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Roger-Rafa epic punctuated Wimbledon '08

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We can sit here and talk about all the upsets that occurred over the previous two weeks, but when it comes to Wimbledon 2008, the only thing that people are truly going to remember is what was probably the tournament's greatest final of all-time.

Roger Federer entered the blockbuster championship match as the five-time defending champion and had won 40 straight matches at the All England Club, but he exited the pulsating finale as the runner-up to Rafael Nadal and fell one win shy of Bjorn Borg's record winning streak at the Big W.

Following several hours of compelling tennis theater (and a couple of most unfortunate rain delays), Nadal stunned the champ 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7 to capture his first major championship that wasn't the French Open. Nadal, of course is the reigning four-time Roland Garros titlist, having beaten Federer in the last three finals in Paris, including a comprehensive beatdown in the "City of Light" just last month.

Rafael Nadal upset Roger Federer in perhaps the greatest Wimbledon final of all-time.
The world No. 1 Federer had beaten his second-ranked fellow gladiator Nadal in the previous two Wimbledon finals, but Nadal gave the mighty Swiss a real scare in a five-set showdown there last year. This year, it turned out to be Federer giving Nadal a scare, as the Spaniard jumped out to a two-sets-to-none lead, only to see Federer come charging almost all the way back. Federer actually held the lead, on serve, in the fifth set, but was unable to get that big break of serve against Nadal, who did get the crucial break that he needed to go ahead, 8-7, in the final stanza.

Federer tried to become the first man since 1927 (Henri Cochet) to overcome a two-sets-to-none deficit in the Wimbledon final.

It didn't work out.

Rain interrupted the classic bout with Nadal, already up two-sets-to-love, trailing Federer in the third set, and again early on in the fifth, with the score level at 2-all.

In a display of tennis brilliance, Federer managed to stave off three championship points on Day 13 of the fortnight, but Nadal would finally convert on a fourth one in the 16th game of the fifth set as Federer netted one final forehand, sending an overjoyed Spaniard to his back on the chewed-up grass of Centre Court. Both players were brought to tears following the conclusion of the marathon heavyweight fight, with Nadal's being the tears of joy. Federer was trying to become the first man in the Open Era to win six straight Wimbledon crowns, but the determined Nadal had other plans.

By the way, the last man to save match points and win a Wimbledon singles final was American Bob Falkenburg, who saved two match points against Aussie John Bromwich en route to the title back in 1948.

When Nadal finally outlasted Federer, it was well after 9:00 PM (9:15 local time) on Centre Court, where, of course, there are no lights. It wound up being the longest final in Wimbledon history, at 4 hours, 48 minutes, and probably eclipsed the legendary Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe final in 1980 as the greatest match in the tournament's rich history, a history that dates all the way back to the 19th century.

Nadal became the first man since Borg in 1980 to capture both the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year, and at the same time kept Federer off the Grand Slam scoreboard in 2008. Since 2004, Federer has been accustomed to winning two or three majors a year (usually three), but this year the well has come up dry so far, and the super Swiss will try to salvage his season with a victory at the late-August/early-September U.S. Open, where he's the four- time defending champ. Federer will also take a crack at Olympic gold at the Beijing Summer Games next month.

Roger Federer's five-year reign at the All England Club came to an end.
Nadal also became the first Spaniard to capture Wimbledon since Manuel Santana turned the trick 42 long years ago (1966).

Federer and Nadal have already established an Open Era record among the men by competing in six Grand Slam finals together, with Nadal going 4-2 in such encounters (3-0 at the French Open; 1-2 at Wimbledon).

Federer still owns 12 major titles, but is still two victories shy of Pete Sampras' record total of 14. Maybe Sampras WILL be able to hold onto his record, considering that the dual emergence of Nadal and Novak Djokovic has clouded things up a bit for the once-supreme Swiss.

Sampras was an all-time best 14-4 in his major finals, while Federer fell to 12-4 with this most recent setback.

Federer, now, is not a lock to win the U.S. Open title in September, nor is he a lock to win any of the Grand Slam titles in 2009. So where does this leave the sublime Swiss...past his prime and at the end of his reign?

Well, I don't believe he's past his prime, he's just not the clear-cut top dog any longer. He's in a tight three-horse race with Nadal and the Australian Open champion Djokovic.

