New Delhi, Nov 1 : Apart from being widely regarded as the greatest tennis match of all time, the 2008 Wimbledon final is seen as a decisive moment in the storied Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry. Nadal may have already won the French Open four consecutive times before arriving at the All-England Club in whites but Federer was still number one on the ATP rankings and pretty much the undisputed king of the grass court. For Nadal, this was not just about winning a first Wimbledon title but also to establish himself as Federer's equal.
'Strokes of Genius', currently streaming on Discovery Plus, attempts to capture this shift apart from telling the story of the match itself and its two protagonists. Based on the L. Jon Wertheim's book 'Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal and the Greatest Match Ever Played', the documentary stretches just over one and a half hours, about three hours lesser than the actual match itself. The final stretched on for more than seven hours if one takes into account the two rain delays and the fading light when a tired forehand from Federer hit the net and Nadal took the title.
The documentary is undoubtedly helped by the fact that it uses the match as its spine. As far as great television goes, there are few shows that can surpass a great sporting rivalry exploding in the kind of epic contest that was the 2008 final. It also goes into the parts of the match one may not get to see any more in condensed highlights, such as Federer uncharacteristically shouting "Shut Up!" when a fan cried out "C'mon Roger" during a point. It also provides a glimpse into the two players' past, the methodical rise of Nadal and the story of how Federer reigned in his temper to fulfill his potential.
The documentary concerns itself mostly with events leading up to the match apart from the game itself, providing only a small glimpse of the chapters in the rivalry that have taken place since then. It successfully captures the essence of the equation between the two men, who often end up playing long, gruelling matches whenever they face each other with a Grand Slam title at stake many of the times but famously share a friendship off the court.
It features interviews with John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, who themselves played the 1980 Wimbledon final that was often called the greatest tennis match of all time before 2008, apart from Pete Sampras, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Carlos Moya. Federer and Nadal's childhood coaches and their family members along with Pascal Maria, the chair umpire for the match, also provide their perspectives.
It is important for any sport to have its top player being constantly challenged by someone for it to avoid being a predictable one-horse race, as is currently the case with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in Formula 1. Federer threatened to make tennis his own one-horse race at the turn of the century until Nadal came along, and later Novak Djokovic. 'Strokes of Genius' does justice to the match itself that defined this shift in power and is a treat for fans of tennis, or even for those who are just beginning to follow it.