Nadal makes mockery of early vulnerability in convincing style

Rafael Nadal calls it "the most beautiful and emblematic court in the world", and no doubt it looks that way for every newly-crowned Wimbledon champion.

Centre Court was not where Nadal's first grand slam came, or where most of them have been won.

You have to look to the French Open's Court Philippe Chatrier to find the major arena where Nadal approaches invincibility.

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But the thrilling five-set victory over Roger Federer in 2008's Wimbledon final was his sweetest career triumph, and yesterday's dismantling of Tomas Berdych, the man who knocked out Federer and Novak Djokovic, emphasises he is now the man to beat at the

All England Club.

Nadal missed last year's tournament through injury, so yesterday's win makes it 14 straight matches he has won at Wimbledon, and fitness permitting he will return looking to make it 21 next year. Few would bet against a third title for the Spaniard.

Nadal does not always dominate opponents on grass as he bullies them on clay, and at times during this Wimbledon he has looked distinctly vulnerable.

Twice in the first week he trailed by two sets to one, against Robin Haase and then Philipp Petzschner, but on both occasions navigated an escape route.

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Then he dropped the first five games of the match against Robin Soderling in the quarter-finals, only to win in four sets, comfortably in the end.

A bizarre call by umpire Pascal Maria had angered Nadal on that day, and he has played near perfect tennis ever since.

British No 1 Andy Murray was swatted away in the semi-finals, Nadal playing the big points as a multiple grand slam winner does best, and Berdych never really posed a threat.

Those famous knees are supposedly a problem, which some fear will curtail his career.

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But those who prophesied the end of Nadal at the start of the year, after he retired due to injury against Murray at the Australian Open, will be keeping a low profile now he has won back to back in Paris and London.

Nadal was concerned at one stage, admitting: "Everybody has doubts and I am no exception."

But the end? Hardly. He swept through the clay-court season without losing a match, to set himself up ideally for the short stretch on grass.

Wimbledon loves Nadal and Nadal loves Wimbledon. That was obvious as he ventured out from the Clubhouse to the outside South Concourse after lifting the trophy yesterday.

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He signed autographs, posed for photographs, and won himself even more friends.

Minutes earlier, in an on-court interview, he had said: "To play this final after a difficult year and to have this trophy in my hands is more than a dream."

Nadal has been a professional since the age of 15, and is now halfway to Federer's record of 16 grand slam titles.

"I am not thinking about 16 and these crazy things," he said at this year's Wimbledon.

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"You have a lot of good moments, you have a lot of bad moments. The important thing is to have enough motivation to keep working hard all the days and be humble and try to be a better player than before. So that's what I did, and I'm going to try to continue doing this."

The 24-year-old brings greater commitment than many of his fellow Spaniards, who in years gone by have either skipped Wimbledon or prepared half-heartedly, never believing they could play on grass.

One major prize has eluded him so far, and it will be his next objective.

Nadal has won the Australian Open once, the French five times and Wimbledon now twice, plus the Davis Cup with Spain, but curiously he has not even reached a final at the US Open.

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Murray's appetite for New York glory has grown after missing out this fortnight, while Federer will be determined to make up for his five-set defeat in last year's final by Juan Martin del Potro, and his quarter-final exits in both of the last two slams.

But Nadal has the added incentive of being a Flushing Meadows title away from becoming the seventh man in history to have won all the grand slams over the course of a career. It is a club he will surely join before long.

That was a long way from his thoughts last night though.

The era of Federer's dominance at Wimbledon has been interrupted by a street-wise left-hander, just as Bjorn Borg's long reign was 29 years ago, when John McEnroe won the first of his three titles.

Wimbledon has a new king.