LONDON (Reuters) - Rewarding as it was for Rafael Nadal to become the only player to win the same Grand Slam 12 times by chalking up his dozen at last month’s French Open, the Spaniard arrived at Wimbledon this year like a man on a mission.
In the end, however, it became mission impossible as he lost to inspired Roger Federer in Friday’s blockbuster semi-final.
Not since 2010, two years after his epic final triumph over Federer proved the king of clay had mastered grass, has the Spaniard been the last man standing at Wimbledon.
Since that win over Tomas Berdych it has not been a particularly happy hunting ground for the Mallorcan.
After losing to Novak Djokovic in the 2011 final, Nadal has never contested a title decider on Centre Court, suffering shock losses to the likes of Lukas Rosol, Dustin Brown and Gilles Muller, not to mention Nick Kyrgios.
Last year he was close, losing an epic semi to Djokovic when victory would have left him facing an exhausted Kevin Anderson in the final — a virtual open goal.
This year Nadal was irritated by being dropped to three in the seedings for this year’s tournament, despite being ranked two — meaning he would likely have to beat both Federer and Djokovic to get his hands back on the Challenge Cup.
That, along with a stormy second-round win over Kyrgios, fuelled his fire and the only set he dropped in a marauding run to the semi-final was against the maverick Australian.
Most observers marked him down as favourite against eight-time champion Federer — especially with a 24-15 career record, a 10-3 advantage in Grand Slam play and a 4-0 record in semi-finals at the majors.
But Federer made a nonsense of such predictions with a vintage display, largely outplaying the Mallorcan in a 7-6(3) 1-6 6-3 6-4 victory on a spellbound Centre Court.
With Djokovic awaiting in the final it would have still been a tall order for Nadal to claim his third Wimbledon crown and move to 19 Grand Slams in total — one behind Federer.
At 33, Nadal knows he may not get many more chances and he could not hide his frustration on Friday.
“I created another opportunity to be in another final of a Grand Slam. Just have to accept that was not my day,” he said.
“I played a great event. Today is sad because for me I know chances are not forever. Last year I had chances. I had another one, and I was not able to convert to win one more time here.”
Nadal admitted he was disappointed with his performance, despite playing his part in some spellbinding passages of play.
“I didn’t play as good as I did in the previous rounds, and he played well. So he deserves it,” Nadal said of only his fourth loss in 14 Grand Slam clashes with Federer.
“He was doing a lot of things well. Honestly, I didn’t have the great feelings that I had the other days. I was not able to open the court as the other days.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge