Wimbledon, London June 23 – July 6, 2008; 128 Draw (32 seeded); Surface – Grass
In the Open era there wasn’t any major final that could be called the greatest tennis match in history since Bjorn Borg defeated John McEnroe 8-6 in the fifth set of their legendary Wimbledon 1980 final… until the 2008 final on the same court in which Rafael Nadal snapped Roger Federer’s 65-match winning streak on grass, and 40-match winning streak at Wimbledon. Nadal, who had lost to Federer two previous Wimbledon finals, in 2008 proved that his grass-court game improved tremendously over the years and shortly afterwards became the No. 1 in the world.
Bjorn Borg may have to re-think his suggestion that Roger Federer is only the third favourite for Wimbledon after the Swiss began his title defense with a crushing win over Slovakia’s Dominik Hrbaty. Facing one of the few players on the ATP Tour to hold a career advantage over him, Federer set the tone for a dominating performance with an early run of 11 successive points before surging to a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory. “As long as I pass the rounds I don’t really mind if it’s five or three sets,” said Federer. “I did feel a little pressure about two minutes before I went on court. I felt like, wow, okay, here we go. Let’s try to get off to a good start. I did, I don’t think think I dropped a point in the first few games. That was a great start.” Federer, who will equal the record set by William Renshaw in 1886 if he claims a sixth consecutive title this year, notched up his 60th grass-court win in a row with a virtuoso display which at times reduced the hapless Hrbaty’s role to that of a virtual spectator. At 2:5 in the final set, Hrbaty sat down in the chair next to Federer, presumably to ask some tips. Hrbaty played 12 consecutive years at Wimbledon, it was his last appearance in the main draw. Former champion Lleyton Hewitt drew on his vast experience to tame Dutchman Robin Haase on his Wimbledon debut, the Australian prevailing 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-2 in their first round encounter on Monday. Hewitt, winner in 2002, missed most of the clay-court season with a hip injury and showed signs that he still had not regained full fitness despite reaching the quarter-finals at the Queen’s club tournament earlier this month. Big-serving Haase, 21, who fired down 28 aces in all, belied his inexperience on grass to take the 1st set on the tie-break. Dropping the opener provided the motivation Hewitt, seeded 20, needed to roust himself, the Australian warming to his task by aiming a verbal volley at the umpire early in the 2nd set which he claimed with two breaks. After losing the 3rd set Haase needed medical treatment for blisters on both feet but showed no ill effects by easily claiming a second tie-break to send the match into a decider. Hewitt, 27, slammed his racket to the ground in frustration after spurning two break points in Hasse’s opening service game of the final set but needed to save two against his own in the next. The decisive break came in the 4th game when Hewitt, at full stretch, conjured a low thunderbolt down the line. If those who predict that Rafael Nadal is the man to end Federer’s five-year monopoly of the Challenge Cup required further evidence for their claims, the Spaniard provided it with a ruthlessly efficient serving display to seal a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(0) win over German qualifier Andreas Beck  on the same afternoon that fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko was unceremoniously dumped out in the opening round. It was a better afternoon for Germany elsewhere, as Benjamin Becker overcame Davydenko in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. While never a major force on grass – before reaching last year’s fourth round, he had lost in the first round on four of his five previous visits to the All England Club – Davydenko, the world No. 4, looked subdued even by his modest standards. The evocatively-named Becker, who had himself lost in the opening round of his last six majors, fired down 10 aces, although the more telling statistic was a haul of 86% points won on his first serve. Becker’s success completed a resoundingly successful day for the German contingent, with Nicolas Kiefer and Tommy Haas also winning through to the second round. Kiefer was a straight sets victor over Julien Benneteau of France, 6-1, 7-5, 6-3, while Haas recovered from the loss of the opening set to notch up a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over Argentina’s Guillermo Canas. Also advancing were No. 8 Richard Gasquet, who beat Mardy Fish 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; No. 9 James Blake, who rallied to defeat Belgian qualifier Christophe Rochus 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4; and No. 12 Andy Murray, who thrilled his British fans by downing 35-year-old Frenchman Fabrice Santoro 