While Roger Federer is at the start of a two-week vacation he wasn’t eager to begin, Rafael Nadal will be hard at work on Sunday, facing a new sort of challenge in the Wimbledon final.
For the first time since 2002, the last round at the All England Club won’t include six-time champion Federer. Instead, Nadal will take on the player who eliminated Federer in the quarterfinals, first-time Grand Slam finalist Tomas Berdych.
They’ll be hard-pressed to equal the drama of the past three Wimbledon finals. Federer beat Nadal in 2007, Nadal beat Federer in 2008, and Federer beat Andy Roddick last year. All three matches were decided in the fifth set, including last year’s 16-14 thriller. But Nadal’s Wimbledon comeback and Berdych’s Grand Slam breakthrough also offer compelling story lines.
Nadal missed last year’s tournament with tendinitis in both knees, then endured a prolonged slump. The Rafa of old resurfaced this spring, and he capped an undefeated clay-court season with his fifth French Open title.
Since mid-April, Nadal has gone 30-1 and regained the No. 1 ranking. He is one victory away from his eighth major title. “I didn’t win a tournament for 11 months. I’m dying to win,” Nadal said.
Berdych’s major final debut comes in his 28th try, the second-most major tournaments anyone has played before reaching a title match. Perhaps he’s a late bloomer like Lendl, who won the first of his eight major titles at age 24.