At last the BBC can stop replaying Bjorn Borg versus John McEnroe finals in the direction of infinity. Only when yesterday’s match was all over, in the gloaming, and its truly epic nature had unravelled, could it be properly appreciated for what it was. By then, at 9.16pm, after almost five hours of tennis that took the breath away from the spectators if not the remarkable players, it didn’t really matter who had won the longest men’s singles final at Wimbledon for both men were gloriously triumphant.
Before then it had rained on Wimbledon. For the first two sets it had rained on poets too. And on aesthetes, stylists and all those with a keen sense of the refined. For Roger Federer, the world’s greatest player – until now, at least – and the most exquisite talent the beautiful game has seen, appeared to be going out of this momentous final in straight sets and then had to save two match points in the fourth.
It would be churlish not to appreciate the extraordinary energy source that is Rafael Nadal, his astonishing speed, muscular strength and indominitable spirit. His is an aggression that is devoid of hostility and because there is a humility about everything he does he too must be celebrated. But yesterday, in the blustery dampness of south-west London, the light that is the tennis of Roger Federer flickered and was in danger of being extinguished in three sets. And tennis, indeed the world of sport, felt slightly impoverished by the likelihood of his tame going.
In the middle of the royal box, Boris Johnson, who knows a thing or two about the changing order of things, nodded in approval and did not look in the least surprised. To his right Bjorn Borg, who had anticipated the fall of Federer after equalling his record of five consecutive Wimbledons, appeared unsurprised to the point of boredom. No one looked surprised. In retrospect, the first two sets of this final, both won 6-4 by Nadal, felt inevitable. Federer had beaten Nadal in four sets two years ago. Last year it was five sets.