Rafael Nadal

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal
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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal rivalry swung at 2008 Wimbledon

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Rafael Nadal‘s win over Roger Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final proved to be more than an instant classic, a book, a documentary. It, more than any of their other 39 matches, became an enduring snapshot of a shift atop tennis.

Nadal prevailed 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 in 4 hours, 48 minutes, dropping to a flashbub-lit Centre Court lawn at 9:16 p.m. local time. The match is part of NBCSN’s Breakfast at Wimbledon programming on Tuesday night.

“Compared to the way things were for years,” Nadal said in the 2018 film, “Strokes of Genius,” “history was now being rewritten.”

Before that match, Nadal had won four Grand Slams — all at the French Open, though he had said since childhood that Wimbledon was his crown jewel. Before that match, Federer never lost a Grand Slam final outside of the French Open, including capturing the previous five Wimbledons (and the last two against Nadal in the final).

Federer had been No. 1 in the world since February 2004. In a three-month stretch in mid-2008, Nadal spanked Federer in the French Open final (6-1, 6-3, 6-0), ended Federer’s Open Era record 65-match win streak on grass and won an Olympic singles title, which remains the hole in Federer’s resume.

Wimbledon stung the most.

“In the moment itself, I was like, oh my god, this is the worst day of my life,” Federer said in “Strokes of Genius.” “It was really like maybe three, four, five, six, seven weeks after the match that I really started to feel the magnitude of the match.

“I had to embrace the idea of a rival. In the beginning, I didn’t want to have one. Then I eventually realized there’s something to get out of this situation, so I might have to adjust my game a little bit.”

After Nadal won their 2009 Australian Open final duel — Federer memorably lamenting, “God, it’s killing me,” in his tearful runner-up speech — the Spaniard had five straight victories in the rivalry, spanning all three surfaces. He went up 13-6 in their head-to-head.

Federer led the Grand Slam titles race — 13-6 — but Nadal was five years younger. At the same age, Federer had four fewer Slams than Nadal.

“The official changing of the guard,” NBC Sports analyst John McEnroe said after Nadal’s win on the 2008 Wimbledon broadcast. “He’s officially taken over the mantle of the best player in the world.”

Federer would get it back. He finally prevailed in Paris in 2009 (after Nadal was stunned by Robin Soderling), then returned to No. 1 after winning 2009 Wimbledon. Nadal missed defending his title due to knee problems.

Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic spent the 2010s trading Slams and the No. 1 ranking, each enduring lulls (Federer’s the most concerning).

After the most recent Slam, the Australian Open last January, the career Grand Slam titles tally: Federer 20, Nadal 19, Djokovic 17. The greatest-ever discussion sways with every Slam, a debate that began in earnest in 2008.

“If this doesn’t spark interest in our great sport,” McEnroe said on that Wimbledon broadcast, “I don’t know what will.”

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Dominic Thiem upsets Rafael Nadal to reach Australian Open semifinal

Dominic Thiem
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Outplayed at his own brand of physical tennis for much of the match, Rafael Nadal finally claimed a set to try to start a comeback against Dominic Thiem.

Nadal marked the moment by hopping in a crouch at the baseline and vigorously pumping his right arm four times.

Soon, though, he was back in trouble. And eventually, his bid to tie Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles by winning the Australian Open was over with a quarterfinal loss Wednesday to Thiem — a younger version of Nadal himself.

Thiem’s 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (6) victory over the top-seeded Nadal lasted 4 hours, 10 minutes because of so many lengthy, electrifying points and put him in his fifth major semifinal.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

It is his Thiem’s first trip to the final four at a Slam somewhere other than at the French Open, the place that is Nadal’s domain.

Of more significance: The outcome ended Nadal’s career-best streak of making at least the semifinals at seven consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, a span during which he earned three trophies to narrow his gap with Federer.

“He is one of the greatest of all-time, one of this sport’s biggest legends,” the fifth-seeded Thiem said about Nadal.

The last time Nadal didn’t get to the final four at a major? Also at the Australian Open, where he also went out in the quarterfinals two years ago before finishing as the runner-up to Novak Djokovic in 2019.

That was Nadal’s fourth defeat in a final at Melbourne Park since he won his lone title at the place in 2009. He’s won two at Wimbledon, four at the U.S. Open and 12 at the French Open.

