Following the RG final where Nadal won in four tight sets, the rivalry continued to grow when Nadal and I reached the final at the All England Club Championships in 2011.
In our semifinals, I defeated unseeded surprise semifinalist Feliciano Lopez (who stunned Roddick in 4R and Djokovic in QF) 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-4, while Nadal defeated long time rival (and last years finalist) Federer in five sets 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
In the final itself, a scintillating five set match took place where I eventually took revenge and emerged in an epic 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 7-5 victory to defend the prestigious crown that I won last year (d. Federer). It was a high quality affair and the quality of the shotmaking was jaw-dropping. In winning this encounter, I extended my head to head record to 6-4 against Nadal.
Here is how the match took place, set by set.
Set 1 - Harper 6-3:
Already at the tender stages of the match, the quality of tennis was remarkable. Rafa was to open proceedings and the first point featured a 40-shot rally with Rafa coming out on top, courtesy of a forced error from me which just landed wide, eventually holding the game to 30. I was forced to deuce on my service before an ace sealed the game to level. At 2-2* with a BP chance at *30-40, I broke through with a stunning forehand crosscourt pass. At *4-3 I was forced to save 2 BP’s at *15-40 before going on to hold. At 5-3*, Rafa made uncharacteristic errors and lost his serve to love which handed me the first set 6-3.
Set 2 - Nadal 6-2:
I was in immediate trouble in my opening service game, as a pumped up Spaniard channelled the anger of losing the 1st set to forge 2 BP opportunities creating *15-40 on my serve with a handful of untouchable forehand winners. Despite saving the 2 successive break points, Nadal went to break at the advantage point and held to love to surge ahead 2-0*. At 4-2* to Nadal, a 7 deuce game was played with Nadal eventually breaking through once again to surge ahead *5-2. With another deuce game on the Spaniards advantage, Rafa took the 2nd set 6-2 with an ace.
Set 3 - Harper 7-6(7-5):
At *1-1 on my serve, I was quickly left in deep trouble by falling down *0-40. I saved the first with a S&V, and then saved the next 2 break points successively with two aces in a row. I went on to hold 3 deuces later, finishing with a loud “CMON!”. The rest of the set went on serve till a tiebreaker was reached. With me to serve first, a 1st serve stunned Nadal and two forced errors from him allowed me to take a **3-0 lead, before the Spaniard recouped one of the minibreaks courtesy of a gruelling rally which Rafa won by running to the net to retrieve the ball and manufactured it with a unbelievable forehand winner that JUST clipped the baseline. I produced another big 1st serve that Rafa could not handle, and went on to take another minibreak to surge ahead 5-1*. Rafa got one of the minibreaks back though, but I eventually moved ahead to *6-5 with one more serve to come. Surely enough, a 1st serve was produced and I edged the first set tiebreaker 7-6(5) with a S&V winner.
Set 4 - Nadal 7-6(7-3):
The entire 4th set went on serve and again it went to a tiebreaker. With Nadal to serve the opening point, a brilliant backhand crosscourt pass allowed me to minibreak immediately to lead **1-0. Another similar “flick-of-the-wrist” backhand pass was made once again to move up *2-0, before the Spaniard produced a venomous forehand return down the line on my 2nd serve to recoup the minibreak for 2-1**. Two successive one-two punch plays from Nadal put me to **2-3, before I won a rally to even it up at *3-3 at the change of ends. With one more serve to come, an unexpected forehand from Rafa was sent unbelievably down the line to minibreak for 3-4**. Two forehand winners from the Spaniard gave him 3 set points at **3-6. At the first opportunity, a scintillating rally was played that had everything -- dropshots, lobs, retrieving angled groundstrokes. With me forced to the net, Rafa attempted a successful backhand pass down the line, and prevailed 7-6(3) as my backhand volley reply landed at the net.
Set 5 - Harper 7-5:
It took 7 deuces for me, which included two aces, to hold the opening service game. It went on serve, with Nadal digging out a *0-30 hole at 2-1* with a series of great groundstrokes, as well as me also digging out a 0-30 hole at *3-3 with an ace and some S&V play. At *4-4 I again recovered from a 0-30 hole to move to 40-30, however I was pinned back to deuce - but two deuces later, I held to move ahead 5-4* within touching distance of the match as Nadal was forced to serve to stay in the match from there. But as Nadal is so good under pressure, he held without fuss to stay level at *5-5. In the first point of *5-5, a ridiculous rally which ended with a super-angled forehand smash put me ahead *15-0; and eventually held to love with a couple of return errors from Nadal and a pure one-handed backhand scorcher down the line to move ahead 6-5* to put pressure on Rafa again. At 6-5*, a deep backhand return in the corner made it *0-15, and a wide backhand from Rafa quickly made it *0-30, and eventually making my way to hold three match points at *0-40 with a scorching crosscourt one handed BH pass - my 31st winner of that BH wing. With a missing 1st serve from Nadal, a 19-shot rally was played which ended with my 125th winner with a crosscourt FH passing shot which brought me to my knees, prevailing in the 5th set 7-5.
A colossal match, and if this were a real final it would probably rank as one of the best Wimbledon finals ever. It was a huge battle of shotmaking, coupled with patience and steel mentality when moments don’t go your way from both players -- I mean sometimes I feel the CPU plays their absolute best when they are in troublesome moments, it’s very frustrating but I just tried to keep my cool as much as possible and enjoy those moments and tried to show what I was capable of in my repertoire in the game. I love playing these sorts of tough epic matches. It’s one of the main reasons why I love this game and even tennis in general -- high quality and drama filled matches are gold; win or lose. That ‘Electrik’ music track in victory sums it up perfectly as well.
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