As Roger Federer lifted the golden Challenge Cup, glinting in the bright afternoon sunshine, for the fourth time running yesterday, Rafael Nadal must have looked across and believed that one day he too will be Wimbledon champion. After this performance against the current master it will probably be in the not too distant future. Federer won 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 but never, after the opening set and until the final few games, was he remotely at ease.
And what a different story it might have been if the 20-year-old Spaniard had managed to serve out the second set at 5-4, or taken advantage of his 3-1 lead in the tie-break. Nadal has wormed his way into Federer’s head over the last couple of years, winning six of their seven previous encounters. Understandably the overwhelming emotion for the world No1 after this victory was enormous relief.
He had expected to meet either Andy Roddick or Lleyton Hewitt in the final, dismissing any challenge from Nadal, the world No2, as the height of improbability. No doubt it suited him to blank the youngster from his mind, for only two weeks before Wimbledon he had lost to him in the French Open final, thereby depriving Federer of the one major title he has yet to win and the one that will ultimately be the gauge of his relative greatness.
This eighth major title in total lifts him level with Ken Rosewall, Fred Perry, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and Ivan Llendl. Yet, even as he defeated Nadal for the first time in six attempts, his celebration was pointedly more muted than his three previous wins over Mark Philippoussis, then Roddick twice. For Federer surely realised that not only will Nadal hound him through the hard and clay courts of the world but, from now on, through his previously inviolate grass court kingdom as well.
“I hope any year I come back here in the final and win, I hope one year I don’t play against a guy like Roger,” said Nadal. “He played unbelievable on this surface and I improved a lot this year, so I am very happy for that.But I can play on this surface, no?” Nobody doubts it now, especially Federer .