Wimbledon – Roger Federer delight at beating Rafa Nadal tempered by final showdown against Novak Djokovic
ROGER FEDERER rated beating Rafael Nadal on Centre Court again one of his career highlights - but celebrations are on hold ahead of Sunday’s final against Novak Djokovic.
Eleven years on from their 2008 title decider, considered by many to be the greatest match in history, the long-awaited sequel did not disappoint.
Federer edged the first set before going off the boil in the second but he seized control again early in the third and held it all the way to a titanic final game.
Nadal had already saved two match points and he came up with his best tennis of the contest to save two more but Federer was not to be denied, the soon-to-be 38-year-old winning 7-6 (3) 1-6 6-3 6-4 after three hours and two minutes.
“It’s always very, very cool to play against Rafa here, especially (when we) haven’t played in so long,” said Federer.
“It lived up to the hype, especially from coming out of the gates, we were both playing very well. Then the climax at the end with the crazy last game, some tough rallies there. It had everything at the end, which was great, I guess. I’m just relieved it’s all over at this point.
“But it’s definitely going to go down as one of my favourite matches to look back at, because it’s Rafa, it’s at Wimbledon, the crowds were into it, great weather. I felt like I played good also throughout the four sets. I can be very happy.”
Not too happy, though, with the carrot of a 21st grand slam title at stake in two days’ time when he takes on his other career-defining rival in his 12th final at the All England Club.
“Age kicks in,” said Federer, who lost finals to Djokovic in 2014 and 2015.
“I know it’s not over yet. There’s no point to start partying tonight or get too emotional, too happy about it, even though I am extremely happy.
“I think I can, with experience, really separate the two. If it was the end of the tournament, it would be very different right now. I’d be speaking very different, feeling very different. There is, unfortunately or fortunately, one more.
“It’s great on many levels. But I’ve got to put my head down and stay focused.”
This was Federer and Nadal’s 40th meeting, a clash of styles and personalities that dates back 15 years and continues to capture the imagination like nothing else in sport.
Nadal had won 24 of their previous 39 matches and 10 of 13 at the slams but victory for Federer in the 2017 Australian Open final had showed him that he could win again when it mattered most.
Indeed, Nadal had not beaten Federer on a surface other than clay since 2014, ending a run of five straight defeats in the semi-finals of the French Open last month.
But the 33-year-old has played on grass without pain in his knees for the last couple of years and had looked in fine fettle throughout this fortnight.
The Spaniard’s serve had been particularly impressive - he went into the match having served more aces than Federer - and the first set was notable for how few rallies there were.
Nadal saved the only break point in the eighth game but Federer began to return better and that made the difference in the tie-break, which the Swiss ended with a run of five points in a row.
He had two chances to break for 2-1 in the second set but could not take them and began to misfire as Nadal ran away with it.
The crunch moments came early in the third set. Federer re-calibrated and broke serve for 3-1, and then showed powers of defence more often associated with the man across the net to withstand intense pressure and cement the hold.
That seemed to dent Nadal’s famously indomitable spirit and, although he kept fighting until the end, he was forced to concede that he lost to the better player.
“I had my chances,” said Nadal, who won the second of his two titles here in 2010.
“He played a little bit better than me, I think. Probably I didn’t play as good as I did in the previous rounds, and he played well. So he deserves it. Congrats to him.
“I created another opportunity to be in another final of a grand slam. Just accept that it was not my day. I played a great event. I take this in a positive way. Today is sad because for me I know chances are not forever.”