Right now I’m skimming Jon Wertheim’s book Strokes of Genius, which recounts the 2008 Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
The match, by all accounts, was the finest championship match ever played. Nadal prevailed in five sets. Once again, the Spaniard thwarted the major aspirations of the game’s finest champion.
On page 68, Wertheim notes Federer’s difficulty playing Nadal:
Against everyone else, Federer can play his game-the game he wants to play- and still win. Against Nadal, he simply can’t play his style. He has to make adjustments and think differently and face discomfort, all the while knowing the opponent on the other side of the net has never shown an instinct to submit.
Six months later in Melbourne, Federer lost another five setter to Nadal in the Australian Open final. Frustration turned to despair, as Federer broke down during the awards ceremony.
He went on to win the French and Wimbledon in 2009 and grabbed the Australian in January 2010, but hasn’t won a major since. Now he’s 30- ancient in tennis years. Nadal, five years younger, now sits atop Federer in the world rankings. The Spaniard has continued to be Fed’s bête noir.