WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Rafael Nadal looked like a guy who absolutely couldn’t wait to get out there, clutching his racket and hopping in place near the entrance to Centre Court before the Wimbledon final.
He jiggled his left leg, unable to sit still on the sideline. He even bopped around during the prematch coin toss. When it was finally time to start warming up, he zigzagged to the baseline in a full sprint.
And when it ended, Nadal marked his victory with a celebratory somersault. That endless energy, and so many superb strokes, allowed the No. 2-seeded Nadal to outclass No. 12 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 Sunday for his second Wimbledon trophy and eighth Grand Slam title overall.
A year ago, sidelined by painful knees, 2008 Wimbledon champion Nadal was planted on his couch at home in Spain and watched the final on television, only the fifth man in the history of a tournament that dates to 1877 who couldn’t defend his championship because of injury.
“Now last year is past,” Nadal told The Associated Press as he leaned back in the gray leather seat of a courtesy car ferrying him away from the All England Club on Sunday night. “I know what happened one year ago, and how difficult it was for me, how much I had to work to be back at my best level.”
He paused, tapping his chest with his left hand, and added: “That’s something special for me.”
In 2009, his 31-match French Open winning streak ended, he missed Wimbledon, went more than eight months without a title anywhere, lost the No. 1 ranking, and, hardest of all, dealt with his parents’ separation.
This year, he is 47-5 with five titles, both tour highs. He won 24 matches in a row in one stretch, regained his Roland Garros title and the No. 1 ranking last month, and managed the tricky transition from clay to grass by winning the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year for the second time.
There is no doubt he’s the best player in tennis today.
“He’s showing in the last few months,” Berdych said, “that he’s really the champion.”
Nadal won his 14th match in a row at Wimbledon, essentially, because he saved all four break points he faced and broke the big-serving Berdych four times.
“The biggest difference between us,” Berdych explained, “was that when he (got) a chance, he just took it.”
Give Nadal the tiniest opening, and the left-hander barges through. It’s no accident he has a silhouette of a bull’s horns stamped on the back of his left sneaker’s heel (the right one reads, “Rafa”).
Still, Nadal acknowledged being “a little bit more nervous than usual” before facing Berdych. Asked why, Nadal said simply: “If you are not nervous in the final of Wimbledon, you are not human.”
This was the first men’s final since 2002 at the All England Club that did not involve Roger Federer, the six-time champion upset by Berdych in the quarterfinals. The past three title matches went five sets: Federer beat Nadal in 2007, Nadal edged Federer 9-7 in 2008 in fading light, and Federer got past Andy Roddick 16-14 last year.
Unlike those, Sunday’s contest was hardly a classic. More like a coronation — or, at the very least, confirmation that Nadal is elbowing his way into any conversation about the best players in tennis history. His eight titles at major tournaments pushes him past John McEnroe and ties Nadal with quite a heady group that includes Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.
“I’m very proud to be alongside those great players,” Nadal said. “My career is much better than I could have imagined when I began playing.”
That wasn’t very long ago: Nadal is only 24.
“He was really strong today,” said Berdych, who never got past the Wimbledon quarterfinals before and played his first Grand Slam final against a man who was in his 10th, winning the last five.
This one lasted barely more than two hours. Imagine how short the proceedings might have been if Nadal had brought his “A” game, because he was not at his very best Sunday. Perhaps affected by the constant breeze or those jitters he mentioned, Nadal finished with more unforced errors than Berdych, 21-17, and only two more winners, 29-27.
“His game was not unbelievable,” said Nadal’s uncle and coach, Toni, “but it was enough.”
This rout came a day after Serena Williams won a straight-set women’s final. Neither title match offered much in the way of intrigue, making this that rare Grand Slam tournament likely to be remembered mainly for its earlier happenings — particularly, of course, the 11-hour, 5-minute match that American John Isner won, 70-68, in the fifth set.
Only a few puffs of clouds dotted an otherwise azure sky Sunday, an appropriate setting given that no singles matches were interrupted by rain throughout the first completely dry fortnight since 1995.
That might have helped keep the footing clean for Nadal, who moves so well and goes from defense to offense faster than his stunned opponents can say, “How’d he get to that?!” After one point, Berdych looked up at his coach with his hands on his hips, then kicked the turf.
Then there’s Nadal’s uppercut of a forehand, announced with an “Uhhh!” from deep in his gut and finished with a flourish, his racket dangling above his head. Nadal’s underrated backhand is pretty good, too, and he can generate power on that side because he hits it with both fists. (He’s naturally a righty, and he used that hand to sign autographs for fans Sunday afternoon, his latest trophy tucked under his bulging left biceps.)
By the third game, Nadal was getting the measure of Berdych’s serve, returning one that clocked 134 mph. By the seventh game, Nadal edged ahead.
Serving at 3-all, Berdych missed first serves on all but one point and sent a forehand wide, then a backhand long to make it love-30. On the next point, as he so often does, Nadal sprinted from an out-of-position place to reach a good approach shot by Berdych and whip a forehand passing winner.
Nadal punched the air. Two points later, he hit a backhand return that Berdych barely touched, making it 4-3. After holding, Nadal broke again to end the set, part of a run of five straight games that shifted the balance irrevocably.
The second set began with a 10-minute game as Berdych essentially made his last stand. The first Czech man in a Wimbledon final since Ivan Lendl in 1987 had three break points, but Nadal saved them all, with a forehand winner, a service winner and a forehand that forced a miscue by Berdych.
The next break point was for Nadal at 6-5, and the second set ended when Berdych missed a forehand. By then, the outcome was a foregone conclusion, because Berdych never figured out how to stem Nadal’s aggression.
“I don’t know if you can say (there are) weaker parts of him. (There’s) not many of them,” said Berdych, who pulled out of the Czech Republic’s Davis Cup quarterfinal at Chile, citing an injured abdominal muscle. He didn’t speak about the problem during Wimbledon, nor did he appear to be troubled while beating Federer and No. 3 Novak Djokovic.
Nadal earlier said he wouldn’t be part of Spain’s Davis Cup team against France, because he needs to get treatment for his right knee, which flared up during consecutive, come-from-behind five-set wins in the second and third rounds.
Nadal earned the nickname “King of Clay” by virtue of a record 81-match winning streak on that surface and five French Open titles. But that’s clearly too narrowly focused: The guy has twice won Wimbledon, along with the 2009 Australian Open on hard courts.
Now, to complete a career Grand Slam, Nadal needs to add the U.S. Open, where he lost in the semifinals each of the last two years.
Asked to look ahead to New York, where play begins in late August, Nadal smiled and said: “Right now, I’m very happy to win Wimbledon. We’re going to think about the U.S. Open in one month.”
First things first.
He’s busy making plans away from the tennis court.
“Enjoy the beach, fishing, golf, friends, party, and Mallorca,” he said.
The Associated Press / Howard Fendrich