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(5) in the final match on Centre Court. The eighth-seeded Gasquet returned to Court 1, where he memorably defeated Roddick in a five-set quarterfinal last year. Gasquet broke the 39th-ranked Fish – a finalist in Indian Wells this year – early in each set and was only fleetingly troubled by the American in 1 hour, 51 minutes. Santoro, playing in his 64th Grand Slam tournament and 13th Wimbledon, saved two match points in an entertaining tie-break before Murray pounced on a drop volley to flick a backhand winner down the line. Murray, sidelined by a wrist injury last year, will face Belgian Xavier Malisse in the second round. “When he broke me back in the first set it was a little bit nervy for a couple of games,” Murray said of being pegged back early on by some magic touches from the Santoro racket. “It’s first round of Wimbledon. I mean, it’s fun to be out there, but I’m not wanting to just play fun points to keep everyone happy. I wanted to obviously just win the match as quickly as possible,” he said. Dmitry Tursunov showed up with a mustache and for the fourth time in the past five years survived a 5-setter at Wimbledon that required a two-game advantage in the final set, overcoming Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-7(8), 7-6(7), 3-6, 7-5 in a battle of serves (Mahut fired 31 aces, Tursunov 27). Also 7-5 in a 5th set won his match Tomas Berdych, his rival, Evgeny Korolev had been serving for the match at 5:4 (3-all) before lost three straight games. The Russian squandered a set point in the 2nd set tie-break, but saved one in the following tie-break. Frank Dancevic of Canada, knocked off former finalist David Nalbandian in Monday’s biggest upset at Wimbledon. Dancevic, 23, beat the seventh-seeded Nalbandian 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in the opening round of men’s singles at London’s All-England Club. With the win, Dancevic reached the second round of a Grand Slam event for just the third time in his pro career, and avenged last year’s second-round loss to Nalbandian. “When I lost to him here in 2007, he really outplayed me,” Dancevic said. “But I changed that this time. He looked a bit shaky from the beginning and I just tried to play strong. This is just a huge win for me.”
Second round: (guardian)
Defending champion Roger Federer breezed past Sweden’s Robin Soderling to reach the third round of Wimbledon on Wednesday. The Swiss, bidding for a sixth consecutive title at the grass-court major, recovered from a few tricky moments in the third set before completing a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(3) victory. Federer looked completely in control until he was broken for the first time to trail 5:2* in the 3rd set but Soderling wasted a set point at 5:3 and the world number one stormed back to take the match on a tie-break. Federer will play Marc Gicquel, who survived a dramatic contest against lucky loser Ilia Bozoljac, 4-6, 5-7, 7-6(1), 7-6(0), 6-3 saving two match points. Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez joined the growing list of seeded casualties on Wednesday when he was beaten in four sets by Italy’s Simone Bolelli. Fifteenth seed Gonzalez, a quarter-finalist at the French Open earlier this month, went down 7-6(8), 7-6(7), 3-6, 7-6(4) as Bolelli joined compatriot Andreas Seppi in the third round. Gonzalez was close to win all sets he lost: wasted two set points in the 1st tie-break (before TB he served at 5:3), was two points away from winning 2nd tie-break before succumbed trying to save fifth set point, led 3:1* (40/0) in the 4th set. It was third of their four encounters, and 9 out of 13 sets were concluded in tie-breaks! Whisper it gently, but Andy Murray is making his life uncharacteristically easy so far this year. He might be one of only three men to hold a winning record against Federer, but the Scot traditionally struggles more than he should against less accomplished players. Not today. So emphatic was Murray’s 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Belgium’s Xavier Malisse, a former semi-finalist, that his thoughts turned quickly to walking the dog. “I played well throughout,” said Murray. “In the past I’ve had a few long ones, not so much at Wimbedon but in the other slams, and it does take its toll, so it’s nice to get off court in straight sets. I’ve got a little dog now, a border terrier, so tonight I’ll take her for a walk.” Next up is Germany’s Tommy Haas, who beat Tommy Robredo 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. Rafael Nadal was given a thorough workout by Ernests Gulbis on the way to dispatching the Latvian 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(2), 6-3 to book his place in the third round of Wimbledon. “I’m very happy,” Nadal said. “I knew I was going to have a very tough match against a very aggressive player. I feel I improved during the match.” Tournament second seed Nadal predicted Gulbis  would prove a handful and the