Venus solidifies her status as one of the all-time greats
From the exhilarating championship runs by Rafael Nadal and Venus Williams, to another desultory performance by American men, the 2008 Wimbledon Championships left us with plenty of indelible memories.
WIMBLEDON, England -- For many, it just didn't seem like Wimbledon with all the sunny days and sunglass wearing. But it was a dark, dreary final for Roger Federer. These weren't the only unexpected events during the fortnight, though. The draw surprisingly didn't go to form until sanity was restored in the made-for-heaven finals. No. 1 Roger Federer took on his closest rival, No. 2 Rafael Nadal, and defending champion Venus Williams went against sister Serena for the women.
With the doors to Centre Court locked at the All England Club for another year, let's look at the top 10 most spectacular stories to come out of the 2008 Wimbledon fortnight:
Nadal rules the world
The ATP world rankings might tell it differently, but it would be nearly impossible to find anyone in the know who doesn't believe Rafael Nadal is currently the best player in the world. In one of the most exhilarating matches many could remember, Nadal upended the five-time Wimbledon defending champion in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 thriller that will be talked about for the ages. If there were blips in the Nadal résumé, he's now erased them for good. It no longer can be said that he's a clay-court specialist. He boasts an impressive 12-6 winning record over Federer and has beaten the 12-time Grand Slam champion in clay, hard court and grass tournaments -- there's not much else left to cover. There isn't a more muscular guy in the game these days than Nadal, so it's no wonder he's put together the most incredible lap around victory lane -- winning the French Open for a third consecutive year over Federer in the finals, followed that by winning the Queen's Club tournament for his first victory on grass and then vanquishing the finest grass-court player in the world.
The grass is always greener for Venus
Defending champion Venus Williams validated her distinction as the most accomplished women's grass-court player of her generation by mowing down seven opponents, including sister Serena, for a fifth career Wimbledon title. Venus is a picture of elegance on grass -- she prances and dances effortlessly. Venus is now a seven-time Grand Slam champion and she surely will go down in the record books as one of the all-time greats. Unfortunately, by no means her fault, the extraordinary men's final will probably overshadow her Wimbledon victory. And she shouldn't slip by without the proper recognition she deserves.
OK, so Roger Federer didn't win the record sixth consecutive Wimbledon title that many pundits believed was his inalienable right. The Swiss master isn't having the best of years, but so what? Most great champions experience letdowns -- Pete Sampras did, John McEnroe did and now Federer. But don't kid yourself. Federer is all of 26-years-old, and just because 2008 hasn't turned out to be his year, don't despair. He'll be back, and with 12 Grand Slam titles to his credit, it's still more than conceivable he will eventually break Pete Sampras' record of 14 Slam titles. And let's give a shout out to the Federer's camp. Despite the disappointment in their man's losing, they stepped up to congratulate Nadal after his family hug-fest in the friend's box. Federer's mom gave Nadal a smile and nod and Tony Godsick, Federer's agent, not only gave Nadal a hearty handshake, but then lent him a hand when he was trying climb back down to the court.
A little light, please
According to Wimbledon tradition there's no night play at The Championships, but it's hard not to wonder what constitutes night to the officialdom. Certainly, it was understandable that tournament referee Andrew Jarrett wanted the men's final to finish on its appointed schedule, especially knowing that holding over the conclusion of the fantastic match to Monday would be a nightmare. But while it packed a punch for drama, it truly wasn't the greatest way to see a dramatic match completed. While Federer gave all due credit to Nadal in his victory, after being pushed by reporters, he did admit that seeing was a problem, saying, "It's rough on me now, obviously, to lose the biggest tournament in the world over maybe a bit of light."
Sisters can play
Everybody can now stop whining that the Williams sisters can't put on a good show when playing against each other. Sure, their previous six Grand Slam final matches didn't produce sheer genius, but there's a great deal of excess baggage that comes along with an encounter between siblings. No one can detract from the quality in this year's final. They now stand at 8-8 in career meetings with Serena leading 5-2 in major finals. Let's not be too hard on the Williamses for their past performances. How many of the recent women's Wimbledon finals without an all-sibling cast have been matches to etch in memory? Not many is the answer. The only final that previously stood out from the past decade is when Venus saved a match point down 5-4 in the third set to defeat fellow American Lindsay Davenport in 2005.
A left-ankle injury ended Zheng Jie's 2007 season in May after first-round losses in singles and doubles at the French Open. Her comeback this season was cemented this fortnight with an incredible run through the women's draw to her first career Grand Slam semifinal. Sure, the fairy tale ended in a straight-sets victory by Serena Williams, but Zheng fought to a second-set tiebreaker before surrendering. And the unseeded Zheng didn't reach the semis by skirting top opponents -- she's the lady who upset world No. 1 and reigning French Open champion Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 6-4 in the third round. This makes for a perfect entry to the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing -- fans across China were following her progress at Wimbledon. Now let's just hope they don't put too much pressure on her to bring home the gold.
