New king of the court

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End of an era as Nadal dethrones Federer in Wimbledon men's singles marathon match

In the near-darkness of Centre Court, nearly seven hours after he first stepped onto its hallowed lawns to attempt to make tennis history, Rafael Nadal of Spain won his first Wimbledon title.

This morning, the men's game is forever changed.

And a dethroned, dejected, shaken Roger Federer, the Swiss king of grass since forever, has some major soul-searching to do.

Spain's Rafael Nadal holds his trophy aloft after he defeated Switzerland's Roger Federer in the men's singles final on the Centre Court at Wimbledon Sunday. It is Nadal's first win at Wimbledon and his fifth Grand Slam. - Photo by the Associated Press

London - In the near-darkness of Centre Court, nearly seven hours after he first stepped onto its hallowed lawns to attempt to make tennis history, Rafael Nadal of Spain won his first Wimbledon title.

This morning, the men's game is forever changed.

And a dethroned, dejected, shaken Roger Federer, the Swiss king of grass since forever, has some major soul-searching to do.

Nadal outlasted a proud, stubborn, and ultimately desperate five-time champion 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7.

Darkness fell, and the new champion fell to the court, completely overcome. At four hours and 48 minutes, it was the longest-ever Wimbledon men's singles final.

"It is unbelievable for me to have a title here in Wimbledon. It is a dream," said Nadal, who not only hopped up unaided into the friends' box, tears in his eyes, to celebrate with his family but also set a new Wimbledon post-match celebration standard by crossing atop the scoreboard with a Spanish flag, then leaning into the Royal Box to accept congratulations from Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Asturias.

The epic match will go down as one of the best Grand Slam finals in history because of the two combatants, because of the rain delays, because of the darkness, because the tennis was so gripping, and because of all that was at stake.

The fact that it was such an classic was "zero" consolation to the runner-up, who had not lost on grass in 65 matches, and had not lost at Wimbledon since 2002.

Federer remained the No. 1-ranked player in the world when he awoke this morning. But what an empty accolade he must now believe that to be.

He could explain away, even rationalize, the straight-sets drubbing Nadal laid on him at in the Roland Garros final a month ago.

Federer convinced himself that he did well even to reach that final. He said it so often, he might even have half-convinced himself it meant little as far as this Wimbledon was concerned.

That was on red clay, after all, Nadal's surface of choice.

It couldn't happen on the lawns at the All-England Club, could it? Especially after Federer had not dropped a set, and had his service broken only twice, in his six previous matches against some capable opponents.

It happened. On the Centre Court he had every right to call his own, as other great Wimbledon champions have. "No comparison. Paris was nothing. This was a disaster," Federer said later, in French. "It really hurts."

Converting just one of 13 break points hurt more. Federer could not break Nadal's serve in the last three sets.

Had Federer not clung so defiantly to the one title he thought the rapidly improving Nadal could not wrest away, he might very well have gone down in straight sets Sunday. Or, at most, in four sets.

He was broken early in the first set, and lost it. He was up 4-1 in the second, and lost it - a too-familiar storyline in his matches against Nadal this season.

He had six break points in the third set, which was interrupted by rain for an hour and 21 minutes with Federer up 4-3, and failed to convert a single one.

There were great shots by Nadal, but there also were second serves Federer failed to even put in play.

Federer returned from the first rain break playing better tennis. He always has trouble in the wind, and the gusts that plagued the first 2 1/2 sets had calmed. He served better, and was able to be more aggressive. He hit his forehand ferociously, particularly inside-out, or down the line, to Nadal's forehand.

He took the third set.

There were no break chances in the fourth set. And Federer could see his opponent was feeling the moment - especially in the tiebreaker, when Nadal led 5-2 and had two serves to come.

"He should never have lost that breaker in the end. But he was really nervous," Federer said. "I really thought that he was feeling it really a lot, maybe the first time in his life. So I was hoping, with the momentum going into the fifth set, that it was going to be enough, (that) from my end that I would play a little better."

Nadal had two match points in that tiebreaker. At 6-7, Federer came up with a huge serve. At 8-7, on his own serve, Nadal watched a backhand passing shot from Federer hurtle down the line. Federer hadn't made one all day. He made it then.

The fifth set was a struggle, again interrupted by rain for 30 minutes at 2-2 on Federer's serve. It was nearly 8:30 p.m. by the time they got going again. The light was fading quickly.

Federer had one real shot, at 3-4 on Nadal's serve - his only break point of the fifth set. But Nadal saved it with an inside-out forehand right in the corner, then an easy overhead.

Federer's own serve was a struggle after that. Nadal had two break points at 5-5, love-30 at 6-6, and four more break points at 7-7 - the fourth of which he converted when Federer hit a forehand just long.

At 9:10 p.m., with little light left, Nadal served for the title.

"When I was ready for serve, I said, 'No, I can't believe. I can't see nothing, no?' " Nadal said.

"It was unbelievable. I thought we have to stop. Well, if I lost the last game (to go 8-8) we have to stop, that's for sure."

Organizations: Centre Court, Royal Box, All-England Club

Geographic location: Wimbledon, London, Spain Prince Felipe Paris

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  • Ron
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    The match was epic but I take exception to the reporter''s statement that Federer, has some major soul-searching to do . Quite the opposite. He was meeting a fantastic opponent coming into Wimbledon in exceptional form and came from 2 sets down to even it at five sets and almost won the event which would have been the first time in decades a player at Wimbledon has done recovered from 2 sets down in the final.

  • Ron
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    The match was epic but I take exception to the reporter''s statement that Federer, has some major soul-searching to do . Quite the opposite. He was meeting a fantastic opponent coming into Wimbledon in exceptional form and came from 2 sets down to even it at five sets and almost won the event which would have been the first time in decades a player at Wimbledon has done recovered from 2 sets down in the final.