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.”

MORE: Novak Djokovic’s career regret — the Olympics

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Breakfast at Wimbledon on NBCSN: What to watch on Tuesday night

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Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal star on NBCSN’s Breakfast at Wimbledon on Tuesday night, celebrating some of the All England Club’s greatest finals.

Coverage begins at 7 ET, also streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

First up: Perhaps the greatest tennis match ever: Nadal vs. Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final. It marked the longest Wimbledon final in history (to that point), a 4-hour, 48-minute affair twice delayed by rain (before Centre Court’s retractable roof). It ended at 9:16 p.m. local time.

Nadal prevailed 9-7 in the fifth set, winning his first Wimbledon title and ending Federer’s streak at five. It was signaled as the changing of the guard atop the sport. Later that summer, Nadal won the Olympic singles title and snatched the No. 1 ranking from Federer.

Nadal spent the next decade-plus chasing Federer’s Grand Slam titles total. He’s now as close as ever. Federer has the male record of 20. Nadal is at 19.

Later Tuesday, Federer returns for the 2009 Wimbledon final (10 p.m.). Nadal could not defend his title due to knee tendonitis. Instead, Federer met an old rival — American Andy Roddick.

The Swiss prevailed in a gut-wrenching 16-14 final set over Roddick, who retired three years later without a Wimbledon title and without a win over Federer at any Slam. Federer broke Pete Sampras’ male record with a 15th Grand Slam singles title.

Finally at 1 a.m., Venus Williams captures the third of her five Wimbledon titles, rallying past Lindsay Davenport 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7 in the 2005 final. At 2 hours, 45 minutes, it marked the longest women’s final in tournament history — an hour longer than the following day’s men’s final.

Williams, at No. 16, was the lowest-ranked women’s champion in history (a record she broke in 2007). She hadn’t made a Grand Slam semifinal in two years.

MORE: Novak Djokovic’s career regret — the Olympics

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2008 Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Final 7 p.m. NBCSN | STREAM LINK
2009 Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Final 10 p.m. NBCSN | STREAM LINK
2005 Wimbledon Ladies’ Final 1 a.m. NBCSN | STREAM LINK


Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe preempted the Jetsons and authored an epic

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American children tuned in that Saturday morning, dismayed that Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo, Daffy Duck and the Jetsons were preempted. Boos cascaded Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

The greatest match in tennis history, to that point and for decades after, was about to begin.

Over the next 3 hours, 53 minutes, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe authored an epic, typified by a 22-minute tiebreaker, that led to a documentary 31 years later and a movie 37 years after. Borg endured 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6 for the 1980 Wimbledon title.

NBCSN reairs coverage of the match Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET as part of three days of Wimbledon and French Open classic finals this week. It is preceded by an all-Williams 2003 Wimbledon final and followed by an Andre AgassiPete Sampras 1999 men’s final.

Borg-McEnroe couldn’t be topped, especially that 34-point duel to decide the fourth set.

“You know, there was an old guy named Homer who wrote all about that tiebreaker, who called it The Odyssey,” NBC Sports’ Bud Collins said on the broadcast shortly after the match.

Borg, the smooth Swede, earned his fifth straight crown and became the first man with a handful since 1906, breaking a tie with Rod Laver.

“That is my biggest ambition. I want to be remembered as the greatest,” Borg said afterward, according to The New York Times. He was just 24 years and one month old, but Borg never won another Wimbledon. He played just one more full season on tour, denying the claim that he left because McEnroe had started to beat him. Instead, he cited burnout.

McEnroe, reportedly nicknamed “Mr. Volcano” by a British tabloid at 1980 Wimbledon, had earned those pre-final boos from the normally regal crowd.

In Friday’s semifinals, he received a warning from a chair umpire after making 12 requests to see the tournament referee in a 50-second span over a line call. His opponent, Jimmy Connors, walked toward him and said right in front of a microphone, “Keep your mouth shut out here.”

McEnroe’s sublime play in the final — saving five championship points in that tiebreak, and seven overall — won over the 15,000, plus 3,000 in standing room. Four hours after the boos, McEnroe received the runner-up award from the Duke and Duchess of Kent to overwhelming applause.

McEnroe “has finally won Great Britain, if not the title,” Collins memorably said on the broadcast.

“When I won the fourth-set tiebreak, I figured, maybe he’d let down a little because he had a lot of chances to win the match then,” McEnroe told Collins as he left the court. “I picked up and played a lot of good shots, but he started serving a lot better, even in the fifth set, and I never really could take advantage of his serve after that.”

Borg admitted he thought he would lose the match after the fourth set. He opened the fifth dropping his first two points on serve, then won 28 of 29 points on his racket, according to Sports Illustrated.

“At this rate, I don’t know when he’ll ever lose here,” McEnroe said, according to the Times.

McEnroe beat him in the final the next year for the first of his three Wimbledon titles.

MORE: Novak Djokovic’s career regret — the Olympics

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