With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal seeded to meet in the 2018 Wimbledon men’s final, the prospect of two of the sports all-time greats replaying one of its greatest matches looms large.
It has been 10 years since the legendary 2008 men’s singles final and remarkably, the two men have re-emerged as the dominant forces in the game and could be on course to meet again on the second Sunday at the All England Club.
We will take a look back at that famous game and how they have dominated, faltered and climbed back to the very top of the men’s game, while others around them have wilted.
Federer had won his fifth Wimbledon title in a row the year before, equalling Bjorn Borg’s record, but it hadn’t been easy. Nadal had taken a set off the Swiss in the 2006 final, but then pushed him to five in 2007. It was the first time Federer had been taken all the way in six years at Wimbledon, and the last man to do so was Pete Sampras in 2001.
Federer had also won the last two Australian Opens and the last four US Opens, but had been thwarted three times in a row at Roland Garros by Nadal, and there was a sense that the Spaniard was starting to get into Federer’s head. The 2008 French Open final had seen Federer, still chasing a first title in Paris to complete a Career Grand Slam, mauled 6-1 6-3 6-0.
Nadal had an 11-6 winning record against Federer and the King of Clay had worked out how to adapt his game from red to green. Both men cruised through the previous rounds to set up the inevitable final. Federer hadn’t dropped a set and Nadal had lost just one in the second round.
The 122nd edition of the Wimbledon Championships would be the final time that Centre Court would be held to the mercy of the weather, and Mother Nature decided to have one last big splash to go out in style. Looking back at the 2008 final almost makes you miss the havoc that rain used to wreak at Wimbledon.
Initially scheduled to start at 2p.m., the match finally got under way 35 minutes late. It didn’t take long for Nadal to make his mark as he broke in the third game and saw out the first set 6-4. For the first time in three attempts at Wimbledon, the Spaniard had claimed the opener in the final.
Federer had chances to break back in the final game of the first set that he couldn’t take, but wouldn’t make that mistake again, racing into a 3-0 lead. Nadal battled hard and found the break back in the seventh and from there Federer wobbled. From a 4-2 lead, he then handed Nadal the second set 6-4.
Nadal turned the heat up again, but Federer would not go down. The first nine games went with serve but, shortly before 5p.m., with Federer leading 5-4, the heavens opened and the rain came.
Nadal, showing no signs of strain, came straight back out as they continued to take chunks out of each other. The fourth set would go with serve to reach another tie break, which was arguably the greatest played since the 18-16 epic between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe 28 years earlier.
Nadal raced into a 5-2 lead and had two serves to win it. He double faulted the first before sending a backhand into the net under extreme pressure from Federer. Federer then won the net two points to make it 6-5, but a ball into the tramlines on set point made it 6-6. A long forehand then handed Nadal a first Championship point, but Federer saved it.
Nadal brought up a second match point on his own serve but an incredible Federer backhand pass down the line saved it. Federer then set up another set point with a forehand before a long Nadal return handed the Swiss the tiebreak 10-8.
The first four games of the fifth set went with serve but then, just before 8p.m., the rain came down again. With darkness approaching, the players returned around half an hour later to try and get the game done. It continued to go back and forth with serve until it reached 7-7 in the fifth, where Nadal broke for an 8-7 lead and had the chance to serve for the title.
Another Championship point went astray at 40-30, as Federer fought back but finally, at 9.16p.m., Federer fired a forehand into the net and Nadal, having won 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-7 9-7, collapsed to the turf in triumph.
At four hours and 48 minutes the match was, at the time, the longest singles final at Wimbledon in history and the second longest of any Grand Slam. It also meant that Nadal became the first man since Borg to win the French-Wimbledon double in the same year. A couple of months later, Nadal took the world No 1 ranking from Federer, ending a record of 237 consecutive weeks at the top.
Nadal had broken through in a Grand Slam away from Paris and it looked like a new reign of dominance would begin. The pair met in the 2009 Australian Open final, which Nadal took in another five-set epic but injuries began to take their toll and Federer claimed four of the six majors that followed the famous final.
Crucially for Federer, Nadal’s shock defeat to Robin Soderling at the French Open in 2009 allowed the Swiss to win in Paris for the first time. Nadal was then forced to withdraw from Wimbledon a few weeks later handed Federer a smooth path through to regain his crown.
At the 2011 French Open final, Nadal won in four, and as the years rolled by it looked as though it would be their last final meeting. Novak Djokovic emerged as the dominant force in the game, winning 11 majors between 2011 and 2016, while Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka made themselves Grand Slam champions.
When Federer and Nadal met in the final of the 2017 Australian Open, for the first time since the French Open in 2011, it seemed like more of a nostalgic throwback for fans than anything, but it turns out it was a sign of things to come.
With the decline of Djokovic and Murray’s injury problems, the two have re-emerged as the men to beat and to the delight of their fans have split the all six majors since Wawrinka’s US Open win in 2016.
For Federer, the victory in Melbourne was the first time he beat Nadal in a major final since Wimbledon in 2007 and the first time he’d beaten him in a major final away from the grass at all.
For the first time, the Swiss appears to have the upper hand in their battles, winning their last five meetings.
It is worth noting that Federer skips the clay court season now where Nadal would surely be on top and it is the Spaniard who still leads the head-to-head (23-15).
Nadal’s adventures at Wimbledon now resemble a struggle. He won his second title there in 2010 and made the final in 2011, but since then he has not gone beyond the fourth round and it remains to be seen whether he can again cope with the full fortnight on grass.
At 36, Federer is the hot favourite this year as he targets a ninth Wimbledon crown. It’s the first time since 2010 where the pair are the top two seeds at Wimbledon, meaning they could only meet in the final for what would be a fourth Centre Court showpiece.
There’s a decade more in each of the legs and there won’t be any rain breaks to add to the drama with the arrival of a roof. But if Federer and Nadal could defy the passing of time and meet again in the final, there’s no doubt that they would serve up another thriller to bring the world to a halt.
• Culled from BBC Sports