Few tennis matches have seemed as fated to be classics as the one that was played on Wimbledon’s Centre Court on July 6, 2008. The skies over southwest London were ominous that afternoon, but anticipation had rarely run higher. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were about to face off in another final at the All England Club.
TENNIS Magazine presents: an oral history—and 10th anniversary celebration—of the greatest match ever.
TRAILER: Strokes of Genius, sponsored by Humana
Part 1: Introduction
The Swiss and the Spaniard had been ranked No. 1 and No. 2 for three years, and had established their rivalry as one of the most riveting in any sport. Each summer, their clashes took on titanic proportions as they crossed the English Channel and attempted to invade each other’s empires.
In 2006 and 2007, Nadal and Federer met in the finals at the French Open and Wimbledon. Nadal, the king of clay, won twice at Roland Garros; Federer, the king of grass, won both times on Centre Court. In Paris in 2008, Nadal surrendered just four games to Federer in the French Open final. Could Federer, the five-time defending champion at Wimbledon, answer Nadal’s challenge at the All England Club one more time?
The first point of the match gave the world an indication of what was to come, and who would eventually prevail. Standing toe-to-toe at their respective baselines, Federer and Nadal engaged in an exquisitely ferocious 14-shot rally, before Nadal finally hooked a forehand a few inches out of Federer’s reach. The match was barely a minute old, and the crowd was already letting out gasps.
They would continue, with few let-ups, until the last ball was struck nearly seven hours later.
At 9:16 p.m., as a victorious Nadal fell to the grass and flashbulbs popped around a darkened Centre Court—the atmosphere was literally electric—the match was already being hailed as the greatest of all time. Even its 6–4, 6–4, 6–7 (5), 6–7 (8), 9-7 score had a symmetrical, escalating beauty.
A decade later, no contest has come along to knock this one from its Olympian perch. To commemorate its 10th anniversary, we look back with five people who were involved in the match—a radio broadcaster, a TV commentator, a fan, a journalist, and a former coach. Judging by their recollections, it wasn’t just the players who had a special experience that afternoon in London. The 2008 Wimbledon men’s final, like so many other sporting events that ascend to legendary status, belongs to all tennis fans.
A LANDMARK DOCUMENTARY DURING THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS EVENT IN SPORTS, CELEBRATING THE UNPARALLELED FEDERER-RIVALRY AND 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE GREATEST MATCH EVER PLAYED.
In association with All England Lawn & Tennis Club, Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment and Amblin Television. Directed by Andrew Douglas.