July 12, 2019
Magnificent Roger Federer defied all the odds to take down Rafael Nadal and protect his status as leading Grand Slam winner.
In doing so he booked a place in Sunday’s final against Novak Djokovic. What a spectacular occasion that promises to be!
It is still hard to believe that Roger beat Nadal in only four sets and lost one of those so severely.
But 7-6 (7-3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 was a fair reflection of this remarkable Federer performance.
Nadal is on 18 Slams and can’t now close on Federer’s 20. Not this time anyway. And Roger is one more magical match from making his total 21.
How did Federer manage to create this miracle when everything, not least age, seemed to be stacked against him?
Initially most people felt that Federer was going to be up against it for a variety of reasons.
Nadal was annoyed that he had been seeded below Roger, when his world ranking was higher. This was strong motivation.
Then Centre Court is slower than usual and that favoured Nadal. But there were so many times when you wouldn’t have known it. Federer fizzed gloriously.
Hardly anyone gave Roger a chance. But the great and the good came to see if he could do it anyway.
David Beckham was in the crowd. But Federer and Nadal are two of the very few sports stars in the world who can match his standing. And unlike Becks, they are still going strong.
Sir David Attenborough was watching. But in all his travels, had he ever seen such poetry in motion or brutal power as this?
The irony was, both players started nervously. Federer served more cleanly but Rafa looked more threatening in rallies.
The opening games came and went on serve. We waited for someone to take control.
And if Federer didn’t do it in the first set, you wondered whether he ever would. Many of his early shots were too loose.
Roger had a break point in the eighth game but allowed himself to make an unforced error in the vital rally. He didn’t get another chance until the end of the set.
And so it boiled down to a tie-break. One you felt Federer might just have been able to avoid with more of a killer instinct.
A sensational backhand scoop, deep into the corner from Nadal, gave him a mini-break on the very first point of the breaker. But Federer hit back immediately.
Then Roger undid his good work by dropping points on serve. Rafa lobbed long to give Federer fresh hope. Neither was imposing himself with authority.
That soon changed. A beautiful Federer forehand nudged him ahead at 4-3. A smash made it five. Suddenly Federer was relentless, he was winning everything.
Another forehand winner and the breaker was over, Roger was one set up. Now we knew we really had a match.
Jude Law, Sir Alex Ferguson and many more celebrities looked on in awe. Two of the greatest stars on the planet were duking it out in the warm evening sunshine.
Was Nadal going to let this happen? Of course he wasn’t. Not without a fight.
Suddenly Rafa went off the scale with his speed and shot selection. Federer was under massive pressure with his first attempt to hold in the second.
The rallies were punishing, exhausting. This was incredible tennis. Even from the two greatest of the greats, this level was mindblowing.
Somehow Federer held. But what did it take out of him?
Amazingly, he maintained that brilliance long enough to earn himself break points on Rafa’s serve.
But then Roger’s backhand let him down. Nadal somehow held, despite having been right against the ropes.
This was exhausting stuff. And that was just for the lucky ones watching such a classic.
So it was no great surprise when the exertions of the previous two games caught up with Federer and he lost his next service game to love.
Pretty soon he was involved in an uncharacteristic collapse. How often do you see Roger thrashed 6-1 in any set?
The years catching up, thirty-eight in a month. But maybe Federer could surprise us one last time?
He did. And how! The master conjured a magical array of passes, down the line and cross-court, before breaking with a backhand volley to go 3-1 ahead in the third.
A stubborn Nadal tried to break straight back but narrowly failed in another epic game.
The two most popular men in our sport, still showing the world how tennis should be played.
Federer had two break points to go 5-1 up. Rafa saved them both. Nevertheless, Roger went 5-2 ahead with the hardest shot in tennis – a backhand smash.
This match was more than anyone could have hoped for. The quality and precision of Federer’s serving to take the third set 6-3 was out of this world.
And he broke yet again in the fourth to go 2-1 up as Rafa’s serving faltered once more. Minutes later it was looking even more serious for Nadal at 1-3.
Nadal didn’t serve anything like as well as Federer. And that counted for plenty.
Was there one last twist in this thriller? Roger had two match points at 5-3 but missed out. Two more came on serve at 5-4. Rafa battled his way out of both with amazing winners like the warrior he is.
On the fifth match point, however, there was no mistake. Roger held his hands aloft and celebrated one of his most incredible victories.
Feature Image by Getty Images for India Express