little-known 19-year-old lived up to expectations by producing a display full of courage and skill. Nadal’s service was being met with tenacious opposition as Gulbis – the youngest player currently in the top 50 – mixed some deft drops shots with precision stroke-play from the baseline. The Mallorcan was infuriated in the 11th when the umpire claimed the ball had bounced twice before it was returned, and he made his feelings known to the official. Gulbis maneuvered Nadal around expertly in the 12th and even the Spaniard’s athleticism could not prevent him conceding set point, which he hit long to lose the opener. The authority that marked Gulbis’ play in the first set had deserted him and Nadal clinched the second to take control of the match. The third set went to a tie-break, where Nadal’s class and greater experience told, with Gulbis firing long to nudge the Spaniard further ahead. Andy Roddick was beaten 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(4) by 40th-ranked Janko Tipsarevic, who has never gone past the fourth round at a major. “I pretty much choked it,” Roddick said. “You want something so bad, you squeeze too tight. I didn’t make anything happen tonight. Zero, zero, zero. I played horrific shots on break points. At big moments, I blinked.” The sixth-seeded Roddick went 0-8 on break points, while Tipsarevic converted both of his break chances. Roddick had three set points in the 4th set but couldn’t capitalize, and Tipsarevic finished him off in the tie-break, falling to his hands and knees in celebration on Centre Court. “Today I could see that he was tight, and this is one of the reasons why, especially in the important moments, I made him play,” Tipsarevic said. “I didn’t try to hit great shots like impossible, down-the-line shots. Professional tennis players feel the intensity and see when the other guy is choking. If you can read that, that’s a great benefit for you.” He pulled off the biggest win of his career just a day after No. 3-ranked countryman Novak Djokovic was knocked out on the same court by Marat Safin. “This means the world to me,” Tipsarevic said. “I’m just glad that I won and Serbia will have more representatives in the men’s singles draw.” Safin turned back the clock on Wimbledon’s Centre Court to demolish third seed Djokovic. The Russian former world No. 1 triumphed 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-2, producing a masterclass of brutal serves and heavyweight ground strokes that had the Serb reeling. In the end it was all too much. Djokovic conceded with a feeble double-fault into the net. “It [the victory] came at the right moment because I have a lack of confidence and lack of match fitness,” said Safin. “To beat Djokovic in the Centre Court at Wimbledon, especially which is not my perfect surface, it was a great match. I haven’t won a match like this in a long time. The way I’m playing now I think I can go far.” 24-year-old German qualifier, Simon Stadler  defeated Thomaz Bellucci 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-7(5), 8-6. Stadler squandered a *3:1 lead in the 4th set and 5:3 in the tie-break, then saved a match point at 5:6 in the decider, in the following game Bellucci wasted seven game points. Stadler won 1/3 of his main-level matches at Wimbledon ’08. James Blake‘s unhappy relationship with Wimbledon continued when he was eliminated 6-3, 6-7(8), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 by Germany’s Rainer Schuettler in the second round. Blake saved a set point in the 2nd set tie-break and led 3:1* in the 4th set, but typically for himself couldn’t handle the pressure in the 5th set losing 10th game after saving a few match points. After that loss, Blake dropped to 3-11 in five-setters.
Third round: (dailymail)
Roger Federer continued his march toward a sixth straight Wimbledon title by beating Marc Gicquel in straight sets Friday, setting up a fourth-round match-up with the last man to win the championship before him. After the first rain delay of the tournament, Federer overwhelmed the 53rd-ranked Frenchman 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 on Centre Court for his 62nd consecutive win on grass and 37th straight at the All England Club. His next opponent will be Lleyton Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002 – the year before the Swiss star began his run of five straight titles. Federer surprisingly dropped serve in the opening game. But he immediately broke back and was in control the rest of the way as he sailed to victory in 1 hour, 21 minutes. The rain delay before the match lasted longer – 1 hour, 41 minutes – the first rain of the tournament. “Again, difficult conditions, tricky opponent,” Federer said. “The wind was swirling. I got down a break in the first game and had to rally back. I played really well throughout the match considering the circumstances.” Federer hasn’t dropped a set so far in the tournament. “It’s always nice,” he said. “Couple of days off now. Hope I