By the time it was over, at 9.15pm, it had become almost impossible to see the ball, yet all eyes remained riveted. There was, after all, an extraordinary afterglow, provided by arguably the greatest tennis match ever played.
Rafael Nadal, the 22-year-old Mallorcan who already holds four French Open titles, won it when he beat Roger Federer of Switzerland for the Wimbledon men’s singles title he was defending for the fifth time, by 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 in four hours, 46 minutes. However, a point had been reached when the matter of who won and who lost had become almost secondary to the scale of the spectacle and the level of the fight. Federer, 26,understandably questioned the proposition but he did agree that even in defeat – an extremely painful one, he made no attempt to disguise – he was still proud to play in such a match.
“It’s not for me to say that was the greatest match ever played at Wimbledon or anywhere else. It is for all who saw it and those who rank these things, but I will say that I was proud to play in such a match and that Rafa played so well.
“No, it was not much fun playing in that light but I suppose it would have been brutal for everyone having to come back in the morning.” It would certainly have broken an amazing spell if the game’s climax had been delayed overnight.
For much of a match that was interrupted for more than an hour by an afternoon rain shower, it seemed that the usual demarcation lines between sport and deeper human dramas had been crossed as Federer fought his way back from what seemed to be a crisis of self-belief.