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Remembering Federer v Nadal 2008 - the umpire's view

by Mark Hodgkinson
Wednesday 16 July 2014

Umpire Pascal Maria re-lives the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal...

For all Roger Federer’s grass-court glories – seven times he has been the champion of the All England Club – it’s his two defeats in Wimbledon finals that have touched the heights.

So, in the days after this summer’s Championships, one compelling Federer defeat was being compared with another. The entertainment provided by this summer’s men’s final was such that some seated around the Centre Court lawn regarded Novak Djokovic’s five-set victory as being one of the five greatest matches every played. Had Federer, who had saved a match point in the fourth set, gone on to win the trophy – that would have given him a record eighth Wimbledon title – it may well have turned out to be the finest match in history. As it was, Djokovic held on, and Rafa Nadal’s victory over Federer in the 2008 final is still almost universally regarded as the greatest match ever contested.

Frenchman Pascal Maria, who was in the chair for that final, relived the match in conversation with Wimbledon.com:

Many people regard the 2008 final as the greatest match ever played – what’s your take?

"Wimbledon is the mecca of tennis. It's where all the traditions of tennis come from. The place is just unbelievable. And then this match was between such great players, who were ranked numbers one and two at the time. And, more than anything, the tennis that was played was incredible. Plus, there was a little bit of darkness, and rain, and drama. And Federer had saved that match point in the fourth set to take it into a fifth set."

What was it like having the best seat in the house?

"You shouldn't forget that, before being an official, I'm a tennis fan. And to be assigned a Wimbledon final, regardless of which Wimbledon final you do, that's a privilege. Normally you do just one Wimbledon final in your lifetime, and the one I was assigned to turned out to be an exceptional match, with people saying it was one of the biggest matches ever in tennis. And it's great if people don't remember that I was the umpire for that match - that's the biggest compliment that you can pay an official.”

At what point did you realise that it was a special match?

"Nadal was trying to win Wimbledon for the first time, so when he went two sets to love up, I realised that it was going to be a good match. And then when Nadal had his match point in fourth set, and Federer won the point with a backhand winner, I realised this was pretty big. The crowd went ballistic. And that's when I thought to myself, 'bloody hell, what luck that I had this match'."

Was it possible for you to enjoy it at the time? 

"Obviously I was concentrating very hard on what was happening, but if you don't get the vibes from the match, you might not do such a good job. You need to get a feel for it. You have to remember where you are and what's happening."

How much longer would you have allowed the match to continue for if Nadal hadn't closed it out?

"I believe we would have stopped at 8-8, and Nadal took the fifth set 9-7."

How did you feel after you came off court?

"It was mentally exhausting. I felt empty after that match. Looking back, it's difficult to imagine how focused I was. But that's good, that why I do this. I loved it."   

Since that final, have you spoken to Nadal or Federer to compare memories?

"No, it's funny, but no. I think we will have those conversations when their careers are over. I think that they don’t want to look back so much - they are so ambitious that they always wanted to look forward. I believe that when they have both retired we can have a chat about the match. And you have to remember that an official has to stay in the shadows rather than making stories with the players. I haven’t watched a video of the match, though I might do that after I have retired as an umpire.” 

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