Sportsmail revisits Nadal's iconic 2008 Wimbledon final vs Federer

At 9.20pm on July 6, 2008, there was a 1,400-megawatt spike on the UK power grid, the equivalent of 550,000 kettles being boiled as a nation that had been glued to the TV finally dragged themselves away after Rafael Nadal
had lifted the Wimbledon trophy.
Nadal had beaten Roger Federer
6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 in what John McEnroe called 'the greatest match I have ever seen'. In the last five minutes of the match, the UK audience peaked at 13.1million.
At four hours and 48 minutes, it is the longest Wimbledon final. Nadal became the first Spaniard since 1966 to win the men's title as he snapped Federer's five-year dominance of the All England Club. Now, 11 years on, the Swiss master meets his old foe in this year's semi-final.
MATTHEW LAMBERT looks back at the match that defined the careers of two supreme athletes and raised the bar for an entire sport. 
 
1pm, July 6, 2008: Build-up to a historic final
There is history on the line for both players, and the gods they are trying to usurp look down from the Olympus of the Royal Box.
Federer has the chance to go beyond Bjorn Borg and become the only man to win six men's Wimbledon titles in a row.
Nadal, too, is chasing Borg, trying to become the first man since the Swede to win the French Open and the Championships back to back. Also in the Royal Box is Manolo Santana, the only Spaniard to win the men's singles title.
Andrew Castle is in the commentary booth for the BBC. He has commentated on the past five finals, all won by Federer.
ON THE BALL 
George Murphy was just 16 when he was appointed as a ball boy to the match and recalls: 'Because they're such iconic guys, actually seeing them walk past, putting their water in the fridge, taking the plastic off their rackets — to be involved and communicating with such iconic figures is mesmerising. In job interviews, or as you get to know new friends, that's the first thing I say: 'I've ball-boyed the Nadal-Federer final'.'
'I thought Federer would win because he always wins on grass,' Castle tells The Mail on Sunday. 'But Nadal had been coming at him for years. These guys had won 14 of the last 16 Grand Slam championships. They were the two bosses.'
Federer has won 65 matches in a row on grass, including beating Nadal in the previous two Wimbledon finals. But Nadal has laid down a marker with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 win in the final of the French Open one month earlier.
Alongside Castle in the BBC commentary booth is recently retired four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist Tim Henman.
'My last match was the Davis Cup in 2007, and 2008 was my first year working for the BBC,' he says. 'I was nervous, it's a different skill altogether.'
Dan Bloxham is the head coach of the All England Club but he is also, during the Championships, the master of ceremonies. He is in charge of looking after the players on match day. 'I walk into the locker room at 1pm,' he says. 'Roger and Rafa are with their teams, within 15 feet of each other.'
After rain delays the start of play, Bloxham leads the players to the court. 'As we get to the door to Centre Court I check the umpire and the officials are in place and ready,' he says. 'Then I come back and say, 'OK chaps, we can get going'.'
 
2.35pm PLAY BEGINS: Nadal takes charge
The first point is an engrossing 14-shot rally which ends with Nadal swerving a forehand down the line, his brutal signature shot. Tournament referee Andrew Jarrett is watching from the side of the court. 'The first point was almost like a statement of intent from both players; that they were here to win the title and were going to give it everything,' he says.
This sets the tone, as the Spaniard prospers in a baseline battle. The match is being played on his terms and in his territory.
'The fear is a match you build up isn't quite what you want it to be and I thought this was a damp squib,' says Castle. 'When Nadal won the first two sets he was hitting the ball like a pistol shot out of the middle of the racket. It looked like a younger man putting the older man to the sword.'
 
4.50pm, Rain break: Nadal leads 6-4, 6-4, 4-5
'Everything happens within seconds,' says Bloxham. 'The covers come on, the players come powering off, they follow me back to the dressing room, upstairs.
'Rafa was animated and bouncy but Roger looked a bit flat and slightly resigned.
'I sat at the other side of the dressing room waiting for the phone to ring, pretending to read the paper. They showered and got changed. Roger had some food. He was obviously thinking, 'I better load up some carbs, we could be here a while'. Then we get the call and we go back out on court.'
 
POINTS TALLY 
413 - Total number of points won by Nadal and Federer, with the Spaniard just edging his rival 209-214.
6.11pm, THE COMEBACK BEGINS: Nadal leads 6-4, 6-4, 4-5
In the third set tiebreak Nadal makes zero unforced errors but loses 7-5. Federer's points are won as follows: ace, ace, ace, winner, winner, unreturnable serve, ace.
Henman says: 'Federer at times makes the game look so easy you almost feel like he's not having to try his hardest. But there is unbelievable resilience underneath.'
At 6-6 in the fourth, it is time for what will go down as one of the greatest tiebreaks ever. 'It was them hitting each other like a boxing match,' says Castle. 'They were all in emotionally.'
Nadal forges ahead to 5-2 but falters with the end in sight. 'He should have never lost the breaker,' says Federer. 'But he was nervous. He didn't make the returns he usually does. He couldn't play aggressive.'
Federer saves two Championship points, the second with a single-handed backhand passing shot no one watching will forget.
'Nadal gets match point, he rips a forehand into the backhand corner,' says Henman, 'and Federer hits this flat bullet of a backhand down the line.'
Castle says: 'Shots you didn't think existed suddenly existed. The backhand down the line was a joke. It's match point down, it's a high backhand, he is aiming at maximum two inches. It is not a shot you'll see in any other position other than that kind of moment.'
As Federer told L'Equipe in 2014: 'It wasn't the shot itself but the importance it had, as it allowed me to survive until a fifth set. This shot gave the match a mythic quality.'
Umpire Pascal Maria says: 'It gives me goosebumps talking about it. You're a fan and want to shout and appreciate the moment but you are doing your job and don't express your feeling.'
Federer takes the next two points, the tiebreak and the fourth set. Castle says: 'Roger had to pull on reserves and go into instinct mode just to survive.' With the match on a knife edge, the weather intervenes again.
 