Thiem had been 0-5 against Nadal at the majors, including losses in the final at Roland Garros each of the past two years.

But this one was different. The defining statistic: Thiem won exactly twice as many points that featured nine or more shots, 24-12.

Thiem managed to hang in there with Nadal on physical baseline exchanges, trading groundstroke for groundstroke and picking the proper spots to move forward.

Or to describe it another way: Thiem was out-Nadal-ing Nadal, the ultimate grinder who never met a point that was too long or too grueling.

Now Thiem will play No. 7 Alexander Zverev on Friday for a berth in the title match. And the winner from that match will play the winner of the Federer-Novak Djokovic semifinal.

Zverev reached his first major semifinal anywhere by overcoming a terrible start Wednesday and putting together a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka.

So instead of Nadal, 33, against Wawrinka, 34, it’ll be Zverev, 22, against Thiem, 26, a couple of members of the new generation trying to collect a breakthrough Slam title.

“I think it’s the first time I am playing a Grand Slam semifinal and I am the older player,” Thiem said with a chuckle.

The first two sets Wednesday sets were remarkably similar: Nadal would go up by a break, then Thiem would break back and take it in a tiebreaker. The first lasted 67 minutes, the second 69.

Nadal was flustered by a warning from chair umpire Aurelie Tourte for a time violation, citing him for taking more than the allotted 25 seconds before serving. Nadal termed the call “amazing,” complaining that the previous point was comprised of an exhausting 19 shots and so the clock shouldn’t have started when it did (something which is at the chair umpire’s discretion).

“You don’t like the good tennis,” he told Tourte. “You don’t like the good tennis.”

Later, he gave Tourte a sarcastic thumb’s up after she told him he hesitated too long before trying to challenge a line call.

Thiem’s biggest hiccups came as the end was near.

There was the break that ceded the third set, the one celebrated so enthusiastically by Nadal.

There was another break when Thiem served for the victory at 5-4 in the fourth but was undone by a series of jitters-induced mistakes. There were three off-the-mark forehands, with a double-fault mixed in for good measure.

“Such a really mentally tough situation,” Thiem said. “Couldn’t handle it.”

Then, on his first match point, at 6-4 in the last tiebreaker, Thiem drove a leaping forehand into the net, then covered his face with his left hand.

His second match point came and went with a lob that landed long.

But Thiem did not fold there, getting a third opportunity to close it with a cross-court backhand that glanced off the tape — one of a handful of favorable net cords for him.

When Nadal missed one last forehand, Thiem looked to the sky and spread his arms wide.

“He played with the right determination,” Nadal said. “Well done for him.”

MEN’S DRAW: Federer fends off seven match points to face Djokovic

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Rafael Nadal beats Nick Kyrgios, who honored Kobe Bryant at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal left the muttering and the preening, the underarm serving and the ’tweening, to his younger, flashier opponent, Nick Kyrgios.

Surely, Nadal was content to collect the win in the latest installment of their rivalry.

The No. 1-ranked Nadal kept his thoughts to himself and limited his shot-making to the more traditional variety in an entertaining 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4) victory over home-crowd favorite Kyrgios on Monday to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals and get closer to a record-tying 20th Grand Slam title.

These two guys don’t like each other. But Nadal had nothing but nice things to say after improving his head-to-head record to 5-3 against Kyrgios.

“When he wants to play, when he is focused on what he’s doing, I think he’s a very important player for our sport,” Nadal said, “because he has a big talent and is one of these players that can be very, very interesting for the crowd.”

While Kyrgios was up to some of his usual trick shots and antics, what he never did was waver in his effort, something folks often accuse him of.

“Today,” Nadal said, “I think he played very serious, tried all the time his best.”

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

It certainly meant a lot to Kyrgios, who said: “I’m shattered to have lost tonight. These are the matches that I want to win the most.”

Here’s how the elevated stakes and tension affected both men: At 5-all in the pivotal third-set tiebreaker, Kyrgios double-faulted. That offered up a gift-wrapped set point. But Nadal failed to take advantage because he double-faulted right back.

