A change of guard at Wimbledon

Published: June 26, 2013

PHOTO: AFP

The tennis world is agog at the return of its prodigal son, Rafael Nadal. He’s back from a debilitating injury to reignite his rivalry with Roger Federer. Nadal is arguably the greatest clay court player ever, while Federer is one of the gods of the ‘Grass Courts Pantheon‘ along with Pete Sampras, Rod Laver, and Bjorn Borg. Seeing Nadal head into yet another French Open semi-final, I recall the 2008 Wimbledon classic. The epic finale on the grandest of stages in tennis. When Steffi Graf defeated Martina Navratilova to win Wimbledon 1988, the BBC match commentator announced herald-like,

“The queen is dead, the long live the new queen.”

Who knew those words would be prophetic for what was about to take place two decades later.

Federer pictured second from the right is joined by former champions Bjorn Borg (left), Pete Sampras (center) and to the far right Rod Laver. PHOTO: AFP

On July 6th, 2008 the tennis world was in the midst of another revolution. Federer was about to face the first man who beat him in a Grand Slam final. If Federer won Wimbledon 2008, he would become the first man in this Open era to win six straight championships. William Renshaw of England had done that, back in the nineteenth century. More than a century on, history was being re-written and the king seemingly was firmly entrenched on his throne.

The year started differently. Novak Djokovic upset the apple cart by beating Federer at the Australian Open. Then started the clay season on which another man ruled supreme. For if Federer was the king of the grass courts, then the clay courts was where Rafael Nadal reigned supreme. He lorded on this surface, blasting away opponents with missile-like forehands and a ferocious base line attack. Roger Federer was his finalist for the French Open 2007 and the Spaniard had won it with ease. In the 2008 French Open, Federer promised more and the final result left the tennis world awestruck. Federer could win only four games and was swatted aside by Nadal, who won the last set 6-0.

There were whispers about which none would have even contemplated a year back. Could Nadal become only the third man, besides Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver, to win the French Open and Wimbledon in same year? He would also become the first Spaniard since 1966 to win Wimbledon. For four decades his people had griped that grass was for cows. Now it seemed one of their own was going to conquer the indomitable stronghold of Roger Federer.

PHOTO: AFP

Then Nadal went on to beat Djokovic at the Queen’s Club, and then iconic five time Wimbledon Champion Bjorn Borg dubbed Nadal as the favorite for this year’s Championship.

Federer would not have worried, for was it not that clay was Nadal’s forte just like grass was his? He expressed amazement at the naysayers who were predicting his fall. Dismissing the soothsayers as Ceaser had dismissed the portents of the Ides of March. He started the tournament in inimitable style, dispatching each opponent with aplomb. Nadal was thundering on like a force of nature, though his style could not have been more different. Federer was elegance and finesse personified, Nadal sheer force and brute strength.

Then the inevitable happened and the world held it’s breath for one of the most anticipated tennis matches ever.

Federer hadn’t dropped a set in his march to the final but he needed to match the doggedness, speed and accuracy of Nadal. He lost the first and in the second took a 4-1 lead only to see it dwindle away as Nadal reeled off five games. The crowd “ooh’d” and “aah’d” at the challenger’s game, while chanting ‘Roger’ and ‘Rafa’ equally as if unsure of whom to back.  Unleashing 100 mph forehands and vicious top spin shots, Nadal proceeded to take control of the match. It seemed the pundits were right and he would prevail in straight sets but the champion was made of sterner stuff.

With two sets all it seemed the tide had turned, the momentum with Federer and it would be much like the Wimbledon 2007 final with him winning the fifth set. Nadal had broken down in the locker rooms afterwards; he could not and would not lose this year. Record books were testing the nerves of both the players and the spectators were stretched to a breaking point.

Drawing upon every ounce of inspiration the two battled on court and in the deepening darkness of the evening concluded what had become an instant classic. Nadal served for the championship point at 8-7 and the service return from Federer hit the net- the Spaniard sunk to the ground in ecstasy and a long emotional release. At four hours and 46 minutes, it was the longest Wimbledon final ever and it was the stocky challenger from Majorca, Spain who prevailed 9-7; astounding fans and detractors alike. Nadal was overcome with joy, his tears mingled with the rain falling on the grass.