Safin still parties
Yes, it's true that Marat Safin has a reputation as a night-clubbing playboy, but that is not the type of partying being referred to for the moment. Wimbledon marked the return of the two-time Grand Slam champion, surely one of the most talented players to ever grace the game. Safin had been struggling for close to a year and had never performed to standard on grass considering how big a serve he possesses. Suspicion is that Safin likes to think he's the best player in the family by virtue of his two titles at the U.S. and Australian Opens, and he probably didn't appreciate that his sister, Dinara Safina, tried to unseat that pecking order by reaching the French Open final. Whether Safin can continue to roll is anybody's guess, but his first Wimbledon semifinal, which included a second-round upset of No. 3 Novak Djokovic, was good stuff.
American men don't do grass
It seems like only yesterday we were bemoaning the fate of the American men on clay at the French Open with journeyman Robby Ginepri the lone player flying the flag in the fourth round. But the Yanks left Paris confident that their penchant for faster surfaces would work wonders at Wimbledon. That was a serious mistake in judgment. There were no Fourth of July celebrations to be had at Wimbledon. American seeded men were ushered to the exit at SW19 almost as soon as they arrived -- No. 6 Andy Roddick out to Janko Tipsarevic in the second round, and a similar fate for No. 9 James Blake to eventual semifinalist Rainer Schuettler. Unheralded Bobby Reynolds was the last American man standing, falling to Feliciano Lopez in the third round.
American Bethanie Mattek left her wild wardrobe in the suitcase and let her tennis do the talking. It was quite a change to see a fitter, more formidable Mattek, one who wasn't playing to the audience. And putting a serious mind to tennis made a difference. Mattek motored through the women's draw all the way to her first Grand Slam fourth round, where Serena Williams stood in the way. Bonus points to Mattek for upending 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli in the third round. And what delivered this change? Love, according to Mattek, who received a diamond promise ring -- that's not an engagement ring -- from her boyfriend between her first- and second-round matches.
Tennis Queen in Britain's future?
All of 14 years old, unseeded British junior Laura Robson filled Wimbledon's Court 1 with exuberant cheering fans as she won the 2008 Girls' Singles Championship with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over third seed Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand. Robson displayed a talent for the game and poise well beyond her years for handling outside pressures of an adoring public and media frenzy. Let's hope that British fans desperate for a Wimbledon champion don't put too much pressure on their new darling -- it's hard to judge how a successful junior will fare in the big leagues. And what does history say of Robson's future? In 61 years of junior competition, only three titlists have gone on to win Wimbledon -- Briton Ann Haydon-Jones, Martina Hingis and Amelie Mauresmo.
Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
ESPN Classic will replay Rafael Nadal's epic five-set victory over Roger Federer in the men's final on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.
• Bob Bryan beats brother Mike in mixed doubles
• Garber: Nadal muscles his way to championship
• Ubha: Top five Wimbledon finals
• Harwitt: Loss a microcosm of Federer's year
• Ubha: Wimbledon men's final instant analysis
• Bodo: Nadal shows plenty of courage
Day 13 • Women | Scores
• Garber: Venus finally stands up to little sister
• Ubha: Williamses match competitive and clean
• Garber: Borg the man in the middle
• Ubha: Wimbledon women's final instant analysis
• Who will win the Wimbledon men's singles final?
• Bodo: Five reasons Nadal can win
Day 12 • Men | Scores
• Garber: Best friends set to do battle again
• Harwitt: Coach-less Federer ready for title
• Ubha: Nadal clearly in Federer's head
• Who will win the Wimbledon women's final?
Day 11 • Men | Women | Scores
• Garber: Time is now for Nadal at Wimbledon
• Ubha: Top Williams sisters moments
• Grass Stains: Williamses ready for showdown
• Tennis.com: Rafa will win Wimbledon
Day 10 • Men | Scores
• Wimbledon women's court schedule troubles WTA
• Ubha: Federer serving lights out
• Nadal blog: Happy to get by Murray
• Garber: Venus is best grass-courter of generation
• Star Watch: Safin looking confident again
Day 9 • Women | Scores
• Garber: Williams sisters crushing opponents
• Ford: Ancic hoping to take care of Federer again
• Chip and Charge: Olympics taking center stage
• Ubha: Can Murray maintain momentum Day 8 • Men | Women | Scores
• Garber: Unpredictability in women's tennis
• Grass Stains: Valiant determination from Lopez
• Star Watch: Murray electifies hometown crowd Day 7 • Ford: Midway at Wimbledon report
• Ubha: Breaking down the final 16 in each bracket
See all stories from Week 1