Still, two points later, the 23rd-seeded Kyrgios put a forehand into the net, and the set was Nadal’s. Not long after, Kyrgios double-faulted again to get broken at love.

That put Nadal ahead 2-1 in the fourth, seemingly in charge.

“Against Nick,” Nadal would say afterward, “you are never (in) control.”

Sure enough, Nadal faltered while serving for the win at 5-4, double-faulting to create a pair of break points, the second of which Kyrgios converted with a jumping forehand and celebrated by throwing his head back and screaming. Spectators rose and roared and waved their Australian flags in support of the 24-year-old from Canberra.

“A scary game,” Nadal called it, acknowledging he was hampered by nerves.

But he regrouped and pulled the win out in the closing tiebreaker, which ended with Kyrgios putting a forehand into the net.

Sure, the cool, breezy conditions played to Nadal’s advantage and dulled Kyrgios’ power-based style. But there also was this: Nadal finished with more than twice as many winners as unforced errors, 64-27.

“I’d have to win a point three times to win a point,” Kyrgios said.

Kyrgios delivered 25 aces and some memorable moments — including walking out on court and warming up for the match in a No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers jersey to honor Kobe Bryant, the five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star who died in a helicopter crash Sunday at age 41.

Kyrgios switched to a No. 24 Bryant shirt for his post-match news conference and described himself as emotional at the news.

A video tribute to Bryant was played on the Rod Laver Arena scoreboards before Monday’s match.

On Wednesday, the 33-year-old Nadal’s 41st career Grand Slam quarterfinal will be against No. 5 Dominic Thiem in a rematch of the past two French Open finals, both won by Nadal.

The other men’s quarterfinal on the top half of the bracket is No. 7 Alexander Zverev vs. No. 15 Stan Wawrinka.

Nadal vs. Kyrgios was fascinating to watch, in part because of the quality of the play and in part because of the subplot of their negative feelings toward each other.

“When I criticized him in the past,” Nadal said, “it’s because I thought he did a couple of things that are not right and not the right image for our sport and for the kids.”

They traded verbal barbs through the media last year after Kyrgios beat Nadal at a tournament in Mexico (which is why a spectator kept yelling “Acapulco!” in the stadium Monday). When they met again at Wimbledon in July — with, coincidentally, the exact same scoreline as Monday — Kyrgios ripped a shot right at Nadal’s midsection, then refused to apologize.

Kyrgios came into this one following a five-set win that lasted nearly 4½ hours, sapping energy and emotion, and it appeared to hurt him in the early going.

Nadal, meanwhile, looked like he was just back from vacation — some fishing, some golf, some beach time — and fresh as can be. That spin-filled forehand of his was at its uppercutting best: Nadal accumulated eight forehand winners before Kyrgios managed to produce one.

The entire tenor shifted in the second set, which was preceded by a bit of confusion for Nadal. He left two rackets at his sideline seat while he headed to the bathroom after the opening set, telling a ballkid he wanted one re-strung. When Nadal returned, he realized the wrong one had been removed.

The show must go on, though, and Nadal generated three break points in the first game of the second set. Kyrgios erased the first with a 132 mph ace. The second vanished amid some of his typical outrageousness: Kyrgios chased down a lob and, back to the net, flicked the ball through his legs to prolong a point that ended when he bashed a forehand that forced an error. He took care of the third in a more traditional manner.

And then, 63 minutes in, Kyrgios earned his first break opportunity and used it for a 3-1 lead with a squash forehand passing shot that Nadal let float by. The ball landed on the back of the baseline and Kyrgios marked the occasion with a leap and a fist in the air.

Soon enough, it was a set apiece, and Kyrgios was strutting to the sideline with a towel dangling from his teeth.

Truthfully, Kyrgios should be “Mic’d Up” every time he plays, and his patter was strong, whether he was complimenting Nadal with “Too good!” or admonishing his entourage to “Say something!” or sarcastically criticizing himself by shouting “Well done!” after a bad backhand or smacking himself in the head with his racket.

Later he received a warning for destroying a racket by spiking it after flubbing a shot in the third-set tiebreaker. The way the fourth set ended probably angered Kyrgios, too, but he quickly packed up his things and left.

Comparing this loss with his last one to Nadal, Kyrgios said: “I felt a lot closer this time.”

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