The new champion sinks to the ground in ecstasy with a long emotional release. PHOTO: REUTERS

There was a new champion. The king was dead, long live the new king.

Read more by Sibtain here or follow him on Twitter @Sibtain_N

Sibtain Naqvi

Sibtain Naqvi

A writer and social commentator who has written extensively for various Pakistani English dailies. An art critic accredited by the AICA and the Royal College of Art, London, he dabbles in music and sports writing and tweets @Sibtain_N (twitter.com/Sibtain_N)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Usama Bin Ahmed

    bhaii.. kehna kia chahte ho????

    If the point was that there exist a transfer of power during wimby 2008, then seriously u need to get your stats straight. Nadal has lost in second round in 2012 and this year he is already stunned in first round.

    Btw i am still looking to conclude something from your article. For once, ET need to refine their criteria for blog publishing.. Recommend

  • Daud

    Are we still in 2008?Recommend

  • Mudasser Awan

    @ Usama: I think you completely missed the point here. When Nadal won at Wimbledon it was a change of guard because he is a clay court specialist and Federer hasn’t been beaten on grass much. The article pays homage to their great final, a final to rival Bjorg and McEnroe’s classic and it does so in an very well written accountRecommend

  • Guldozer

    @Usama Bin Ahmed:
    Agreed. Also, RF has won wimbledon twice since that final and has indeed won the most matches on grass from 2008- presentRecommend

  • Habib

    This is the best account I have ever read on Wimbledon. In-depth analysis on the history of tennis. Would love to read more by Mr. Naqvi. Recommend

  • Waqas Mujeeb

    Wow! Nice commentary on such a historical match, i still remember watching it back in the summer of ’08, a true nail biter of a match!Recommend

  • sohail5221

    Turns out ur quite the tennis aficionado! Gr8 piece!Recommend

  • Pakistani

    i appreciate your great analysis and love for the game of tennis.loving the way how sibtain naqvi is writing.hoping to see some more from him.Recommend

  • haider

    i appreciate your analysis and love for the game of tennis. just loved the way how you have written.Recommend

  • iheartkhi

    As always a splendid take on a match that’s forever embedded
    in sporting history. I remember the following day reading a news
    article saying “Dark Day for Federer”. I mean at that stage in a match, long tiring
    endless match, whoever wins it won’t matter. In 2008, the foundation of Tennis
    rested on two behemoth god-like pillars: Nadal & Federer!Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    Federer is also out! AHHHHHHHHHHH! Recommend

  • AQ

    Nadal is out, Federer is also out…… Who’s next? djokovic?Recommend

  • khurshid

    good one! loved the “ides of march” analogyRecommend

  • H

    lol kind of a next level blog, too complicated to readRecommend

  • Maruim

    Thats one of the qualities of this guy, his writing is beyond impressive, on a league of its own really! truly next level! read his Karachi Summers article tooRecommend

  • Majid Feroz

    A good read, wow! 2008 feels like ages back, doesn’t it? Cant believe how drastic the tables have turned for the reining kings: Nadal and FedererRecommend

  • Aqeel

    A well timed article, in anticipation for the upcoming Wimbledon. Even though our generation’s titans: Federer and Nadal are out, we can still remincse about the Nauties golden age of Tennis. Excellent use of words Naqvi!Recommend

  • Akbar Akoo

    A thorough read! Very astute analysis of a
    match that made history and kept the
    finesse and respect of Tennis. Good writing!Recommend

  • Ali

    Came upon this piece after reading the authors take on Murrays Wimbledon win! My my, Naqvi sahab you have an amazing encyclopedia of knowledge on such a royal sport! Immensly enjoyed reading! Keep it up!Recommend

  • Waqas

    @Ali just read his followup article on Murrays win too! The author clearly does have a natural flair for well documented sports commentary!Recommend

  • Kaavish

    Have already become an ardent follower of his pieces, trying desperately to find more stuff from Sibtain, do you have your own blog as well? Would immensly love to “binge read” all your articles in one day, just like i watch my Game of Thrones hahaRecommend