7.53pm, Second rain delay: All square 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 2-2
'When we got back to the dressing room it was a completely different atmosphere,' says Bloxham. 'They were as tense as you could see two athletes, like two Formula One cars revving up for the last lap.
'Again I'm waiting for the call from Andrew (Jarrett) and I can't hold the newspaper still because my hands are shaking so much.'
In the commentary booth, Castle and Henman are taking stock. 'I had a good chat with Tim,' says Castle, 'I said, 'We can afford to say little because how do you add to this?'
DOUBLE FAULTS 
5 - There were just five double faults in total (Nadal 3/Federer 2), even though 62 games were played. 
With darkness closing in, there is looming the spectre of an anticlimactic and logistically awkward Monday finish.
'Undoubtedly there's stress involved,' says Jarrett. 'But at eight o'clock, with a potential four games to play, we are not going to cancel at this stage.'
Bloxham says: 'The phone rings and Andrew says, 'Get out there now'. As we were walking out, the linesmen were just sitting down and the umpire was getting to his chair. We'd wasted literally no seconds and little did we know we'd need every last second of daylight to finish that match.'
 
8.23pm, The decider: All square 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 2-2
Amid all this, Sam Stosur has been waiting. The Australian has the chance to claim her first Wimbledon title in the mixed doubles, scheduled to begin after the men's final on Centre Court.
'They were coming on and off and when they said we could go out on Court One, I think we were all happy to do that,' says Stosur.
As Nadal and Federer resume play, Stosur and partner Bob Bryan at last face Mike Bryan and Katarina Srebotnik for the title.
They have no right to finish but they do, Stosur and Bryan winning the title and their race against the dying of the light. 'It was ridiculously dark,' says Stosur.
'The ball looked like a comet going through the air. There were a couple of changeovers where we didn't even sit down. It was a race against time.'
FEDERER SLACKS BEHIND WITH SERVE 
25 - Federer serves 19 more aces than Nadal. But his first-serve percentage (65) was battered by the Spaniard (73).
Meanwhile, on Centre Court, the players look set to duel until darkness engulfs them. The line-calling technology packs up for the night, ramping up the pressure on Maria.
'Hawkeye wasn't working because of the light,' says the umpire. 'You don't want to finish a match like that on a questionable call.'
There is no tiebreak in the fifth set at Wimbledon, a player must win by two games. As the light seeps away, time is running out. 'Neither player wanted us to stop the match,' says Maria. At 7-7, Nadal finally cracks Federer's defences. No one knows this at the time but if the score had reached eight all that would have been it for the night.
'At 8-8 it would have been too dark,' says Jarrett. 'It was a great finish to a sensational match and we had the added drama of playing on into the gloaming.' 
 
9.15pm, IT'S FINALLY OVER: Nadal leads 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 8-7
Federer saves another Championship point but on Nadal's fourth opportunity, the Swiss drags a forehand into the net. Nadal keels over and Centre Court explodes into light as thousands of cameras capture the moment. 
'You think about beating the No 1, probably the best player in history,' says Nadal. 'It was so dramatic and one of the most powerful feelings I've had.'
Federer says: 'Probably my hardest loss. I'm crushed. I'm sure it was a great match to watch but it's all over now. I need some time.'
 
Aftermath: Nadal wins 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7
'It's the best match I've ever seen,' says Castle. 'Everybody knew they had to be better after that match.'
Henman agrees: 'Federer-Nadal is one of the greatest rivalries, Wimbledon is the biggest and best tournament in the world, the final is the most important match and then the level of play. You add all those ingredients and it is the best match I've ever seen.'
More than a decade on and surprisingly little has changed. Jarrett is still tournament referee and Bloxham is master of ceremonies. Maria has retired and now works for the French Tennis Federation but Castle and Henman is in the BBC booth. 
Most remarkably of all, Federer and Nadal are pushing for yet more slams and arguably playing better than they ever have.
Last year at Wimbledon, Nadal reflected: 'That is one of the most emotional matches I played in. For me to win here was one of my dreams.
'That final created a big impact in my tennis career. The personal satisfaction is difficult to compare with other things.
'Today I see that like a long time ago. But the good thing is I am still here. I am happy for that.'
John McEnroe was commentating on the match for US television. 'You're able to sit back and call a match where you're basically not saying anything, which I believe was the appropriate response in the fifth set, let it speak for itself,' he says, speaking as an ESPN analyst for Wimbledon. 'It was the best match I'd ever witnessed.'
 
The BBC is bringing extensive coverage of Wimbledon 2018 across TV, radio and online starting July 2. 
Comment

No comments found