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Nadal outboxes Berdych for second Wimbledon crown

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Originally published on: 04/07/10 17:50

This time, Rafael Nadal got to enjoy his moment in the sun. The Spaniard is Wimbledon champion once more following a 6-3 7-5 6-4 victory over Tomas Berdych that completes an incredible second Paris-London double and endorses the belief that the pains of 2009 are well and truly behind him.

Wimbledon has been spoiled in recent years, treated to epic after epic in the men’s singles final, so anything short of drama verging on the operatic was destined to be met with a tinge of inevitability. Two of those five-set contests had featured Nadal, the second – his 2008 victory over Federer, still hailed as the greatest tennis match of all time in some quarters – was his last appearance at the All England Club before this year’s Championships after the well-documented problems with his creaking knees forced him to relinquish the title in 2009.

So the result represents a defence, of sorts; a description that sums up the reconfigured Nadal game. The Mallorcan made his name as the game’s greatest counterpuncher, a freewheeling teenage phenom for whom no ball was a lost cause and Roland Garros represented Nirvana. The acquisition of his eighth Grand Slam title, his third away from the Parisian red brick, is testament to how the Spaniard has weaponised his game over the past three years.

His forehand, whipped with incomparable spin as the racket lassos around his body, hits the court like a bouncing bomb, while the increasing variation in his backhand means his weaker wing can cope with virtually any ball. The serve has been slowly infused with venom and variety, and his tactical acumen has taken him into the court and onto the front foot – all coupled with the Nadal staple, his unparalleled court coverage.

The very best in the men’s game, those with single-figure status in the ATP rankings, struggle to contain Nadal. To expect Tomas Berdych – the Czech No.12 seed who many felt possesses a game sharing characteristics with those men that have cracked the Spaniard in recent times, tall, rangy, flat-hitting punchers like Robin Soderling and Juan Martin del Potro – to threaten a historic upset, it soon became clear, was to ask the stars to turn blue.

A win for Berdych would have made him the first man of the Open Era to beat the top three seeds on his way to a Grand Slam title, but after his heroics in ousting top seed Roger Federer and his controlled demolition of Novak Djokovic, who will be installed as the world No.2 when Monday’s rankings come out, he rarely looked like completing the hat-trick on a day he will remember for the two key chances he had to find a foothold that went begging.

After a cagey start from both players, who traded love service games like two boxers circling one another early in a title bout, the Spaniard was the first to slip into his groove, suddenly unleashing that roundhouse forehand on his opponent midway through the first set.

With the first serve that has been the foundation of his fine form both here and last month in Paris deserting him when he needed it most, Berdych staggered forward in a daze hoping to defend by attacking but simply saw one of the Spaniard’s vintage forehand passes flash past him down the line. That brought up three break points against the Czech’s serve in game seven, the second of which Nadal duly converted with a rasping cross-court backhand return.

A gear or two behind the world No.1, Berdych found himself back among the line judges for the rnext two games, too often left guessing where Nadal would go with his forehand. He tried to punch his way out of trouble when a glimpse of a chance arose, but the errors continued to stack up. With a deep second serve return from Nadal netted, Berdych surrendered the first set.

Nadal had not allowed the Czech to even countenance a break up until then, but almost single-handedly invited him to seize the initiative at the start of the second set. Three break points came and went as the Spaniard struggled with his serve in blustery conditions, but it sparked something in the No.12 seed. A hold to love, sealed with an ace, served notice that the man who had done for Federer and Djokovic had arrived.

By the standards of his laser-like focus Nadal was rocking, but Berdych failed to capitalise in time. Net cords and tight calls went against him too often as he continued to narrow his percentages in an effort to force Nadal on the run, but his rediscovered serve kept the Spaniard honest – until, serving to stay in the set for a second time, the Czech faltered. From 0-30 a flat forehand sailed long before a backhand drifted wide, and a set that seemed destined for a tiebreak had passed him by.

Nadal has only ever lost once when leading by two sets, against Federer in Miami five years ago, and the Spaniard began the third set with the confidence of a man who repeats the fact as a mantra. Berdych changed tack, shrewdly rushing the net thsi time rather than in sheer desperation to unsettle the Spaniard. It brought up a fourth break point, but once more Nadal pinned him to the back court and saw off the danger.

The Berdych serve was restored to his arsenal, and swift holds came easily in the early exchanges, but the Czech’s body language was that of a man who recognised after the biggest week of his life the chance to mount a title assault had come and gone. A tired forehand looped wide to close a fifteen-shot rally in game eight, after which all he could do was kick the dust of the well-worn baseline in disgust.

With the title a game away, Nadal played himself to 0-30 against the Berdych serve with a pinpoint running forehand pass. Berdych recovered to 40-30, but two errant inside-out forehands – the first a poor decision that left the court gaping, the second whipped beyond the baseline – handed Nadal championship point. One invitation sufficed, as a searing cross-court forehand pass as Berdych lurched forward once more prompted Nadal to fall to the court, hands to his face as he lay on his back.

The result will add greater weight to a debate that splits the tennis world, whether or not Nadal could one day surpass Roger Federer’s achievements and be entered into the debate about the greatest players of all time. As always, Nadal will not enter the debate. He is once again revelling in the moment of victory.

In Paris four weeks earlier, the emotion of the moment of victory had overwhelmed Nadal as he sat bawling before the trophy ceremony, but Centre Court was instead treated to a gambol and a grin.

It had not rained for the entire Championships. Nadal wasn’t about to ruin a perfect record.

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