Federer vs Nadal: The rivalry and 2008 Wimbledon final that defined tennis

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Spain's Rafael Nadal (right) and Switzerland's Roger Federer with their trophies following the Men's Final during the Wimbledon Championships 2008 at the All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon.   (Photo by Sean Dempsey - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer pose with their trophies. (Sean Dempsey/PA Images via Getty)

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will meet each other at Wimbledon on Friday for the first time since their legendary clash of 2008.

That final 11 years ago is one of the most memorable sporting contests of all time, with John McEnroe - who was commentating - saying: “This is the greatest match I’ve ever seen.”

Ahead of this year’s semi-final, the 40th meeting between the two, we look back on this rivalry-defining match.

What made it so special?

At that time, Federer was at the peak of his powers while Nadal was the young pretender, the only person who could potentially topple him.

The Swiss had won five consecutive Wimbledon titles, between 2003 and 2007, a record shared with Björn Borg. He was attempting to surpass that achievement and become the first man to win six consecutive championships at SW19.

Roger Federer in action against Rafael Nadal during the mens final  (Photo by Adam Davy - EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images)
It was the last match before the roof was installed. (Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty)

The two titans of tennis had met in both the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon finals, and with each meeting Nadal was getting closer to beating the then No. 1 seed.

The atmosphere crackled with tension and the crowd was evenly split between the two men.

To add to the drama, rain delays pushed the match off Centre Court twice - this was the final year before the retractable roof was introduced.

Despite contrasting playing styles, temperament and dominant hands - Federer plays with his right while Nadal with his left - the match was so even that by the end of the fourth set, out of the 302 points that had been played, each had 151 points.

Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates his victory over Switzerland's Roger Federer in the Mens Final during the Wimbledon Championships 2008 at the All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon.   (Photo by Sean Dempsey - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Nadal celebrates his victory over Federer. (Sean Dempsey/PA Images via Getty)

After 4 hours and 48 minutes of play, at 9.15pm in near total darkness, Nadal defeated Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7.

The match was so enthralling that tennis fans caused a huge spike in electricity a few minutes after the win - a 1,400 megawatt surge, similar to 550,000 kettles being boiled, was recorded at 9.20pm.

National Grid spokeswoman Isobel Rowley said the surge was huge because fans were so transfixed by the tennis, they could not move from the sofa to switch the lights on until the end.

Roger Federer in action against Rafael Nadal (bottom) during the mens final  (Photo by Adam Davy - EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images)
The rain pushed the match off twice. (Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty)

“I tried everything. Rafa is the deserving champion, he played fantastically,” Federer said in his post-match interview.

“I’m happy we lived up to the expectations. I’m happy the way I fought. That's all I could really do.”

Nadal said: “I’m very happy to win this title, it’s my favourite tournament and it’s a dream to play on this court. To win is something I never imagined.”

Rodger Federer v Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon Tennis Championships Mens Final 6th July 2008. (Photo by David Ashdown/Getty Images)
Nadal hits a backhand smash. (David Ashdown/Getty Images)

Reflection

Federer acknowledged that it was one of his “hardest losses”.

“It was one of the matches I tried to sort of forget a little bit,” he said at Wimbledon in 2018. “I remember it being dark. I remember the passing shot down the line. I remember the things I said pretty much vaguely. I hardly remember there were rain delays, to be honest.

Rafael Nadal celebrates victory against Roger Federer in the mens final  (Photo by Adam Davy - EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images)
Centre Court was submerged in darkness by the end. (Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty)

“I’m sure I took something away from it, but mostly positive, even though the moment was pretty hard. It was a great match for many reasons. It also made me more human, potentially.”

Nadal has also been asked multiple times about the epic final - in 2018, at the 10th anniversary, he said: “I am not thinking every day about that final. I am just focused on what I am doing today. But of course, in that moment, that final has been a very important step forward for me in my career.”

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