play as well next week. It’s important to try to keep the game where it is.” Hewitt, who has been troubled by a chronic hip injury and is seeded No. 20, served 14 aces and beat Italy’s Simone Bolelli 6-1, 6-3, 7-6(2). Unseeded Russian Marat Safin illuminated the evening gloom at Wimbledon with another stunning performance to beat Italy’s Andreas Seppi 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 and reach the last 16. Two days after stunning third seed Djokovic, the burly Muscovite produced some thunderous winners to edge past the 29th seed as darkness descended on Court One. Safin had too much firepower for the steady Seppi in the 1st set, yet seemed on the verge of imploding during the 2nd as the Italian capitalized on a string of unforced errors to break his serve three times. The 28-year-old, a self-confessed hater of grass despite possessing the shot-making skills to excel on it, recovered his composure to take the 3rd set tiebreaker after a set of high-velocity baseline rallies.Three consecutive service breaks at the start of 4th set added to the drama but it was Safin who edged ahead to arrive at 5:4 with his serve to come. With the time approaching 9.30 p.m. and both players miss-hitting wildly as they struggled to see the ball it was Safin who held his nerve despite a late fright. Seppi looked set to level at 5:5 and probably take the match into Saturday when he earned two break points but Safin fired down some ferocious serves to escape in the nick of time, sealing victory on his second match point. Safin said he had asked the umpire at 3:2 in the fourth set when they were going to stop playing and was surprised they were told to play on. “At the end of the match it was pretty tough because we both couldn’t see the ball,” Safin told reporters. The four-time French Open champion, Rafael Nadal chalked one up for Spain over Germany at 9:12 p.m. Saturday with his 7-6(3), 6-2, 6-3 win over Nicolas Kiefer. But that wasn’t the Spain vs. Germany victory that was foremost in his mind immediately after the match – that could come on Sunday when the Spaniards take on the Germans at the European Championship final in Vienna, Austria. The middle Sunday a rest day at Wimbledon, and the last thing Nadal wanted was his third-round contest with Kiefer  to be being carried over until Monday if it got too dark to keep playing. “I was a little bit nervous, because for me it was important to finish the match,” said Nadal, stifling a yawn. It was in the corresponding stage last year when his third-round match with Robin Soderling spanned four days because of rain. Nadal went on to lose in the final to Federer for the second straight year. So after a 1st set that lasted 67 minutes and went to a tiebreaker on Saturday, it was getting close to 8 p.m. and he instinctively lifted a gear. He raced through the 2nd set in 33 minutes, hitting winners off both wings, and was serving for the match at 5:1 at 9:03 p.m. in the 3rd set. Then he lost his focus for a bit. Kiefer broke him, for the first time in the match, and then held serve for 5:3. With the stairwell lights in the Royal Box, the occasional camera flash and the scoreboard glow the only artificial lights adding illumination in the shadowy court, Nadal made no mistake next time. He held at love to finish in 2 hours, 22 minutes, then he punched the air, took off both wrist bands and threw them into the crowd. “I had an unbelievable mistake with the volley, the forehand volley at 5:1, and later he has a very good serve,” he said. “Lucky for me, later I played a good game.” Andy Murray set up a meeting with Richard Gasquet after recording a four set victory over Tommy Haas. Murray lost a break advantage in the 2nd set, then saved two break points in the 3rd game of the 3rd set. The Scot was struggling for rhythm and fluency but Haas could not take advantage and Murray held it together well to take the set 6-3 when Haas pushed a forehand long to take control of the match at two sets to one. Murray did not look back and although he squandered two match points in the alst game, he finally took the match 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-2 when Haas dumped a forehand into the net. Elsewhere, Andy Roddick’s conqueror, Janko Tipsarevic, stormed into the fourth round with a straight sets win over the 25th seed, Dmitry Tursunov, 7-6(1), 7-6(3), 6-3. Tipsarevic will face Rainer Schuettler who rattled off a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. It was a successful day for France as Arnaud Clement beat Jurgen Melzer of Austria in four sets and Gasquet sealed a date with Murray by seeing off his compatriot Gilles Simon in four sets as well, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-3. Radek Stepanek had won a second round match despite losing two tie-breaks (Viktor Troicki 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2), in the third round he won two tie-breaks, but lost a match to Mikhail Youzhny 5-7, 7-6(5), 4-6 7-6(4), 3-6.
