There are days that go down the annals of history and become forever etched in the hearts and minds of people. The first ascent of Everest, man-on-the-moon, fall of the Berlin wall – all of these have left an indelible mark in the world history.
The history of sports is replete with glorious examples as well. The four-minute mile, ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, Michael Phelps’ eighth gold in Beijing and many more. Each sport has its crowning moments and red-letter days. For Tennis, 6th July 2008 is one such day, for it was the scene of the greatest match ever to be played in Tennis.
The legacy of a match is influenced by factors other than the match play itself. The build-up to the match, the stakes, the expectations, the setting – all add up in making the legacy of a match a rich one, like drops of wine filling a victor’s champagne glass. The Wimbledon 2008 men’s final had a dream build-up – Federer vs Nadal, Ice vs Fire, Artist vs Warrior, Champion vs Pretender.
For the past 3 years, Federer had been the undisputed number 1, the supreme ruler of the Tennis world. Wimbledon was his fortress. Nadal, the erstwhile number 2, had been drawing ever closer, almost taking over the Swiss’ citadel the previous year in the Wimbledon 2007 final.
“Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano”, quipped Eminem. “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object”, the Joker told Batman. They might as well have been referring to the Federer-Nadal matchup.
Both the Swiss and the Spaniard had run roughshod over their opponents on the road to final – Federer without the loss of a set and Nadal losing just one. They were at a level much higher than the rest.
So we had a dream scenario in front of us. But ever so often, we’ve seen much-hyped matches turning out to be damp squibs, a la Mayweather vs Pacquiao. Not this time. The 15,000 people fortunate enough to be watching in the stadium and the millions watching on television over the course of next 6 hours were about to witness the finest spectacle the sport has provided us.
As Federer and Nadal walked out on the court, the crowd erupted, taking in the contrast of the two super athletes – Federer ambling along in a gold-emblazoned white blazer, Nadal charging ahead in his sleeveless t-shirt and pirate pants.
‘Time’ called out the umpire Pascal Maria. The quality of a general tennis match is like a 45-degree slope, building up over time. But this was not a ‘general’ match. The quality and intensity of the very first point played was breathtaking, a teaser of the match that lay ahead. The ‘tock’ sound the ball makes on coming off the racket was ever so louder today. You could sense that in the minds of both players this match carried a special significance.
The first set was fiercely contested with both players trading blow-for-blow. Nadal edged it 6-4. Federer was the 5-time defending champion and he showed just why at the beginning of the second set, racing to a 4-1 lead. But then does Nadal ever care about the scoreboard? Back he fought, reeling off 5 games in a row to steal the second set from Federer 6-4. The Swiss’ fortress had started crumbling.
‘Fighter’ is not a word one associates with Federer. It almost sounds lowly when you had adjectives like ‘artist’, ‘poet’ and ‘genius’ describing him. But one doesn’t become a champion without a fighting spirit. The Swiss was fiercely proud of his Wimbledon fiefdom and was not about to give in anytime. The Spaniard would have to take it from him.