Monday, July 9, 2007

Federer's Fifth Wimbledon Final is One for the Ages

It is most fitting that Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe attended Roger Federer's 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2 win over Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final. The victory enabled Federer to match Borg's modern record of five straight Wimbledon championships. Borg, always a gentleman during his competitive years, showed typical class, congratulating Federer and not expressing any anger or disappointment about Federer joining him in the record books. Ironically, in 2001 Borg called Federer to thank him for beating Pete Sampras at Wimbledon, preserving Borg's record by preventing Sampras from claiming a fifth straight title. Clearly, the record is very important to Borg but he is gracious enough not to say or do anything to take away from Federer's moment in the sun.

After the match, NBC's Jimmy Roberts interviewed Borg and McEnroe, who faced each other in the Wimbledon finals in 1980 and 1981. The 1980 match will be forever remembered for the epic 18-16 fourth set tiebreaker, won by McEnroe. McEnroe told Roberts that at the time he thought that he had broken Borg's spirit but Borg responded by taking the fifth set to claim his fifth Wimbledon championship. McEnroe said that this painful loss showed him how the great champions can go to another level and paved the way for McEnroe's win over Borg the following year. Both Borg and McEnroe said that people still come up to them and talk about the 1980 match. McEnroe joked that he tells people he won the famous tiebreaker but neglects to mention who won the match. He sees a lot of parallels between Nadal's loss to Federer this year and the 1980 match and believes that Nadal earned a lot of respect from fans and fellow players by how he battled against Federer. McEnroe believes that his 1980 loss against Borg became a victory of sorts for him because of the match's place in history and because of how it helped his development as a player. He added that Borg was the fittest player on tour and that Borg's relentless energy disheartened his opponents.

Borg had only been back to Wimbledon once since his 1981 match with McEnroe. He told Roberts that Wimbledon is the most special tournament because of all of the traditions associated with it and because it is the oldest Grand Slam. Borg said that his great memories of playing there will last forever and that nothing can take them away. Those memories include a junior Wimbledon title in 1972, reaching the quarterfinals in 1973 the first time that he played in the main draw and of course the five straight championships. Borg posted a 51-4 match record in his nine Wimbledon appearances.

Before Federer took the court for the match with Nadal, Borg expressed his admiration for the Swiss star: "He's an artist on this surface. He can stay back. He can come in. No weaknesses. I believe if he continues the way he's doing and stays away from injuries and has the motivation, he'll be the greatest player ever to play the game." Of course, lack of motivation played a role in the premature end to Borg's career; he retired at about the same age that Federer is now, the holder of 11 Grand Slam titles (Federer's current total), the reigning French Open champion (four times in a row and six titles overall) and a finalist in his last Wimbledon and U.S. Open appearances. It does not appear that Federer will be leaving tennis any time soon, so the only foreseeable roadblocks in his future are injuries and Nadal's continued development. Nadal actually holds an 8-5 head to head advantage over Federer and completely dominates him on clay, including wins in the past two French Open finals; Nadal missed some golden opportunities to break Federer's serve in the fifth set on Sunday, so in 2008 he may very well reprise the 1981 McEnroe-Borg match and force Federer to settle for sharing the record book with Borg. Don't forget that Borg seemed invincible in 1980 after he overcame the loss of the fourth set tiebreaker to again win Wimbledon but he never won the event again and only captured one more Grand Slam title. Will the younger Nadal eclipse Federer on grass next year and become the sport's undisputed number one player or will Federer continue to hold him off as he marches toward Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles? I think that Nadal is closer to beating Federer on grass than Federer is to beating Nadal on clay and that 2008 could very well be Nadal's opportunity to match another Borg feat: winning the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year.

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