Fourth round: (ESPN)
Five-time champion Roger Federer swept Lleyton Hewitt – the last man to win the Wimbledon title before him – 7-6(7), 6-2, 6-4 on Monday to advance to the quarterfinals and extend his winning streak on grass to 63 matches and 38 in a row at the All England Club. Federer, who served 21 aces, has now beaten his Australian rival in 12 consecutive matches. Federer was in complete command against Hewitt after scraping through the first-set tie-break. At 7-all, Federer mishit a backhand and the ball was ruled wide, but a replay showed it hit the sideline and the point was replayed. Federer then hit a backhand winner for 8:7, and an ace gave him the set. Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champion whose career has been slowed by a chronic hip injury, went 0-8 on break points. “I saw Lleyton struggling with his hip a little bit,” Federer said. “That first-set tiebreaker really put me on the winning streak and after that I played consistently well.” The Swiss will next face the last player to beat him on grass and at Wimbledon – Croatian Mario Ancic, who won in the first round in 2002. Ancic came from two sets down Monday to beat Fernando Verdasco 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 13-11 overcoming a *1:4 deficit in the 4th set. The final set alone lasted 1 hour, 35 minutes (the entire match 3 hours 48 minutes), Ancic was serving six times to stay in the match, but he was never closer than three points to lose it. The Croat could finish the match off quicker, but failed to serve it out at 7:6.“I completely underestimated him back in 2002,” Federer said. “I was a little shellshocked and didn’t know what happened to me. What it taught me was not to underestimate any opponent.” No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, runner-up to Federer the last two years, overcame an injury scare in the second game of the match and beat  Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-3, 6-1. Nadal slipped on the worn turf behind the baseline on Court 1 while stretching to hit a forehand, with his right leg bending awkwardly. After losing the point, he took a medical timeout, and a trainer wrapped his leg below the knee. The Spaniard lost the next point and the game but showed no sign of trouble and dominated the rest of the way. “I felt a little bit of pain,” the four-time French Open champion said. “I was a little bit scared. I felt something crack a little behind [the knee]. But I think it’s fine.”Nadal eliminated Youzhny second year running in the Wimbledon fourth round. While Federer and Nadal had little trouble advancing, No. 8-seeded Richard Gasquet and No. 10-seeded Marcos Baghdatis were taken five sets and ultimately ousted. Baghdatis, a semifinalist in 2006 and quarter-finalist last year, squandered three match points in the 5th set and lost lost 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4), 8-6 to Feliciano Lopez. Lopez, down 0/40 at 4:5, came up with big serves on all three points to avoid defeat (he saved the third match point with an ace on second serve!).“He just went for it with guts, and he took the game,” Baghdatis said of the Spaniard. “Good for him.” No. 12-seeded and local favorite Andy Murray came from two sets down to beat Gasquet 5-7, 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-2, 6-4 in a Centre Court match that ended in near-darkness at 9:30 p.m. After hitting a service winner on his second match point to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, where he will face Nadal, Murray flexed his biceps to the capacity crowd of 15,000. “It was the best moment I’ve ever had on a tennis court,” said Murray, bidding to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. “It looked like I was down and out. The crowd got behind me when I really needed.”Murray was two sets behind and a break down at 5:4 in the 3rd set before his survival instincts kicked in. He delighted the home crowd on Centre Court by breaking straight back to level at 5-all before forcing a tie-break, which he took with ease. The 12th seed repeatedly punched the air and brought the crowd to its feet as he raced through the 4th set, where eighth seed Gasquet’s previously sizzling backhand winners fizzled out, to set up an exciting fifth. The 21-year-old Scot got an early break under his belt and Gasquet faded along with the light, allowing Murray to secure victory when the Frenchman put his return into the net after nearly four hours. “It was maybe a Davis Cup match,” Gasquet said. “Anywhere else two sets up and a break up I would have won, but here he had the crowd. So I’m waiting for him at Roland Garros.” – two years later at Roland Garros, Gasquet will lose to Murray again wasting a two-sets-to-love advantage. “With Nadal, you have to play more to the net, be more aggressive, more powerful, but [Murray] is a good player on grass, he has good feeling for the game, he’s really clever,” Gasquet said on Murray’s quarterfinal. “If he serves well, you never know, but in three sets, Nadal is the favorite.” Mercurial Russian Marat Safin, his temper in check and his talent to the fore, fought his way into the Wimbledon quarterfinals with 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 win over Swiss 13th seed Stanislas Wawrinka. The two-time Grand Slam winner, who had already knocked out Serb No. 3 seed Djokovic, won the first nine points of the first set before Wawrinka stopped the rot with an ace and fought back to level the match at 4:4. But then he lost his serve and Safin, who has so often let his volatile temperament get the better of him, held his for a 1-0 lead. Safin, who was recording his best Wimbledon result since reaching the quarterfinals in 2001, twice broke Wawrinka in the 2nd set, which he won comfortably. Safin, never a great fan of grass, let slip his advantage in the 3rd set with a lapse of concentration. But the lanky former world No. 1 then firmly re-established control, swiftly dismissing Wawrinka in the 4th set. Two veterans that seemed finished as a serious contenders during Grand Slam events, unexpectedly beat much more younger players of the former Yugoslavia: 32-year-old Rainer Schuettler  ousted Janko Tipsarevic 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) while one year younger than Schuettler, Arnaud Clement  stunned Marin Cilic 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.
