Wimbledon, England Rafael Nadal knows exactly where he was, of course, on the first Sunday of July 2009, the only time in the past five years that the Wimbledon men’s final went on without him.
“I watched at home,” Nadal said. “On the sofa.”
Yes, a year ago this time, he was in front of a TV in Spain, resting his aching knees, instead of wielding his racket on Centre Court, only the fifth player in the history of a tournament that began in 1877 unable to defend his title because of injury.
He’s here now — once again in the Wimbledon final, once again on top of his forehand-whipping, every-shot-retrieving game. The No. 1-ranked Nadal picked apart No. 4 Andy Murray of Britain, 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-4, in the semifinals Friday to close in on a second trophy at the All England Club and eighth Grand Slam championship overall.
“For sure, that makes (it) more special,” Nadal said, “because I worked a lot to be back, playing my best tennis. I did, so that’s very important. Personal satisfaction, no?”
Nadal’s wait to return to the Wimbledon final lasted 24 months, which probably seems like the blink of an eye to local fans. Their wait for a homegrown champion drags on: A British man hasn’t won the title since Fred Perry in 1936; one hasn’t even reached the final since Henry “Bunny” Austin in 1938.
“I obviously want to win for myself. I want to win for the guys I work with. I want to win for, you know, the U.K.,” Murray said. “A little bit more disappointing than other Grand Slams, because this one is, you know, the biggest one of the year for me.”
Nadal has won his last 13 matches at the grass-court major, and 25 of 27, with the only losses coming against Roger Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals. Nadal beat Federer in the epic 2008 title match, which ended at 9-7 in the fifth set as darkness descended.
On Sunday, Nadal will take on someone other than Federer in the Wimbledon final for the first time: 12th-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.