Rafa’s Back…

Jul 4, 2010

Today on Centre Court, The Raging Bull from Majorca was just too strong for the tricky 24 year old from the Czech Republic in this year’s Wimbledon final. Bjorn Borg predicted 4 sets to Berdych, Jonh McEnroe 4 sets to Rafa, but both turned out to be run; despite the fight of his life, Berdych went down in three sets to the returning champion.

Yes, he’s back. After a year blighted by injury and having to miss Wimbledon, Rafa looked completely back at home on the green grass of SW19. It hadn’t always looked that way; he dropped a number of sets before his final match, but as it got closer to his potential final appearance his game was back to impeccable Rafa standard. Like a key change in a cheesy boy band ballad, suddenly Nadal’s game had gone up a gear and the crowd were on their feet as the champion returned. His victory over home favourite Andy Murray was a strong omen for what was about to come.

Berdych was infallible as the game started; whatever nerves and shakes he had about appearing in his first Grand Slam final were invisible. Wimbledon isn’t your normal Grand Slam final either; the whole tortuous process of the long, long walk from the locker room, down the shining staircase into that glass-and-polished-wood lobby where the names of former champions look down on you. And then there’s crossing under that archway, emblazoned with the famous words from the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, that embody the Wimbledon tournament: ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same’. There doesn’t seem to be a more frightening way of entering into the biggest match of your life; whilst Nadal leapt and jogged and bunny-hopped down the corridor, stairs, and on the spot rather like some child that needs the toilet), Berdych managed to say collected and apparently unaffected by it all. The crowd were split; they love an underdog, but Rafa is always a favourite here in Wimbledon. He had been forgiven for his past sin of beating the nation’s hope Andy Murray. But both players got a roaring reception as they walked onto centre court.

Nadal had the first break of serve and swept on to take the first set. At the start of the second the Czech seemed fired and his serve began to pick up from an abysmal 50%. When you’re playing Rafa, the last thing you want to do is give him plenty of second serves to work with. But before a tiebreak could be reached, Nadal got another break on Berdych at the crucial moment, and he went two sets to love up.

Rafa’s groundstrokes were brutal, and he fired them into the far reaches of the lines with a lethal spin that sent the ball flying flat and low into the dark recesses of centre court. Berdych managed to mix it up well with slices, drop shots and some good movement at the net, but his forehands continually went long and the wind (and undoubtedly the circumstances) unnerved him in all parts of his game. At deuce on 5-4, with Rafa two sets up, it seemed inevitable. Berdych pushed a forehand over the baseline and Nadal dropped himself to the dirt of the centre court baseline. Lying spread eagled on the floor, his player’s box erupted into cheers, none more joyous than his girlfriend Xisca Perello. She has rarely been to see Rafa at these moments. Whether it’s because she’s is too nervous to go through that tension or doesn’t want to distract him, it is clear that the two of them like their private lives to be just that.

Berdych hung his head in disappointment as his baseline went long; but after time he will be able to look back on this tournament with pride; he will move to world number 7, and has reached his first final after reaching the semi final in the French Open.  Despite the obvious disappointment he still looked pleased, a small but genuine grin on his face when he was handed the runner’s up trophy and the not too shabby £500,000 prize money.

After shaking the hand of the umpire, Rafa did a little move that encapsulated his game since his return from injury; a forward roll, coming out of it with a leap and a double-armed celebratory pump in the air. A move that, like his form, was sprightly, spirited, artistic, and brave as ever. Welcome back Rafa, good to have you well and truly back. Berdych has been an inspiration though, and a breath of fresh air to the usual Federer/Nadal final (as much as we love those).

‘Powerful you have become, the tennis champion I sense in you’ – Yoda (with a little light tinkering of my own).

- SophieG

Written by: SophieG

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