two finals. 2003-2007 was utter domination, he was going for a sixth straight title. It was the final everyone wanted to see, tickets were gold dust. This is about as ‘primetime TV’ as it gets.
To be present for more iconic moments like this and at a more affordable cost than tickets touts, why not check out queens tennis hospitality
What made this match so great was the drama, which unfolded due to momentum swings and the consistently high-level of shot making from both. You knew that we were in for a treat from the very first point, a fourteen stroke rally of real quality, ending with Rafa fizzing a forehand winner down the line. Nadal looked in control after taking the first two sets 6/4 6/4, if anything it was almost too comfortable at this stage for the Spaniard. Nadal had even won five straight games from *1-4 in the second. The third went with serve until the rain came, on the resumption, Federer hit back to take the set on a breaker. Game on. The quality of tennis was summed up best in the fourth set breaker, after a tight set that saw no breaks once again. Unreal tennis.
A forehand winner from Federer continued the quality in the very first point of the breaker but it galvanised Rafa. Nadal went into a *5-2 lead with two points on his serve in the tie-break. Surely this was done? Then the Spaniard tightened though, losing both points and Federer quickly fired his way through his two service points to give him a set point. It went to 7/7 in the breaker and then we hit an unbelievable spell of the match. First, with Federer serving, Nadal fired an incredible forehand down the line on the run, with Federer all over the net. It was match point Nadal on his serve. Here, with Rafa at the net, Federer pulled off an unbelievable backhand pass when dragged right out of court. He doubled his winnings by playing an ultra-aggressive point with his forehand and it was set point Federer. Fed landed the big serve as Nadal went long with the backhand and we were going the distance. Both players wanted this so badly. Throughout the intensity from both was immense with fist pumps, ‘come ons and down on the knee’s celebrations all being part of the match.
The crowd were on their feet relentlessly, cheering and applauding. Almost like a football match. What an atmosphere, you cannot underestimate the role it can play and the stage it can set for a match. No more so than at this point in the contest when it reached fever pitch. It went with serve in the decider with both players saving break points along the way to add to the drama. The shot-making as it had been all match was breathtaking. At *6/7 (40/30) Nadal really upped his game, winning an all-court point against Federer who was defending superbly. Just when Fed looked back in it Nadal crunched a forehand and that was that. The Spaniard then set about Federer’s serve by finishing off a midcourt ball, ripping it crosscourt for another forehand winner. At 15/30 he then flashed a backhand winner, again crosscourt, again giving him match points. Federer served his way back to deuce and then saved another break point after. The pressure had mounted on the forehand though and when Nadal got himself into the next two points the Federer forehand buckled. Rafa was serving for it. Having the calm head to mix it up and serve and volley for the first time in the match at this point showed his bottle. Federer wouldn’t go away though, saving another match point with yet another sizzling backhand winner off the serve.
As darkness fell (around 9.15pm), Rafa dropped to the turf with flashes from phones and cameras going off all over the place. Nadal had ground the next two points out that had given him a famous 6/4 6/4 6/7 6/7 9/7 victory. The textbook ‘victory’ climb up to see his family and then an unorthodox trip across to the Royal Box followed, to see the Prince and Princess of Spain. Rafa pulled it off though. The two had elevated the game up a couple of notches and set a new bar for Murray, Djokovic and co. Both players produced on arguably the biggest stage of them all, they had delivered and everyone was buzzing about it, BIG Time. This was a game changer!
Andy Del Potro