An Open Relationship: Roger Federer and the Wimbledon Final

The year is halfway over when it’s time for Wimbledon. SW19, as the purists call it. Wimby, as I call it.

Wimby is the Jay and Bey, the Meryl Streep, the Robert DeNiro, the Sopranos, the JK Rowling of tennis. It’s the Grand Slam every tennis player wants to win, and every tennis fan wants their player to win. Respected and revered; a popularity mixed with the life long cred that everyone who does anything, longs for.


Wimbledon and Fed

Regardless of their grass court credentials or feelings about the surface, the players want this one more than anything. The weight and tradition of this slam is unmatched by the other tournaments. It’s the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament. Wimbledon is The One.

You can’t hate Wimbledon for being so good, and you can’t hate Roger Federer either. The saying goes; there’s clay court specialists, hard court specialists, grass court specialists and then there’s Roger Federer.

Federer is the supreme being on all surfaces; but in the grand slams, he shines on grass – shines – winning seven titles at the All England Club, equalling the record held by preceding GOAT Pete Sampras. In 2015, he has the chance to better this, against all odds.


Wimbledon and ‘Fedal’

Where Wimby is The One of tournaments, Federer is The One of players. And the two of them, Roger and Wimbledon, are in a long-term open relationship. Roger won SW19 pretty much every year in a row since he was born (deciding to take a break to win all the other slams a bunch of times too, you know, just about 10 or so), but eventually the Master of Grass was going to be unseated from his throne. This came in the form of the 2008 Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal.

I don’t reference this as an arbitrary moment of profundity. It’s a final that is considered The Greatest Match Ever Played. There’s even a book about it called Strokes of Genius by tennis writer L. Jon Wertheim. A book that provides a blow-by-blow account of the battle between the most dynamic, charismatic and entertaining rivalry in men’s tennis.

Real Madrid vs Barcelona is El Clasico. A Rafa-Rog is ‘Fedal’. We got so close to another Fedal this year, in the semi… but we were robbed by the brilliance of the rasta grass court magician Dustin Brown. Kudos to Dustin Brown, I dig his vibe A LOT – but we need every Fedal match we can get these days. Who knows when it’s going to be our last chance to see this go down on grass.


The 2008 Wimbledon Men’s Final

The memory of the 2008 Wimbledon final still lingers in my mind. In every tennis fan’s. You watch so many matches, and yet some are so crystal clear that it’s like it happened yesterday. The 2008 Men’s final, in and of its own, reasserted the primacy of Wimbledon. The US Open had been rising, and the Australian open had been the scene of some epics – and also the scene of Serena Williams, potentially the single modern force that looms larger in her brilliance than could an entire grand slam.

Two players in the prime of their careers, Federer mostly dominant in the slam taking, but Rafa having the edge in their head to heads. It was also Rafa who lost both the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon final to Federer, the 2007 five-setter being so emotionally crushing for him, he said in his own autobiography after the loss: “I cried incessantly for half an hour in the dressing room. Tears of disappointment and self-recrimination”.

[Just an FYI, I have read (well, skimmed) Rafa’s autobiography (as well as having gotten his autograph twice, and a practice ball; all I need is a photo and I’m done) and it’s adorably ghost written, just like his social media updates.]


Back to that 2008 match. L. Jon Wertheim describes it best as a ‘festival of skill, accuracy, grace, strength, speed, endurance, determination and sportsmanship’. Besides the 2012 Australian Open final between Djokovic and Nadal, which was also an epic piece of theatre, I don’t think we’ve seen another match like it. There’s something about FEDAL that has chutzpah, that unexplainable quality… they’re stars, really… bloody stars.


The Wider Context

So how much of the majesty, the myth of that 2008 final was due to what occurred, and how much to where it occurred? If they’d played the exact same match at Indian Wells early in the year, outside of a Grand Slam, would we have cared at all?

It goes back to that innate allure of Wimbledon. Would that match have happened anywhere else? No. That match couldn’t have occurred anywhere else. We knew that it wasn’t just ego, money, rivalry, or career on the line. It was Wimbledon. It was the very particular, tiny patch of grass, south-west of central London, that made all the difference. And Centre Court: oh my God that Centre Court. With its grandness, and yet with its intimacy. You’re surrounded by Queens, and Princes, and Drake. Who wouldn’t want to win a slam on Centre fucking Court.

Rafa maybe said it best in the press conference following his second-round loss this year, in his own non-ghost-written way: “… [it’s] going to be in my heart and in my memories forever the 2008 final. That was probably one of the most important moments of my career, and was here, no?”

Yes Rafa, the most seminal memory of our tennis watching career was there. And we’ll look to Rog tonight, to see if he puts his final stamp on SW19.





Catherine Kelleher is Catcall, and a writer, director and producer. She is a contributor at New Albion.