Top 5 Wimbledon Finals: No. 1, Nadal d. Federer
No. 1: Rafael Nadal d. Roger Federer, 2008
6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7
Arch rivals collaborated on a final both raw and regal. The beauty of the Federer-Nadal rivalry is on full display here, as they take turns driving eye-popping offensive strikes from apparent defensive positions on court.
It all added up to four hours and 48 minutes of pulsating drama, concluding with Nadal collapsing to his back in celebration as flashes from cameras illuminated the smoke-colored sky.
"I think I have just witnessed the greatest match I have ever seen," said NBC analyst John McEnroe. "The drama, the quality and the way it ended when it seemed as though no more tennis could possibly be played was remarkable, to put it mildly."
This final featured spectacular shotmaking, visible signs of nerve, rain delays, a rousing rally from Federer—who fought off three championship points and was two points from victory at 5-4 in the fifth—and the resilience of Nadal, who lost a two-set lead but refused to lose faith and relinquish the match.
“It is impossible to describe. It is unbelievable for me have a title here in Wimbledon,” Nadal said.
The 22-year-old became the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win Roland Garros and Wimbledon in succession.
“I would put this match on a higher level than Borg-McEnroe and obviously that was a great, great match,” said Hall of Famer Fred Stolle, who called the match for Australian television. “It was phenomenal tennis from start to finish and after more than four hours they were still playing an incredibly high level of tennis, whereas to me Borg-McEnroe, which was a tremendous match too, was not the sustained high quality throughout. But I can tell you I absolutely think this is the best match I’ve ever seen at Wimbledon and I’ve been doing [commentary] 30 years.”
The Nadal topspin forehand to Federer's one-handed backhand had been a key pattern in the Spaniard scoring his third consecutive French Open final victory over the Swiss weeks earlier. Holding championship point at 8-7 in the fourth-set tiebreaker, Nadal "did exactly what I had to do" in cracking his forehand into Federer's backhand corner in a shot that seemed certain to seal the win.
Federer had other ideas. He blistered a backhand pass down the line to save championship point.
“It was an unbelievably important shot to hit,” Federer said. “[It] probably was one of my first really backhand passing shots I hit all match…The passing shot he hit I thought it was all over really. I had to turn it around and push it to the fifth set, was awesome. I really thought with winning last year in five, with the momentum, that it was going to be enough. But, you know, it wasn't.”
"It was one of the very, very few moments in my entire career in which I thought I'd won before I'd won," Nadal said later.
A 30-minute rain delay at 2-2, deuce in the fifth set ratcheted up percolating suspense to a boil when play resumed. Regrouping as dim light faded to gray, Nadal, who saved 12 of 13 break points he faced, broke for 8-7. He took his shot at history when Federer's forehand found the net on the fourth championship point, snapping a 65-match grass-court win streak in the process. It was Federer's first loss in 11 career grass-court finals.
"Probably my hardest loss, by far," Federer said. "I mean, it's not much harder than this right now."
A match that began at 2:36 p.m ended at 9:16 p.m. with darkness descending on court. The score sheet showed just how scant the margin of victory was: The pair played 413 points, with Nadal winning 209 to Federer's 204.