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This day was destined for the history books. There was a cosmic confirmation that acknowledged as much, as the incessant clouds and rain of the past two weeks relented to much sunnier skies. Certainly all of the stars were aligned for the occasion.
The players were certainly ready. Sharing a mutual admiration for each other and a singular craving for the crown, they arrived at the stage as differently as they looked. Nadal, the fiery Spaniard and consummate grinder, clad in his customary fatigues, battled all sorts of calamities on his way to the finals, bending both opponent and weather to his indomitable will. These tests only seemed to strengthen his mettle.
Federer traveled a far different path. The mercurial Swiss was almost an apparition on the grounds, floating in and out of the field, dressed in long whites as though he belonged to another era. While Nadal was an almost constant presence, staking his turf as though laying claim to a new ground, Federer seemed to disappear from sight, perhaps garnering every ounce of mental and physical strength that he would surely be needing for this ultimate showdown.
Each knew the effort it would take. Nadal would have to deliver his usual assault of punishing blows from the baseline, a potent and steady combination of power, spin, depth, and angle. He would need to overwhelm his opponent with the weight of shots and his will. Federer would need all of his lighting strikes to ward off Nadal's thunder. His serve and his genius would have to see him through.
This was a classic showdown of divergent styles. Two heavyweights, the best of their time, doing battle on the greatest stage their sport had to offer. One man tied to the earth and the other tethered only to history. It was Joe Frazier versus Muhammad Ali, fifteen rounds for the title and it felt as though it would go the distance.
Although their previous bouts had never quite lived up to expectations, this one delivered. Both were in excellent form. The shot making was spectacular, what John McEnroe described as “major heavyweight hitting.” And although the play at times was beyond comprehension, the roller-coaster of human drama that unfolded during the struggle was something that resonated even more, with both players demonstrating their seemingly superhuman gifts as well as their mortality.
Federer, through an unrelenting barrage of Nadal body blows and the unexpected defiance of the Hawk-Eye system, at one point was reduced to a jangle of nerves. Just after Federer had thwarted a staunch Nadal foray in the third set tiebreak and seemed ready to take control of the match, he let his guard down. Looking for a quick strike against what he hoped was a dejected opponent, Federer instead was passed by a blistering backhand down the line and quickly saw his fortunes reversed. Two games later Hawk-Eye struck again delivering a punch that resulted in a second break. This one did serious damage. The usually unflappable Swiss, who announcer Ted Robinson earlier dubbed “007” for his cool demeanor, was reduced to a cranky, sulking figure. Federer bitterly confided to the umpire turned corner man that the combination of Nadal and Hawk-Eye “is killing me.” One game later McEnroe declared that Federer “is totally unglued.”
Nadal, on the other side of the net, gained momentum. As the players changed sides at 4-1 Robinson informed the TV audience that Nadal is Federer’s kryptonite and McEnroe quickly corrected him by acknowledging that “Nadal is everybody’s Kryptonite.” When the TV returned from commercial, the next scene was of Nadal receiving a medical timeout to attend to an injured knee, yet another reversal of fortune. To see Nadal go down like this stunned the crowd yet McEnroe had presaged the match by saying that if it went to a fifth set, Nadal may show signs of fatigue. Until then, however, the way he had so physically imposed himself on the match had erased any of those concerns.
Although in the end, Federer came away with his fifth straight Wimbledon, there was no real loser here.
So, how would Federer respond to this twist of fate? If nothing else, this certainly gave him a moment to gather himself, to reconsider his fortune, and to allow himself a glint of hope. It was a gulp of fresh air to a drowning man and whether Federer would have managed to recompose himself for the fifth, there was no denying that this could only be a setback for Nadal.
The start of the set saw both players bring out their best. The end was near and the injury had evened the tables, if not tipped them to Federer. Nadal was hurt but desperate. He went for broke and did considerable damage but could not deliver the knock out blow. Federer managed to hang on through evey one of Nadal's challenges before finally asserting himself. Beating back fatigue, injury, and an inspired opponent, Federer went on the offensive, yet ultimately it was the missed opportunities and the subsequent disappointment that sealed Nadal’s fate as much as Federer’s attack.
Of the saved break points in the 3rd and 5th games of the fifth set Federer said, “I was so happy when I came out of it because I knew that now he probably missed his chance. If I get one, I'll probably make it." And that's exactly what happened.
How the match ended was almost irrelevant to the drama that was played out. Like the historic Wimbledon final between Borg and McEnroe in ’80 or the Budge and Von Cramm Davis Cup battle in ’37, it will be remembered as a match that was “played” rather than won or lost. Both displayed tremendous courage and spirit and at the same time each showed signs of mortality. It was a match that recalled the themes of Greek mythology and reminded us all of the most noble, inspiring aspects of sport. Federer consoled Nadal as they met at the net, saying that Nadal deserved to win as much as he did, and few could argue with that. For Nadal, on this day, it was just not in the stars. For all of us who were lucky enough to witness the match it was a resounding victory
Bud Collins's departure marked the end of an era.
It was a treat to see Borg on hand to watch the match. He looked great and it was easy to recall his glory days. Let’s hope he continues to be a presence in the game.
A fond farewell to Bud Collins. Love him or hate him he was a devoted ambassador of the game and played an instrumental role in spreading it’s popularity. Amid a press that too often belittles the game and those who play it, Bud was a staunch supporter of tennis and we owe him a well deserved thank you.
Thanks also to John McEnroe and Ted Robinson for their spotless call of the final match. These two not only are insightful and professional, they also have great chemistry. They expertly rose to the occasion and further enhanced a memorable event.
Although brief, the viewing audience was also treated to the end of the Men’s Doubles final between the Bryan brothers and Clement and Llodra. The play was so scintillating that I certainly hope that we are treated to more doubles coverage in the future.
See Doug King's Acceleration Tennis Program at the Meadowood Resort, Napa, CA.
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Gasquet! Gasquet! Vive Gasquet!
Richard Gasquet has played this game with unbounded promise. He was the No. 1 junior in the world in 2002 and turned pro that same year at the tender age of 16. Since then he has played solid if unspectacular tennis. Now the question will be whether young Richard can live up to the new set of French (and international) expectations based on his soon to be top ten ranking. Check out Jim McLennan's detailed analysis of Gasquet's game.
Tennis' Forgotten Weapon
Allan Fox describes the lob as one of the most "maligned, underused, and little-understood" shots in the game. The lob is not a "sexy" shot. It isn't a hard hit ball which brings the crowd to its feet and, as a result, many players relegate the shot to second class status. In an age where power is king, players often by-pass the lob in favor of that driving, impressive shot that they see the pros hit on television. The problem is that, at the club level, the quest for the great shot more often than not results in an error. Greg Moran
Ball at Feet Drill
One of the toughest shots in tennis to hit well is when your approaching the net and your opponent puts the ball at your feet. Legendary fitness coach, Pat Etcheberry, developed this drill to specifically combat that problem. The key point stressed here is to step away from the ball but move forward when hitting. Concentrate when you practice. Do this drill right the first time and everytime and you will play better tennis.
The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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