I actually think Federer will win the '08 U.S. Open, as the hardcourts in Flushing have never been that kind to Nadal, who's never gotten past the quarters there, and if Federer runs into Djokovic, he'll be looking to even the score from a semifinal loss at the Aussie Open back in January. Whether or not he'll be able to exact revenge is another story, but I still like his chances to claim at least one of the year's four majors.

The five-time Grand Slam champion Nadal is now 12-6 lifetime against Federer, with nine of the wins (and only one loss) coming on clay. And the Spaniard is 10-4 when they square off in finals. The Swiss is 5-3 when they meet on a surface that's not dirt.

FYI, it was Nadal (12-0), not Federer (11-1), that went undefeated on grass this year. Nadal won his first-ever grass-court title at the Queen's Club in London just two weeks before Wimbledon 2008 commenced.

Nadal is currently riding a sizzling 24-match overall winning streak.

Prior to this past Sunday, Federer had won 65 straight on grass, dating back to a first-round Wimbledon loss against Mario Ancic in 2002.

Don't feel too bad for the Fed, as his career prize money (just prize money) is now just under the $42-million mark. Sampras also holds that record, at just over $43 million.

Note: 13 of the last 14 men's major finals have been won by either Federer (8) or Nadal (5). Djokovic was the exception, at this year's Aussie event.

The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, met in the Wimbledon final for the third time in seven years.
Some big upsets came on the men's side at Wimbledon, as the likes of Djokovic and two-time runner-up Andy Roddick failed to make it out of the first week. The disappointing Roddick succumbed to ever-improving Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia, and hasn't made it past the quarters at Wimby since a runner-up finish in 2005.

Wimbledon '08 also saw the resurgence of one Marat Safin, as the 75th-ranked Russian soared all the way into the semis after stunning Djokovic in the second round. Safin is a former world No. 1 and two-time major champion that hadn't done that well at a Slam since capturing the Aussie Open 3 1/2 years ago.

The women also played at the AEC, where Venus Williams secured her fifth Venus Rosewater Dish in nine years, at the expense of her younger sister Serena in the final. Serena beat Venus in back-to-back Wimbledon finals in 2002 and 2003, and was shooting for her third title there in seven years.

But it was Venus that prevailed for a second straight year at the AEC, as the tall American won last year by pasting France's Marion Bartoli in the final and has now won 14 straight matches at the Big W.

One of the Williams sisters has claimed seven of the last nine titles at Wimbledon, and at least one of the siblings has played in eight of the last nine finals there, including three Williams-only championship tilts.

Former champion Maria Sharapova was a shocking second-round loser at the venerable All England Club.
And on the same day as their singles final, the powerful Williams sisters also combined to capture their third Wimbledon doubles title. In doing so, the sisters improved to a perfect 7-0 in their career Grand Slam doubles finales.

They don't play doubles very often, but when they do...fuhgeddaboudit.

Note: The Williams sisters combined to win approximately $2.7 million last week, as they took the top-two prizes in the singles and the top prize in the dubs.

Just like on the men's side at Wimbledon, the women's draw was strewn with upsets, as world No. 1 French Open champion and Aussie Open runner-up Ana Ivanovic, second-ranked Jelena Jankovic, former top-ranked star and Aussie Open titlist Maria Sharapova and U.S. Open runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova all went home earlier than expected.

Ivanovic gave way to upstart Chinese Jie Zheng in the third round, as the hard-hitting Serb fell short in her attempt to reach a fourth Grand Slam final in six tries.

Jankovic, who still has yet to land in a major final, was ousted by Thai veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn in the fourth, while the 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova suffered perhaps the biggest shock loss of the tournament against fellow Russian Alla Kudryavtseva (who?) in the round of 64.

Another big story at Wimbledon was the weather, which was, for the most part, fantastic for the entire two weeks. The tournament never got behind schedule and ended on time (barely) on the second Sunday. Had Federer pulled even with Nadal at 8-8 in the fifth set, play would have been suspended until Monday. But he didn't, and it wasn't, so the point is moot.

Next year's Wimbledon final will not be interrupted by rain, as an all-new retractable roof will be good to go, guaranteeing action every day on Centre Court.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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