World number two Rafael Nadal crushed Andy Murray‘s Wimbledon hopes with a sensational display on Centre Court. The second seed triumphed 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in just 1 hour and 55 minutes to reach the semi-finals. A stirring comeback against Gasquet had raised British hopes that Murray  might be able to cause an upset. But the 21-year-old appeared weary, while Nadal was superb. The Spaniard did not face a single break point and lost just 10 points on serve. And a packed Centre Court crowd, who had come in the hope of seeing Murray repeat the heroics of Monday’s win over Gasquet, were left to applaud the brilliance of Nadal. “I played my best match here for sure,” said Nadal. Roger Federer continued his march towards an expected sixth consecutive mens singles final with a straight sets victory over Mario Ancic on Centre Court. Federer, up against the last man to beat him at Wimbledon, blew away his opponent 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 in a rain-interrupted quarter-final as he maintained his perfect record at this year’s championship. Rain delayed the start by three-quarters of an hour, and it was Ancic who appeared to have left his form in the dressing room, broken during his first and third service games and eventually succumbing after an opening set lasting just twenty minutes. However, another stoppage for rain appeared to disadvantage Federer and it took until the penultimate game of the second set before he achieved the break he required. With the Swiss’s power from the back of the court constantly unsettling Ancic’s attempts to come to the net, a fightback looked unlikely, and Federer duly wrapped up victory with a single break in the third. The world No. 1 is still to drop a set, and in winning 88 per cent of points on his first serve – up from 85 in the previous round, and 78 at the start of the tournament – Federer’s form continues to improve formidably. “I’m playing great, serving excellently. I’ve got a high first serve percentage, many aces again,” said Federer afterwards. “It was a tough day with the rain delays. They definitely broke my momentum a little bit because I started really well, but I got back into the match and played well all the way through.” 24-year-old Ancic, never played at Wimbledon again, he was forced to retire prematurely due to injuries two years later. The Croat had reached Wimbledon semifinal at Wimbledon ’04, played three more major quarterfinals, every time losing in straight sets to Federer. A meeting with Federer is the dubious reward for Marat Safin after the Russian, who has now dispatched four seeded opponents, overcame Feliciano Lopez in four sets. Safin, currently ranked 75th in the world, fought back from one set down to progress 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(1), 6-3 at the expense of the Spanish 31st seed. The clash on Court One also fell victim to the weather, Lopez leading 5:2 in the 1st when rain set in and with Safin already having incurred a code violation for ball abuse. Safin battled back though to take the 2nd set, during which he broke Lopez twice, and then stormed a 3rd-set tie breaker to establish the advantage. With both players dropping their service games in the final set, it was Safin’s better conversion of break points – five from eight, as opposed to Lopez’s three from the same number – that saw him to victory, securing a first Wimbledon semi-final for the 28-year-old. “I was too nervous to play well at the beginning but I got the confidence and started to play better. I had to calm down because the way I started I was too nervous to make anything,” said Safin. “I’m back in the top 50 now, which is great and no matter what I do against Roger [Federer] I think it was a great two weeks. I’m really pleased with the way I’m playing and I hope to continue this way.” On Monday night, it was Murray battling his way past Gasquet in a four-hour epic; today, it was the turn of Arnaud Clement and Rainer Schuettler, two men who are frankly old enough to know better. The battle of the unseeded veterans was won, after two days and a couple of rain delays, by the 32-year-old Schuettler, who came through a marathon encounter to see off Clement, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-7(7), 8-6. At 5 hours and 12 minutes, the clash equalled the record for the second longest match ever played at the Championships, a distinction which, from 1969 to 1989, had belonged exclusively to Pancho Gonzales and Charlie Pasarell. Schuettler’s dubious reward for fighting back from match point down at 5:4 in the 5th set is a first Wimbledon semi-final against Nadal, one of the fittest players on the men’s tour. “It’s a dream,” said Schuettler, whose previous best showing at a major came in 2003, when he reached the Australian Open final. “It was a tough match. He had match point, I served for the match, and I cannot really feel it right now. But I made it 8-6 in the fifth.” And what of tomorrow’s clash with Nadal? “Obviously it’s a tough one,” said Schuettler. “He plays unbelievably, it doesn’t really matter what surface it’s on. I’ll just go on court, have fun and enjoy the crowd. Hopefully it’ll be five sets again.” The German must be a glutton for punishment, for it seemed that nothing would stop his epic slug-fest with Clement, the world No 145. Bad light called a halt to the proceedings at 8.53 p.m. last night, and the players resumed battle today with the scores level at one set all and no sign of either relenting. Clement led 4:1* in the 3rd set, then he made an astonishing comeback in the tie-break from 0:6 t0 6-all, only to commit a double fault. In the 4th set Schuettler squandered a double mini-match point leading 4:1 (40/15), in the 5th set he trailed 0:2*, 2:3, 3:4 & 4:5. The Frenchman held a match point on Schuettler’s serve in the 10th game, but could only watch helplessly as the German saved it with a brave forehand winner. Having held, Schuettler broke to go 6:5 up – only for Clement to deny him victory with some courageous hitting that included two brilliant backhand winners. Unperturbed, the 94th-ranked Schuettler broke again at 6:6 – holding his nerve after a second rain delay had forced the players off at deuce – before serving out to maintain a rich tradition of unseeded players making the last four.
