LONDON // Rafael Nadal fell flat on his back in a mixture of unbridled joy and sheer exhaustion in near darkness last night as he fulfilled his dream to add the Wimbledon title to the four French Opens he has already won. The "King of Clay" as the Spaniard is known around the tennis world is now aspiring to become the king of grass after deposing one of the finest champions this great tournament has ever produced, Roger Federer, the five times champion from Switzerland who has a residence in the UAE. A gripping, rain-interrupted final eventually went the way of the second seed 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 at 9.20pm local time (12.20am) after 4hrs 48min of breathtaking tennis -- the longest men's final in the illustrious history of this tournament. Nadal midway through a prolonged, disjointed day looked like winning in straight sets but the first and longer of two rain breaks worked in favour of Federer, who took advantage of a 69-minute breather to regroup, reconsider his tactics and win the next two sets in tie-breaks, saving two Championship points in the second of them which spanned 18 points. That took the thrilling encounter to a deciding set, just as it had been last year, but this time Nadal, who had glorious chances to win 12 months ago, would not be denied. He was frustrated by his failure to take break points in the 11th game of the 75-minute decider but eventually accepted his opportunity to break his rival in the 15th game and then close it out on his fourth match point. Federer, who last year equalled Bjorn Borg's modern day best of five straight triumphs between 1976 and 1980, was seeking to equal a record of six successive titles set in the 19th Century by the Englishman William Renshaw. The Swiss maestro appeared to be in the mood to do it as he cruised through to another final without dropping a set but Nadal, who had taken a massive psychological advantage by thrashing Federer for the concession of only four games in Paris last month, entered yesterday's showdown in equally impressive form. Nadal made an effortless transition to grass by winning the warm-up tournament at Queen's Club before roaring through to another final for the loss of only one set in the six matches he played. He produced what is considered to be the performance of the fortnight when he pulverised the home nation's great hope Andy Murray in the quarter-finals on his way to earn a third successive final meeting with the world No1. The first of those finals was close, the second even closer, but the third was Nadal all the way, certainly up until the rain break. His biggest scare in episode one of the contest came when he fell heavily behind the baseline early in the first set, requiring a brief visit from the physiotherapist at the changeover. Nadal, still only 22, stunned Federer, who will be 27 next month, by breaking serve in the third game of the match -- only the third time the top seed had suffered that misfortune during the fortnight -- and that was sufficient for him to claim the opening set. It appeared that Federer was about to turn matters his way when he raced into a 4-1 lead in the second set but Nadal responded brilliantly to that crisis by rattling off the next five games to take a two-set lead and control of the match. Not even a cruel call of a code violation by the French umpire Pascal Maria for taking two long between points while serving could knock the Spaniard out of his confident stride. The third set produced some outstanding rallies and was nip and tuck all the way until rain, which had delayed the start by 35 minutes, returned and the two gladiators were brushed aside by the court covers before scurrying away to the locker room. When they reappeared with the world's most famous tennis court bathed in evening sunshine, Nadal faced the daunting task of having to serve to stay in the set at 4-5. The Spaniard was up the challenge but the Swiss held his nerve in the ensuing tie-break to take the tremendous battle into a fourth set. The swashbuckling Spaniard came within two points of the title in the 10th game of that nerve-wracking fourth set but Federer showed what a true champion he is by holding on to go into another tie-break. Nadal led 5-2 but tightened noticeably and double-faulted to reprieve his rival. He still got to match point at 7-6 and again at 8-7, only for Federer to produce his best tennis of the match and squeeze through it 10-8. It was anybody's match in the decider. At long last it was Nadal's.
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