London :Rafael Nadal's wait to return to the Wimbledon final lasted two years, which probably seems like the blink of an eye to local fans.
Thanks to Andy Murray's semifinals loss on Friday, 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.
About an hour after Nadal beat Murray 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-4 in the semifinals, a reporter began a question in Spanish this way:
"One year later, another final ..."
The reporter quickly was cut off. And corrected.
"No," Nadal said, "two years later."
The way Nadal's playing at the moment, it seems like he never left. Still, don't forget that he missed Wimbledon in 2009, sidelined by sore knees that made him only the fifth player in the history of the tournament unable to defend his title because of injury.
Which is why, 12 months ago, the men's final at the All England Club went on without him for the only time in the past five years.
"I watched at home," Nadal said. "On the sofa."
Now the Spaniard is front-and-center on Centre Court once again, on top of his forehand-whipping, every-shot-retrieving, foe-demoralizing game. The No. 1-ranked and No. 2-seeded Nadal will be bidding for his second Wimbledon championship and eighth Grand Slam title overall Sunday, when he plays No. 12-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in the final.
"For sure, that makes (it) more special," Nadal said, "because I worked a lot to be back, playing my best tennis. I did, so that's very important. Personal satisfaction, no?"
Murray, who also lost in the semifinals last year and appeared on the verge of tears at his news conference.
"I obviously want to win for myself. I want to win for the guys I work with. I want to win for, you know, the U.K," he 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. Nadal beat Federer in the epic 2008 title match, which ended at 9-7 in the fifth set as darkness descended.
This time, a new foe will be across the net: Berdych, who followed up his quarterfinal upset win over six-time champion Federer by ousting No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3 Friday.
This will be Nadal's 10th Grand Slam final; Berdych's first. Might Berdych feel some pressure because of that?
"I hope so," Nadal said with a smile, "but I don't think so."
With English football star David Beckham seated in the front row behind Murray's guest box at Centre Court, and about 15,000 others cheer for the Scotsman, too, Nadal was a picture of perpetual motion.
He repeatedly sprinted from one corner to another, tracking down strokes that would be clean winners against anyone else. A few times, members of the eager-to-roar crowd would applaud, thinking Murray won a point, only to be hushed by other spectators as play carried on.
"His backhand's good. His serve's good. His forehand's good. His movement is good," Murray said afterward. "He does everything really, really well."
Two qualities Murray neglected to mention: Nadal's all-out intensity, and his propensity for coming up big at the biggest times.
"In the crucial points today, Rafael was really good," said Nadal's uncle and coach, Toni, "and Murray was not too good."
Nadal faced a set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, but won the last three points. Then he trailed 4-2 in the third set, but reeled off the final four games of the match.
Afterward, Murray said something Berdych might want to ponder.
"You're not going to be able to play every single point on your terms against the best player in the world, one of the best players ever. You can't," Murray said.
Nadal has won seven of his 10 matches against Berdych, with victories in their past six matches. But the 24-year-old Berdych never has played with the confidence and patience he's displayed while becoming the first Czech man to reach the Wimbledon final since Ivan Lendl in 1987.
"The feeling is absolutely amazing. It is really tough to describe," Berdych said. "Every young kid, from the first time he hits the ball and thinks to be a tennis player, this is the dream."
He showed promise at age 18 by upsetting Federer at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but has taken a while to develop as an elite player. His booming serve and forehand, though, carried Berdych to the French Open semifinals a month ago, past the top-seeded Federer on Wednesday, and past No. 3 Djokovic on Friday.
The toughest test of all remains.
"I'm looking forward to the next one," Berdych said, "and definitely not (fearing) anybody."
Berdych's major final debut comes in his 28th try, the second-most major tournaments anyone has played before reaching a title match.
Nadal, meanwhile, won his fifth French Open last month, regaining that title after losing in the fourth round a year ago. He later would say his knees were hurting, part of a tough 2009. Nadal missed Wimbledon, began a drought of 11 months without a title, gave up the No. 1 ranking, and had to deal with his parents' separation.
"A very difficult year. Many problems with the knees. Then our loss in Roland Garros. Altogether, it was a bad year," Uncle Toni said.
Rafael Nadal's coach sighed, then broke into a wide grin.
"Now," he added, "life has changed."