Rafael Nadal faltered only briefly as he lost serve in the middle set before flattening Rainer Schuettler6-1, 7-6(3), 6-4. “I’m very happy to be in the final for another time,” said Nadal. “Wimbledon is a good event for me. If I’m to have a chance I have to play my best tennis.” Nadal blasted through the 1st set in just 23 minutes, committing a single unforced error. But the four-time French Open winner temporarily lost some focus, due perhaps to his lack of confidence in his footing. Schuettler, 32, found himself leading 5:3 in the 2nd set before the second seed closed the gap and re-stabilized his game. “The court was slippery and I didn’t feel very comfortable with the movement. I’ll change shoes for the final,” said Nadal, who fell at one point and bloodied his left knee. “Maybe today was not my best match at this Wimbledon,” said Nadal. “But I won in three sets and it’s very important.” Schuettler, a former world number five, was as surprised as everyone else when he made it to the Wimbledon semi-final, briefly reviving dreams of Germany’s past tennis glory. It has been over 17 years since a German faced the final hurdle in the men’s singles tournament at the All England Club and that was the double-header between Michael Stich and Boris Becker. Schuettler, the oldest player in the tournament, already added his name to the record books this week by playing in the second longest match in Wimbledon history. His grueling five-set, quarter-final encounter against Frenchman Arnaud Clement took 5 hours and 12 minutes to complete. It began on Wednesday evening and eventually ended with Schuettler’s victory on Thursday. Nadal now meets Roger Federer in their third straight final. Federer crushed resurgent Russian Marat Safin with a flawless, gold-standard display 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-4. Safin’s first chance came in game four of the 2nd set when he finally engineered two break points but the Russian could not find an effective return when it mattered, and Federer swatted away a couple of mid-court forehands to get out of trouble. Federer won his 65th straight match on grass after last losing on the surface in 2002. He has been victorious in his last 40 contests at Wimbledon, lifting five titles. He will be appearing in his sixth straight final at the All England club. “It was a perfect match for me,” said Federer, who stands just two Grand Slam titles away from leveling the all-time best of 14 set by Pete Sampras.
Rafael Nadal, grass stains on his white shirt and a Spanish flag tucked under his arm, scampered through the Centre Court stands to celebrate his first Wimbledon title with hugs and handshakes. Roger Federer sat in his changeover chair, protected from the night’s chill by his custom-made cream cardigan with the gold “RF” on the chest. Alone with his thoughts, alone with the knowledge that he had come so close to becoming the first man since the 1880s to win a sixth consecutive championship at the All England Club. Two points from victory, the No. 1-ranked Federer couldn’t pull it out, instead succumbing to No. 2 Nadal 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7 Sunday night in a 4-hour, 48-minute test of wills that was the longest men’s final in Wimbledon history – and quite possibly the greatest. Even Nadal felt sympathy for Federer. “I am very happy for me,” Nadal said, “but sorry for him, because he deserved this title, too.” Through rain, wind and descending darkness, the two greatest players of their generation swapped spectacular shots, until, against a slate sky, Nadal earned the right to fling his racket aside and collapse on his back, champion of the All England Club at last. “Is impossible to explain what I felt in that moment, no?” Nadal said after accepting the golden trophy that has belonged to Federer since 2003. The first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win Wimbledon and the French Open in the same year, Nadal stopped Federer’s streaks of 40 victories in a row at the All England Club, and a record 65 in a row on grass, thereby stamping his supremacy in their rivalry, no matter what the rankings say. “Probably my hardest loss, by far,” Federer said. “I mean, it’s not much harder than this right now.” No man since 1927 (Henri Cochet d. Jean Borotra) had come back to win a Wimbledon final after losing the first two sets, and none had overcome a match point to seize victory since 1948 (Bob Falkenburg d. John Bromwich). If anyone could, it figured to be Federer, especially on this particular lawn. He hadn’t lost a match on grass since 2002, and he hadn’t lost a set during this tournament before