June 15, 2008: The day Rafael Nadal won the Queen’s title

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Every day, Tennis Majors takes you back in time to relive a tennis event which happened on this specific day. On June 15, 2008, Rafael Nadal won the Queen's just after the French Open. He was in a mission to win at Wimbledon...

What happened exactly on that day

On this day, the 15th of June 2008, Rafael Nadal claimed the title on the Queen’s Club grass, defeating Novak Djokovic in the final (7-6 7-5), just a week after he had triumphed on clay at Roland-Garros. No one had managed to win both tournaments the same year before the Spaniard.

Without taking any rest and without any time to get used to the surface change after the clay-court season, Nadal won his first tournament on grass and became the first Spaniard to lift a trophy on grass since 1972. The Bull from Manacor sent there a timely warning to Roger Federer before Wimbledon.

The people

Rafael Nadal, the king of clay

Rafael Nadal was only 22, but his achievements had already secured him a spot in tennis history. World no.2 since the 2005 summer, he had already claimed 27 titles, including 4 Grand Slam crowns. He remained undefeated in Roland-Garros: since his first appearance, in 2005, four times had he participated, four times he was the champion. No one had even managed to push him into a fifth set there. Besides, not only was he considered almost unbeatable on clay, having lost only two matches since his loss against Igor Andreev in Valencia, in April 2005, but he had now made his game more aggressive in order to triumph on fast surfaces.

Rafael Nadal holding the French Open trophy in 2008

As early as 2006, he had already reached the final at Wimbledon, defeated by Roger Federer (6-0 7-6 6-7 6-3). A year later, in 2007, he was edged by the Swiss in the final round again, this time after pushing him into a fifth set (7-6 4-6 7-6 2-6 6-2). In 2008, he had been more impressive than ever at the French Open, where he destroyed Federer in the final (6-1 6-3 6-0). Aiming for the Wimbledon title, as well as for world no.1, the lefty decided not to take any break after his victory, and he played his first round at the Queen’s Club Championships a couple of days later.

Novak Djokovic, just became a Grand Slam winner

Novak Djokovic was born in 1987, a year after Rafael Nadal, and he turned professional in 2003. His breakthrough year was 2006, when he reached a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time, at Roland-Garros, edging on his way world no.9 Fernando Gonzalez, a few weeks before he claimed his first ATP title in Amersfoort.

In 2007, he won his first Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Montreal ( where he edged world no.1 Roger Federer for the first time). He obtained outstanding results in Grand Slam tournaments, finishing runner-up at the US Open to Federer (7-6 7-6 6-4), and reaching the semi-finals at both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon.

In 2008, he started the year in the greatest possible way, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final of the Australian Open (4-6 6-4 6-3 7-6) to claim his first Grand Slam crown. Defeated in the French Open semi-final by Rafael Nadal (6-4 6-2 7-6), he was now world no.3 and he had high expectations for the grass season.

Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Melbourne in 2008

The place

The Queen’s Club, founded in 1886, was the first multi-sport complex ever built. Its main activity was tennis, and it was owned by the British Lawn Tennis Association from 1953 to 2007. The Queen’s Club Championships were held there since 1890. Considered as the second main grass-court event after Wimbledon, numerous tennis legends lifted its trophy through the years.

Up to June 2005, six times, the All England Club champion had triumphed at the Queens before: John McEnroe did it twice (1981, 1984), followed by Jimmy Connors in 1982, Boris Becker in 1985, Pete Sampras in 1999 and Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. That’s why the Queen’s final was always watched closely by the pundits.

The facts

Rafael Nadal had never made a break after winning Roland-Garros. For the fourth consecutive year, he was already competing on grass a couple of days after lifting the most prestigious clay-court trophy in the world. So far, he had had trouble switching surfaces so fast and he had never made it past the quarter-finals at the Queen’s Club, but this year was different.

In 2008, Rafa had outclassed everyone at the French Open, where no one had been able to win a single set against him. He was blasting with confidence and it seemed like he could achieve anything. This time, in the quarter-finals, he survived a thriller against the serving machine Ivo Karlovic (6-7 7-6 7-6), and in the semi-final, he defeated former Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick, who had won the Queen’s Club Championships four times (7-5 6-4).

Rafael Nadal at the Queen's in 2008

Novak Djokovic, who had been defeated by Nadal in the semi-final of Roland-Garros had enjoyed a couple more days to adjust to the grass. He made the best out of this extra-time and on his way to the Queen’s final, he destroyed two dangerous grass court players, Lleyton Hewitt (6-2 6-2) and David Nalbandian (6-1 6-0), who had faced each other in the 2002 Wimbledon final.  

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, despite their young age, had played against each other eight times already, and Nadal had prevailed eight times.

The Serbian took the best start. Very aggressive, he took the advantage over Nadal and he was soon up, 3-0. When he obtained a game point to lead 4-0, it seemed that Djokovic was going to dominate their second encounter on grass – almost a year after he had to retire after claiming the first set of their 2007 Wimbledon semi-final – but Nadal’s fighting spirit was not to be counted out.

The Spaniard managed to even the score and to push Djokovic into a tie-break. Displaying unusually long rallies on grass, both players were now delivering a great performance. Nadal saved a set point at 6-5 and won the tie-break 8-6 after 74 minutes of play.

In the second set, after coming back from 0-2, Novak Djokovic broke the Spaniard at 4-4. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t convert the opportunity: losing the next three games, he concealed the second set, 7-5. Rafael Nadal was the 2008 Queen’s Club Champion.

Rafael Nadal, claiming his first-ever title on grass, had become the first Spaniard to lift a trophy on grass since Andres Gimeno in 1972, and the first player to ever win Roland-Garros and the Queen’s Club the same year. He was ready for Wimbledon.

What next

Three weeks later, Rafael Nadal would become the sixth player to triumph at the Queen’s Club and at Wimbledon the same year, after he won a legendary final at the All England Club against Roger Federer (6-4 6-4 6-7 6-7 9-7).

He would then become world no.1 on the 18th of August 2008, a spot he would hold for a total of 209 weeks throughout his career. Rafael Nadal would claim a second title at Wimbledon in 2010 (beating Tomas Berdych in the final, 6-3 7-5 6-4), and his last title on grass would be the Stuttgart Open in 2015. In total, Rafael Nadal has now claimed 84 titles, including 19 Grand Slam crowns. 

In 2008, despite his high hopes, Novak Djokovic would lose to Marat Safin in the second round of Wimbledon (6-4 7-6 6-2). It would take a long time to Djokovic before he would win a second Grand Slam tournament. Until the 2011 Australian Open, the Serbian would always be no.3, behind Nadal and Federer, but that year, claiming three out of the four major events, he would eventually become world no.1, a spot he would hold for 282 weeks, running. Novak Djokovic has now claimed 79 titles on the tour, 17 of them in Grand Slam tournaments. 

The Nadal-Djokovic rivalry would become one of the biggest rivalries in tennis history, as they would face each other 55 times, Djokovic leading 29-26.

 

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