New King of Tennis

Never count out the champion until they are completely dead. The Spurs remained the favorites until beaten, the Yankees are always lurking until the last out of the playoffs, Tiger is a threat until the 72nd hold on Sunday. Roger Federer took that concept to a new level on Sunday, refusing to die, before finally succumbing to Rafael Nadal after 4-hours 48-minutes of playing, 6-hours 16-minutes since the players took the court, and five legendary sets.

The longest mens singles final on record went right to the brink of darkness. Nadal winning the first two sets 6-4, 6-4 by holding serve and breaking Federer once in each set. It appeared the 22-year-old Spaniard was on the brink of accomplishing the unthinkable, sweeping Federer on grass. Nadal had more spring to his step, was a step quicker, and had Federer on his heels.

Federer was walking the plank in the  third set before a rain delay broke Nadal’s momentum. After exchanging breaks the set went to a tiebreak, where Federer is virtually unbeatable at Wimbledon, and he continue his dominance in tiebreaks taking the set.

The fourth set stayed on serve, leading to another tiebreak. This time Federer served with his 40-match streak on the line, down to his last breathe. But each time the champion went to the stake, he responded like a true champion with an ace or forehand winner. Not to be outdone, Nadal continued his spectacular play, pushing Federer. Each time the trophy was within reach though, Nadal seemed to clinch the racket a little tighter, and allow nerves to get the better of him. Federer prevailed 10-8 in the tiebreak setting up a fantastic final set.

It quickly became evident neither player would lose this match, someone was going to win it. Nadal and Federer continue to top each other with amazing shots, captivating the audience, both at home and in-person. This was tennis at its best, two warriors exchanging blows. I didn’t have the opportunity to watch the Borg-McEnroe-Connors matches live, and was too young to appreciate the Becker-Lendl-Edberg battles, but I have no doubt this was as good if not better than any of those matches.

After Federer dropped the first set, I envisioned he would have a tough time winning because he simply could not break Nadal. Admittedly, after he won the second tiebreak, I did not know how Nadal would react, and put the momentum clearly behind Federer. A lesser man would crack. Not Nadal. He responded with his best tennis. Again, the top two players in the world held onto their respective serves for dear life all the way to 7-7. Wimbledon championships cannot be decided on tiebreaks – Advantage Nadal.

Federer simply could not break Nadal, converting only one break point in 13 chances. Credit Nadal, he remained aggressive and hit big time shots when he needed. Federer had him on the run during one rally late in the fifth set, Nadal running left, almost off the court, managed to hit a fore-hand passing shot right down the line for a winner. Absolutely amazing that he could even get to the ball, never mind muster the strength to hit a winner past Federer down the line, the only chance he had to win the point.

Not to be outdone, Federer continued to respond with his own array of clutch shots. WHen the pressure mounted, the champ responded with an ace, 25 in all. Federer also pulled off a beautiful cross-court backhand winner late in the fifth set, one of the best tennis shots you’ll ever see.

In the fifteenth game of the fifth set, Nadal broke through against Federer, then held serve, with the sun quickly setting on the All-England club, to win the set 9-7. Exhausted and exhilerated he laid out on the grass before approaching the net, his face filled with emotion, tears of happiness, to pay his respects to Federer.

Five straight titles, 40- straight wins, 65 straight on grass, all gone in what will go down as potentially the greatest match the hollowed grounds of WImbledon has ever seen. It’s hard to put in historic perspective the next day, but it will rank among the best championship matches played in tennis history.

The two men stood side by side, with dusk setting in, posing with their respective trophy’s. A formal changing of the guard. It appeared inevitable after Nadal’s dominance in France and close call at last year’s Wimbledon. Now the five-time WImbledon champion, 12-time Grand Slam winner, is no longer the best in the world. That distinction belongs to Nadal. With three straight Grand Slam losses, the question begins with how much more Federer has to give? Before answering, remember he lost in the Finals twice, and semi’s once – hint, he’s not done.

But the day and night belonged to Nadal. Remember the moment, it may very well be the most captivating tennis you see in your liftime.

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