If there is ever a discussion on the greatest tennis match played, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s 2008 Wimbledon final will most likely be at the center of it.
Two of the finest players the sport has ever seen, Federer and Nadal put on a clash for the ages with the latter emerging victorious 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5-7), 6-7(8-10), 9-7 in four hours and 48 minutes (three rain delays made the total duration of the match extend seven hours).
This match was the 18th time Federer and Nadal were facing each other on the ATP Tour. Up until then, their rivalry had established itself as the centerpiece of men’s tennis but there was a pattern to it – Federer would win on grass, Nadal would dominate on clay, and they would share the spoils on hard courts.
However, Nadal’s breakthrough at the All England Club in 2008 led to a tectonic shift in his rivalry with Federer and with it, in men’s tennis as a whole.
Since claiming his first Major in 2003 at Wimbledon, Federer had well and truly established himself as the player to beat on the men’s tour. He had won 12 of the 15 Slam finals he had played in leading up to Wimbledon 2008 and was expected to add another title to his name on his favourite surface.
But Nadal had other plans. Despite leading their head-to-head by 11-6 heading into the match, the Spaniard wasn’t considered the best by most. The then 22-year-old had come agonisingly close to winning Wimbledon the previous year, losing in five closely-contested sets to Federer, and was desperate to claim his first Major on grass.
And he managed to do that in some style. After being two sets up and losing the next two in tie-breakers, Nadal held his nerve to close out the match 9-7 in the fifth. It’s quite impossible for any person who watched the match to forget the sight of Nadal falling on the floor in delight as the sun set on the Centre Court.
As of today, Federer has 20 Grand Slams to his name and Nadal has 19. The two are arguably the greatest tennis players ever and through their illustrious careers, they have led a change in the way the sport is played. The Wimbledon 2008 final is unforgettable not just for the magical tennis it produced but also for taking the Federer-Nadal rivalry, considered by many as the greatest, to a different level altogether.
Watch highlights of that epic here: