The 2008 Wimbledon final

Photo by AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

Photo by AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

One year ago (okay, one year ago tomorrow – allow me some poetic license), Rafa became the 2008 Wimbledon champion in a match that had many of us glued to our TV sets for hours on end. Sadly, this year, Rafa didn’t get a chance to defend that title. Some people have said that it’s too painful or too boring to watch Wimbledon 2009. I have to admit, I’m not one of those people. Yes, I really wish he could have been there and think that the tournament would have been much more exciting thanks to his presence, but I’ve enjoyed some good tennis and fun matches in the past two weeks.

I’ve also heard people say that they wanted to re-watch the 2008 final, but that doing so would make them too sad and that baffles me. I don’t understand how watching that glorious match could cause any Rafa fan to be sad. Fed fans, sure. Rafa fans? I don’t get it.

Yes, Rafa didn’t get an opportunity to be the 2009 champion, but nothing can take away the fact that he is the 2008 Wimbledon champion. Nothing can take away the knowledge that he can blow a two sets to love lead against the #1 player in the world and still come back and win. Nothing can take away the feeling that winning that match gave him. And for us, nothing can take away our memories of that tension-filled day. How impressed were you during those first two sets? How much did you pace during the rain delay? How far did your heart sink when the tide turned in the third set? How much further did it sink during that tie breaker in the 4th? Did it cause you to lose faith? Did it cause you to turn the TV off because you couldn’t stand the tension anymore? Or did you, faith a little shaky, spend that last rain delay pacing around and thinking, “it’s still possible, isn’t it?” And how much did your blood pressure go up with each and every service hold in that 5th set? Did you keep looking at the clock and staring at your TV set trying to figure out how dark it actually was on court? Did you think they were ever going to be able to finish that night?

When the match was finally over, how much relief and joy did you feel? And then did you wonder where the hell the day had gone? The match didn’t take that long, did it? Did you keep watching the footage of Rafa celebrating with his family over and over again? Watch him stare at the trophy mesmerized by it? Listen to his shaky and full of emotion interviews? Try to fathom what he must be feeling?

When asked what he remembered most from that match, Rafa responded:

“I only remember this.” And here he does something unexpected: He closes his eyes and opens his mouth wide in a silent scream of exhilaration, then tosses his head and arms back against the cushions of the couch, re-creating the moment in which he lay on the court, victorious and exhausted.

Do you think that’s changed for him now? I certainly hope not and I certainly hope it hasn’t changed for us. So, I’m going to ask you to relive a little bit of that match…including some painful parts in that 4th set tiebreaker. Why? The pain of that tiebreaker makes the victory that much more amazing. It also sends a message to every opponent Rafa faces from here on out. They know that he’s not a guy who’s going to “go away” no matter how hard they try to make him and no matter how much is riding on the match.

A few bits from the 4th set tiebreaker:

1. Rafa is serving at 5-2 – the match and the championship are on his racket. And…he serves a very nervy double fault and looks up at his box like, “man, I fucked that up didn’t I?” I love that look he gives them – total sheepishness. I love the wry smile on his dad’s face just before he “keeps things positive” and starts to clap.

2. It’s 5-6. Rafa is serving with a set point against him. Mom and Dad do the positive thing and try to encourage him. Toni gulps and we gulp along with him. Rafa looks serious and determined…and faults. He serves again and 17 strokes later, Federer sends a ball wide to put them at 6-6.

3. Now it’s 7-7 and Federer is serving. On the full stretch, Rafa hits an amazing forehand down the line to get the mini-break. Papa Nadal almost can’t take it anymore.

4. Rafa’s serving at 8-8. Federer manages to take control of the point by running Rafa far wide and he earns himself another set point.

5. Federer wins the 4th set.

Those last two games:

By this point, I really thought my heart was going to explode. When Rafa got that break I just kept chanting, “please, don’t let him get too nervous again, please.” I admit to not being too encouraged when it looked like he was unable to drink without dribbling water all over himself. I kept wondering how the loved ones for both players were still alive and hadn’t keeled over. Hell, I kept wondering the same thing about the players.

I cannot imagine the feelings and thoughts flowing through Rafa’s mind and body as he fell to the grass upon winning. He had achieved a childhood dream and done it in just about the most dramatic fashion possible.

And there was much rejoicing:

It’s wonderful that Rafa wanted to share the win with his family, but I admit that I worried about him falling when he was climbing around on the roof! Federer’s father standing there applauding and then turning to get the Nadal family’s attention once he realized what Rafa was doing was so touching. He must have been feeling for his son something awful and yet, he stood there and applauded and helped the Nadals with their celebration. And then Rafa takes things one step farther and goes strolling across the roof to get to the royal box! I was laughing and thinking, “Only Rafa.”

Can you imagine going through a day like he had and then having to try and think in a foreign language and express impossible to express feelings to a world-wide crowd? I can’t. And do to so while also being freaking adorable? Impossible.

And lastly, I love how Rafa shakes off McEnroe trying to bring up the 4th set tiebreak choke. No way was he going there. He was enjoying his victory and refusing to look at the negative. And you know, that’s the bottom line and why watching this shouldn’t make you sad.

16 Responses

  1. johanne says:

    miri: This is a fantastic post, thank you so much! As a rabid Rafanatic, I will remember that ridiculously epic final forever. FOH-EVA! And I couldn’t agree with you more when you say “nothing can take away the fact that he is the 2008 Wimbledon champion.” Exactly. Not many people can say they’ve won this tournament. It’s an amazing achievement and, dare I say, a defining moment for Rafa and his career?? Vamos! :)

  2. jimmy says:

    Brilliant post Miri. Thanks very much.

    Personally I had thought the match was over after Nadal had blown away those MPs in the 4th set. Never imagined that he would still come back and take it. Absolutely Incredible.

    FWIW the part in the last video after 8:50 – when Nadal sees his name etched on the wall and steps outside in front of the crowd – that wasn’t shown on TV when I was watching last yr. I had seen it first on youtube. Great stuff.

    Finally Wimb champ! Nothing can take that away from Rafa. His victory was a moment of sweet relief for me. (something similar to what Fed fans might have experienced when Fed won the F.O)
    It would have been a pity if Rafa had finished without winning Wimbledon.

  3. faecoleman says:

    Yes it was the defining moment in Rafa’s career and the greatest of all his achievements, he finally done it. I could watch this final over and over, whats sad about it? the fact that he lost the lead in the 4th set tie-breaker and then held strong to win the match, for me that just makes it that more spectacular and shows how remarkable our Rafa truly is. Djokovic had text his coach after watching this match saying “I have alot to learn”. Unfortunatley will power, passion and heart to win like Rafa’s is not something you can teach, you either have it or you don’t, its a true gift of Rafa’s and what has made him the most respected player for this alone. No one ever expects Rafa to give up. Just watching Rogers body language alone when he plays Rafa will show you that! Talking of Wimbledon, I have watched it this year, Of course without Rafa’s presence its not as good but I have watched some decent Matches like the Cilic and Haas match and the Roddick and Hewitt, both good. I was sad for Rafa’s absence but I am trying to look to the future and have faith that he will come back strong and continue to light up the tennis world. Thanks Miri for another superb post….xxx

  4. An says:

    You are right Miri! Thanks for this post.

    I’m one of the people who had no joy in watching Wimbly this year because i’m still so hurt for Rafa, not having the chance to defend his title, not having the honour he earned so hard last year to open play on first monday and simply miss him soooo much! But re – watching this final i could do that always and it will always makes me happy and sooooo proud of being a Rafanatic.

    What i felt during that day.. if i had to describe my feelings during that whole match it woudl become a novell. Let me just say i was going true unblief ( with how it started ) belief ( in that he could realy win it ) losing belief again ( when Roger came back ) pacing true the house during the rain delays and from the 4th set tie break on changing between hope and dispaer with evry ball being hit, finaly jumping up and down in joy, sinking back on the coutch having shivers down the spine watching ceremony and the interviews to finally crying and after that being complely exhausted as if i had bin playing such a close final myself.
    And i still can’t watch it without having all those feelings back, al be it not so intense as then. But yes i’d watch it over and over and over and over and over and…..

  5. Wooffie says:

    Fantastic post Miri!! I’ll never forget that day and the rollercoaster of emotions that I went through. It was simply, unbelieveable.

    His current reign ends today, but he always will forever be … a Wimbledon champion.

  6. aRafaelite says:

    Nicely put Miri.

    I had a Wimbledon tea party with some friends today, to cheer myself up about Rafa not playing this year’s final. Unfortunately not of them really like tennis but they enjoyed the strawberries, scones & jam… and the chocolate-chip cookies of course!

    There hasn’t been the same magic as last year, though I did get quite excited when I thought Murray might win :( but I’ve still been watching. Last years “Triumph at Twilight” final on DVD is sitting beside the TV and I’m tossing up whether to watch Roddick v Federer tonight or boycott and watch last year’s final instead. I’m still undecided. But it helps to remember that Rafa has come back from the brink again and again and again. Watching that match nearly killed me… I don’t think I’ve ever felt so many conflicting emotions in such a short space of time. I only wish I’d been able to hear him say to Uncle Toni in that last rain delay “be colm, I’m going to win”!

    (Takes a deep breath, preparing herself for the disappointment of Federer’s return to Number 1). Be colm. Feel the zen of Rafa Nadal: “You need a loss to give the value to your victories”. HE WON THE GREATEST MATCH IN THE HISTORY OF TENNIS! Not even my chocolate-chip cookies are sweeter that that!!! Be colm. He’s going to come back and win.

  7. sia says:

    Well right now on NBC they are playing Mozart introducing the players for this years final (trying to make it seem more exciting), Johnny Mac looks like he has a hangover, his words are all about last years final … how can they touch it?
    I’ll watch.
    Last year I remember thinking I would go to the market after the match was over, but everything was closed by the time Nadal won, and I was exhausted emotionally and all I really needed was a drink. I have watched the 2008 final a few times, usually only in parts, everytime I tear up. Great match!
    ps Pete Sampras just showed up at Wimbly.

  8. Atch2 says:

    Great post Miri.

    I miss last yrs very much and wish I could relive it again even though it was so stressful to watch. I was so happy I almost has an out-of-body experience.

    My admiration for Rafa increased bec he showed he had a heart of a Champion, the spirit of a fighter. The Raging Bull is a fitting metaphor bec he is always fighting for every point until the end. People comment that Rafa’s style of play will be his downfall, but that’s one of the reasons why we luv him, that’s why he wins so often. He fights for every point. That’s why people list him as one of the most difficult players to beat. If he loses, he doesn’t let you have it easy.

    And Fed’s father showed such class with his reaction to Rafa and his family. And throughout the match I thought Gwen Stefani wasted her seat bec she looked so bored. I know she was pregnant but thousands, including me, would have killed to watch that match live.

    This yr I watched only the matches of the players I cheered for and only if the time wasn’t beyond midnight. But for Rafa I could stay until the mornings and look like a panda the following day. And there were some great matches, incl Dementieva vs S. Willams. That match was better that Fed vs Soderling/Karlovic/Haas.

    Wimby officials who organized the schedule of play sucked. Putting prettier players on centre court? Safina as the no.1 female only played centre court in the 2nd wk? The William sisters playing mostly on court 1 & 2? Fed playing always on centre court? Did Nole even play on Centre Court?

  9. dutchgirl says:

    Great post indeed Miri! I am watching the final right now, but taking a break now Roddick didn’t convert his 4 setpoints to win the 2nd set. I was thinking that it would have honored Rafa’s win of the 1st two sets last year.

    And though I’m missing some of the excitement this year, I have seen some nice tennis. Not only with the men, but also with the women. I mean, how great are the Williams’ sisters, playing two finals one one day and winning?

    And about that final of last year: even if Rafa would have stood there today, there was no way the match could have reached the same hights. So it gives us a clean memory as well, and that may be the positive side of Rafa’s withdrawal. Wouldn’t we all be having last year in our mind, had it gone the way we wanted it to go?

    Now I can go back to last year and rejoy it for the great match it was. I didn’t move from the tv screen for a minute (well, I may have gone to the toilet once or twice, but that’s it – I ate my dinner in front of the tv as well). I still can feel al these emotions of joy (after the 2 sets lead), enjoyment (of the wonderful tennis that was played by both), shock (with the loss of the 4th set), tension (as the 5th set got into it’s final stage) and total relief and happiness (when Roger put that ball into the net and Rafa fell on the ground). I was smiling all the way through the rest of it, seeing Rafa sharing his victory with family and royals, and lifting his trophy.
    The next day at work I felt sooo good, knowing that it was something unique I had seen that sunday.

    And yes, that will be in my memory forever. And I will always be grateful that I have witnessed this great moment in tennis history. The fact that my all time favourite took part in it and won, makes this even more special.
    So, ofcourse I hope there will be many more wonderful tennis moments with Rafa, but even if there won’t, this is something no one can take it away.

  10. June says:

    Thanks Miri, you’re absolutely right. It’s nice to see those videos again since our boy is such a class act! I am upset that RAFA didn’t get to defend his title & that Roddick played a heck of a game & was so close, but Fed won & is back to being #1 only for now (it’s a sad day because of this I guess, so I’m feeling kinda glum). I wasn’t sure it was okay to place this link to an article, that I found to be interesting, to say the least & hope it’s all right w/you to put it on here :-)

    http://www.cleveland.com/sports/plaindealer/bill_livingston/index.ssf?/base/sports/12467826904880.xml&coll=2

  11. rebel naughty says:

    What a totally awesome article. Thanks a lot. Watching last night’s final being a five-setter with Roddick losing two tie-breakers and going down fighting in the last set reminded me a lot of the 2008 finals. I was rooting for Roddick because I think he has taken a couple of pages out of Rafa’s book and really inspired all of us with his efforts and improved mental attitude.

    Slowing himself down a couple of miliseconds before the serve. More topspin. And his improved fitness level… Of course he also had quite a few of his own superb weapons. The mega serve and the fabulous net play.

    I think Rafa would have been proud of him and also I think Rafa is happy for Roger because at the end of the day, Rafa loves a good fight and last night was a good one. Rafa truly is the greatest competitor in tennis!

    Miri, have fun in Montreal!

  12. joy says:

    Before I jumped on my computer just now, I spent my day re-watching the entire fabulous final that was Wimbledon 2008, what a coincidence!
    This was the first time I had re-watched the final in its entirety, and it still caused all the same emotions to flow as it did last year. Sitting in the same spot that I watched the final last year (and, being in Australia, it took from eleven at night till six in the morning!), I still gasped at those two amazing passing shots that brought about (and killed off) Rafa’s first match point, I still sat on the edge of the sofa when they both held their sixth service games in the fifth, I still welled up as Rafa climbed to his family and friends, I still laughed when he made his way to thank the Prince and Princess of Spain.

    Miri, great post, keep up the fantastic work on this site. I totally respect (and agree with) your views on posting paparazzi pics and other gossip about Rafa’s private life.

    Thankyou!

  13. Ch F says:

    OMG tennis is such a wonderful thing…It was a glorious day indeed. No wonder Roger really wanted the title back yesterday. But he knows Rafa went there last year and took it away from him, whereas he didn’t do the same. It makes no difference for tennis history, he broke another record and that’s what counts, but deep inside him he knows Rafa has been the only one who had the courage to fight and take it away from him. He almost said it yesterday at the award ceremony, “Rafa is not here”.

  14. Ch F says:

    Forgot to say, I just love the way he lets Roger go first and shake hands with the umpire, so classy and elegant and respectful. I’m not sure what I miss more about this guy…His game, his courage, his manners? He’s such an asset to the sport.

  15. nereis says:

    I forgot to say it but this post is brilliant. Thank you Miri :)

  16. Atch2 says:

    It’s a shame Rafa couldn’t enjoy the celebrations last yr like Champions any other yrs. Bec his match finished so late in the evening and he had to do the pressers etc, he arrived very late to the Wimby Champions Ball. He and his family had to rush to prepare for that and it seems like someone lent Rafa the tuxedo bec it didn’t really fit him properly.