Sunday. He also hadn’t faced anyone nearly as talented and indefatigable as Nadal. “Look, Rafa’s a deserving champion,” Federer said. “He just played fantastically.” Indeed he did, earning Spain its first Wimbledon men’s title since Manolo Santana won in 1966. Nadal managed to regroup after blowing a two-set lead, managed to recover after wasting two match points in the 4th-set tiebreaker, managed to hold steady when Federer needed only two points to end the match while ahead 5:4* (30-all) in the 5th. He earned his fifth Grand Slam title (29 titles altogether at the time), but first away from the French Open, by showing fortitude on his serve, saving 12 of 13 break points. He did it by breaking serve four times – twice as many times as Federer lost serve in his previous six matches combined. And Nadal did it by being better from the baseline, winning 24 of 38 points that lasted 10 or more strokes, according to an unofficial AP tally. “He was rock-solid, the way we know him,” said Federer, who hit 25 aces. “He’s definitely improved his game.” Borg and Santana watched from the front row of the Royal Box at Centre Court, which next year will have a retractable roof. Perhaps Mother Nature wanted one last chance to leave her mark, delaying Sunday’s start by 35 minutes with rain. Showers again caused a delay of 1 hour, 21 minutes late in the 3rd set, then another of 30 minutes at 2:2, deuce, in the 5th set. When action resumed at 8:23 p.m., it already was tough to see, and the players traded service holds until 7:7. That’s where Nadal finally broke through, as Federer’s forehand really began to break down. A forehand into the net gave Nadal his fourth break point, and a forehand long conceded the game – the first break of serve by either man since the second set. Nadal still had to serve out the match, though, and he still had to avoid the sort of nerves Federer noticed when his opponent led 5:2 in the fourth-set tiebreaker. “I played terrible there,” said Nadal, who double-faulted to 5:3. Down 6:5 in that tiebreaker, Federer erased a match point with a 127 mph service winner. Down 8:7 – again, one point from losing – Federer hit a backhand passing winner. A forehand winner put Federer ahead 9:8, and when Nadal missed a backhand return, the match was even. Federer jumped and screamed, and the crowd of about 15,000 joined him. Nadal, who trailed 1:4 in the 2nd set was relatively close to win the final in straight sets, but he wasted a triple break point at 3-all in the 3rd set.“Rafa keeps you thinking, and that’s what the best players do to each other in the end,” Federer said. “That’s what we both do to each other.” It was their sixth Grand Slam final, already more than between any other pair of men in the 40-year Open era, and there could be several to follow. Federer is only 26, after all, and Nadal is 22. Federer has led the rankings for a record 231 consecutive weeks, and Nadal has been second for a record 154. Nadal defeated Federer at the French Open en route to each of his championships there, in the 2005 semifinals and the past three finals, including a 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 rout last month that was Federer’s most lopsided loss in 180 career Grand Slam matches. But the Swiss star kept reminding everyone this week that he has had the upper hand on surfaces other than clay. Not this time. Nadal lost to Federer in the 2006 Wimbledon final in four sets, and the 2007 final in five. Although the latter was certainly suspenseful, it featured neither the drama nor the all-around excellence of Sunday’s encounter, which ended at 9:15 p.m., when Federer pushed a forehand into the net on Nadal’s fourth match point. Federer made clear afterward he was not pleased that play continued despite the low visibility at the end. “It’s rough on me now, obviously, you know, to lose the biggest tournament in the world over maybe a bit of light,” he said. Said Nadal: “In the last game, I didn’t see nothing.” Both players figured that if Federer had broken back to 8:8 in the fifth, play would have been suspended until Monday because of darkness. “It would have been brutal,” Federer said. It didn’t happen. Nadal came through. Afterward, the new champion was asked if it was the greatest match he’d ever played. Plenty of others around the grounds, including John McEnroe – whose five-set loss to Borg in 1980 gets many votes – already were calling it the greatest match they’d ever seen. “I don’t know if it’s the best,” Nadal said. Then he thought about it for a moment. “Probably,” he continued. “Probably the best, yes.” Nadal’s 100th main-level tournament. Stats of the final