The match itself may not have made a statement, but the final outcome did. Rafael Nadal is now the undisputed new king of tennis.
Nadal defeated Tomas Berdych 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in just over two hours to take his second Wimbledon championship and his eighth Grand Slam title. At age 24, many think Nadal can leap above some big names on the all time list of Grand Slam winners. Meanwhile, the lack of any drama or emotion in this year’s Wimbledon final is definitely a letdown after the two previous finals that became instant classics but the bigger question still remains — does Roger Federer have to play in a Grand Slam final to make it interesting?
It wasn’t like Berdych got blown out of this final or that nerves were a factor. After the match, Berdych said he felt a bit nervous in the locker room but felt fine once he stepped on the famed Centre Court to play his first ever Grand Slam final. And for awhile in the first set, Berdych’s big serve and forehand kept him level with Nadal who looked more amped up than normal, as if the Spaniard had guzzled down a gallon of Red Bull that morning. But any sense that the Czech would hang with Nadal throughout the match quickly ended after Nadal broke Berdych at 4-3 with a similar forehand pass that Serena Williams hit against Vera Zvonareva at almost the same point in her match yesterday. And though there was no kneeling fist pump, once Nadal broke again to take the first set 6-3, it felt like the match was already over.
However, Nadal had a brief letdown in his opening service game in the second set that saw him hit two double faults and gave Berdych several chances to break. But the Czech just couldn’t find a way to convert and after that the match took on a monotonous tone somewhat similar to previous finals when Pete Sampras would hit ace after ace while his opponent would serve in kind. Berdych, though fighting for each point, just didn’t seem to have the extra zap on his groundstrokes needed to hit through Nadal who held easily through the second set. Once Berdych lost the second set to love on his service game, any hope that this final would gain some level of excitement was gone. When Berdych held at 4-4, a brief hope for a tiebreak loomed. But instead, when Berdych got down 0-30 serving at 4-5, it was if the crowd and the television audience wished it would end so we could get on with the rest of our day. And so it did, with Nadal converting on his first match point with a crosscourt forehand pass.
Both players today were not at their best, and although a letdown is always inevitable after playing for two weeks, I don’t think today’s final and its lack of excitement was due to that but more that it was a battle between style and efficiency. Nadal didn’t need to play his best today as he did Friday against Andy Murray to will himself to a three set victory. Whereas that semifinal performance by Nadal showed the Spaniard’s true never say die, end every point with a flourish style, today saw Nadal play within himself and hit the right amount of winners to get the job done. And though he won the match, I’m sure many would have like to have seen a little bit more flair on the court just because it was the Wimbledon final. If Nadal does find himself in many more Grand Slam finals, as people expect him to, what will the player across the net from him have to bring, aside from his best tennis, to make it both interesting to watch and make Nadal use his trademark style to earn a win? Many top pros play an efficient game, like Berdych, that produces winning shots that fans can applaud but not much else. Or perhaps it will just take time for us to get used to this new Nadal “era” where style and efficiency always meet instead of the previous one that saw Federer’s style and the way he hit the ball become almost as important to watch as the match itself.
At the end of the day, it was really good though to see a fully healthy Nadal defend his title and prove that he is the best in the world. How long his reign at the top continues, especially with him needing long breaks to help his body recover, may all depend on whether he opts for style, that is sublime to watch but taxing on his body, or on efficiency, that saves Nadal for the long haul but robs us fans of viewing his artistry on court. In the end, that will be Nadal’s choice. But for now, we should congratulate and welcome the new king of both Wimbledon and the sport.