7:40am

Sat July 2, 2011
Sports

Wimbledon Final Pits Nadal And Future No. 1 Djokovic

Rafael Nadal will get to play one more match as the top-ranked man in the tennis world, and it will be in the Wimbledon final against the man who is going to replace him.

The defending champion reached his fifth final at the All England Club on Friday, beating Andy Murray 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. But the win wasn't enough to hold onto his No. 1 ranking, which instead will go to Novak Djokovic for the first time on Monday.

That's because the second-seeded Serb improved his record 47-1 this year with a 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (9), 6-3 victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a match filled with diving shots by both players.

"It's definitely one of the most important achievements and days in my life, in my career," said Djokovic, a two-time Australian Open champion who will be playing in his first Wimbledon final. "When you know you're going to be the best in the world and you're reaching the finals of your favorite tournament, it's something special."

Sunday's final will be between the Australian Open champion and the French Open titlist. Djokovic won the first Grand Slam tournament of the year as part of his 43-match winning streak, while 10-time major champion Nadal equaled Bjorn Borg's record of six titles at Roland Garros last month.

But before losing his first match of the year to Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals, Djokovic had beaten Nadal in two hard-court finals and two clay-court finals in 2011.

"His mental position over me today is probably a little bit better because he won the last four finals against me," said Nadal, who has won 20 straight matches on the grass at Wimbledon. "I will try my best. I have to play aggressive. I have to play with intensity, with rhythm. That's what (I'm) going to try."

On Saturday, the women will be on Centre Court for their final. Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, is to face Petra Kvitova.

The opening match on Friday was filled with acrobatic shots and diving saves. And twice in the third set, both players went down on the same point.

At 1-1 with Tsonga serving, the Frenchman dived to send the ball back toward Djokovic. The Serb then dived to hit a backhand across the net while Tsonga scrambled to his feet just in time to dive again and push a forehand long.

In the seventh game, Djokovic dived to hit a forehand, but Tsonga did the same, sending a forehand winner back over the net.

"This is the only surface you can really dive, because on the others, if you dive you go directly to the hospital," said Tsonga, who also played to the Royal Box after another diving winner in the first set. "So this is good."

But it was Djokovic doing the celebrating at the end, dropping on his back after Tsonga sent a return out of play on match point.

A few seconds later, he knelt down and kissed the grass.

"When I finished the match I didn't know how to show my emotions," said Djokovic, who also beat Tsonga in the 2008 Australian Open final. "This is one of those moments where you can't describe it with the words. You remember all your career, all your childhood, everything you worked for that comes true now."

The crowd certainly enjoyed the theatrics in the first match, but they had a more vested interest in the second as Murray took the court hoping to earn a chance to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the Wimbledon title.

Nadal wasn't having it, despite losing the first set.

The match turned early in the second went Murray sent an easy forehand long. If it had landed into the open court, the fourth-seeded Brit would have had another break point. But instead, Nadal evened the score at 30-30, served out the game two points later and then won six straight after that to take complete control.

"He was playing fantastic at the beginning and probably he had an important mistake with 15-30, easy forehand he played long," said Nadal, who had only seven unforced errors in the match to Murray's 42. "So probably that's one of the turning points of the match." Nadal broke again in the opening game of the fourth, and will get a chance to win his third Wimbledon title in his past three appearances. After winning in 2008, he missed the 2009 tournament with injuries.

"It was a big point," Murray, a three-time major runner-up, said of that missed forehand. "I was playing very high-risk tennis for most of the match. I went for it today, and I started to make a few mistakes after that."

Both players were nursing injuries, and both denied it was a problem Friday. But it's only Nadal that has to play once more at this year's tournament.

"(I'm) not worried about the foot. I know what's going on," said Nadal, who hurt his left foot in the fourth round. "I know with the treatment that I am doing to play (I'm not) going to have any problem."

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