Fifth Title For King Federer

Roger Federer retained his crown as king of Wimbledon, beating young Spanish prince Rafael Nadal to secure his fifth consecutive title, matching the legendary reign of the watching Bjorn Borg, the king of this court in a previous era.

The 7-6 (9-7) 4-6 7-6 (7-3) 2-6 6-2 victory he achieved followed a feast of tennis fit for any king. At three hours and 45 minutes, it was the third longest men’s single final in Wimbledon’s history and the most thrilling climax to the Championships since Goran Ivanisevic’s dramatic victory in front of a raucous third Monday Centre Court crowd in 2001.

Federer was at his very best, and he certainly needed to be to hold at bay the tigerish challenge of the Spanish 21-year-old. Last year Nadal lost here in four sets, this time he took the master of grass court tennis the full distance. And next year?

In a breathtaking fifth set Nadal, who had undergone treatment to his right knee towards the end of the previous set, twice held two break points. If he had cashed in on either occasion surely he would have toppled the champion.

But twice Federer rose magnificently to the challenge, fighting off the danger before he broke Nadal for what proved to be a crucial 4-2 lead.

Yet at the start it had seemed Federer would be in for a straightforward coronation. He broke for a 2-0 lead in the opening set, only for Nadal to pull level and push it into a tie-break.

Here a Federer trademark forehand and one of the 24 aces he struck in the match left him with three set points, only for the bounding Nadal to fight off all three and resist a fourth set point before Federer finally clinched it, by nine points to seven with a cross-court backhand volley, sparking a triumphant pirouette.

Was Nadal downhearted? Never. He set about clawing back Federer’s advantage, and did not need long to do so. Three aces got the Swiss out of trouble in the sixth game of the second set but, with a 5-4 lead, Nadal conjured an incredible backhand winner while in a seated position on the baseline.

The startled Federer sent a forehand wide on the next rally to offer the challenger two set points, but he needed only one, levelling the match with a glorious backhand passing shot.

As it has done to so many of his opponents, Nadal’s relentless play seemed to be getting to Federer, but his ability to produce aces and spectacular winners kept him in front in the third set.

As it moved towards another tie-break, Federer became involved in his longest match at this year’s Wimbledon, though he took the tiebreak more easily this time, by seven points to three.

Any thought that it might be simple from there on for Federer lasted as long as the opening game of the fourth set, Nadal breaking with a forehand service return which trapped the champion coming in.

Another service break put Nadal in command at 3-0 but only after he had issued a Hawk-Eye challenge on a forehand called out. The system decided it was in by a whisker, provoking an eruption by the normally calm Federer. “How in the world was that ball in?” he asked umpire Carlos Ramos. “It [Hawk-Eye] is killing me today.”

There was hope for Federer in this otherwise bleak part of the match when Nadal called for treatment to his right knee, after which he was unable to jump off so effectively on his serve, but he held on to take the set and again level things after three hours seven minutes.

Then followed the high drama of the deciding set. At 1-1 two Nadal errors saved Federer at 15-40. Then at 2-2 the champion again fell 15-40 behind but battled clear thanks to a Nadal error, followed by a crunching service winner. It provided the all-important breakthrough as Nadal then dropped serve to another of Federer’s forehand specials

With reason, the Swiss exulted. Federer sealed his initiative with three aces in the next game and Nadal, for once, had nothing left. He saved one match point on his own serve before, on the second, Federer hammered home an overhead smash and fell forward onto his face. Flat out maybe, but Wimbledon’s winner for the fifth time.

Admiring it all from the Royal Box was Bjorn Borg, who was crowned here every year from 1976 until 1980. The two men are now level in the Wimbledon record books but next year will it be King Roger VI?

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