Rafael Nadal became a true giant of tennis last night as he won the Wimbledon singles title for the first time with an extraordinary five-set victory over Roger Federer that lasted nearly five hours.
The Spaniard defeated the five-time champion 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 in the longest singles final in the history of the All England Club. The match finished at 9.15pm after rain interruptions and no one in the grounds could remember seeing anything like it.
Nadal became only the third man in history and the first since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in succession and ended Federer’s chances of beating Borg’s record of five successive Wimbledon singles titles.
Federer, who called it his hardest loss by far, had hoped that Nadal might succumb to the pressure. “I thought maybe he was feeling it a lot, for the first time in his life,” the 26-year-old said, as he sought to be the first player since 1927 to win this grand title from two sets to love down. But his opponent would not hear of it.
Nadal had won the French Open for the fourth consecutive time a month earlier, having trounced Federer for the loss of only four games, and we wondered if he had done permanent damage to the world No 1’s psyche. When the 22-year-old strode to the first two sets, it appeared as if he might make humiliatingly short work of a player acknowledged as the finest grass-court practician in the world. But this is Federer’s fiefdom. Chasing his thirteenth grand-slam title, having not lost in 65 matches on the surface, he would not go down without a fight.
What a comeback he produced. When the rains came for the second time at 2-2 and deuce in the final set, we wondered whether we might have a resumption on Monday. That would have been a crushing blow after such a Sunday. It was, thankfully, not to be.
Nadal never gave up believing that he would become the first Spaniard since Manuel Santana, proudly perched in the front row of the Royal Box, to win this title. “I had won the first two sets, I was playing really well, I had all the time a positive attitude,” Nadal said. “It is amazing what has happened today, difficult to describe. When I was a kid I would dream about winning Wimbledon one day and now it has happened.
“It is the most emotional of my victories, but I don’t want to compare what is more important. In the final set I was just trying to focus on my serve. I had played two awful points in the fourth-set tie-break, two really awful points, but this is the Wimbledon final. You do not stop trying to win.”
Nadal has no time to luxuriate in history-making. He is on a plane at 9 this morning to play in the Mercedes Cup clay-court tournament in Stuttgart. The new champion is relentless.