WIMBLEDON, England - Rafael Nadal knows exactly where he was, of course, on the first Sunday of July 2009, the only time in the past five years that the Wimbledon men's final went on without him. "I watched at home," Nadal said. "On the sofa."
Yes, a year ago, he was in front of a TV in Spain, resting his aching knees, instead of wielding his racket on Centre Court, only the fifth player in the history of a tournament that began in 1877 unable to defend his title because of injury.
He's here now - once again in the Wimbledon final, once again on top of his forehand-whipping, every-shot-retrieving, foe-demoralizing game. The No. 1-ranked Nadal picked apart No. 4 Andy Murray of Britain, 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-4, in the semifinals Friday to close in on a second trophy at the All England Club and eighth Grand Slam championship overall.
"For sure, that makes [it] more special," Nadal said, "because I worked a lot to be back, playing my best tennis."
Nadal's wait to return to the Wimbledon final lasted 24 months, which is nothing for local fans. Their wait for a homegrown champion drags on: A British man hasn't won the title since Fred Perry in 1936; one hasn't even reached the final since Henry "Bunny" Austin in 1938.
Murray, who also lost in the semifinals last year, said: "A little bit more disappointing than other Grand Slams, because this one is, you know, the biggest one of the year for me."
Nadal has won his last 13 matches at the grass-court major, and 25 of 27, with the only losses coming against Roger Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals. On Sunday, Nadal will take on someone other than Federer in the Wimbledon final for the first time: 12th-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic (Nadal is 7-3 against him with six straight victories). Berdych, 24, followed up his upset of six-time champion Federer by ousting No. 3 Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3, Friday.
This is Nadal's 10th Grand Slam final, Berdych's first. Might Berdych feel some pressure? "I hope so," Nadal said with a smile, "but I don't think so."
Berdych, the first Czech man to reach the Wimbledon men's final since Ivan Lendl in 1987, said: "The feeling is absolutely amazing. It is really tough to describe. Every young kid, from the first time he hits the ball and thinks to be a tennis player, this is the dream."