WIMBLEDON, England — Rafael Nadal knows exactly where he was 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."
A year ago this time, 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 back now — once again in the Wimbledon final, once again on top of his game. The No. 1-ranked Nadal picked apart No. 4 Andy Murray of Britain 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 in the semifinals Friday to close in on a second trophy at the All England Club and an eighth Grand Slam title overall. Sunday, he faces 12th-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, who beat No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia 6-3, 7-6 (11-9), 6-3 as a follow-up to his upset of top-seeded Roger Federer.
"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 probably seems like the blink of an eye to 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 Austin in 1938.
"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.," said Murray, who lost in the semifinals last year. "A little bit more disappointing than other Grand Slams, because this one is, you know, the biggest one of the year for me."
Nadal, 24, has won his past 13 matches at the grasscourt major, and 25 of 27, with the only losses coming against Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals. Nadal beat Federer in an epic 2008 title match.
Against Murray, Nadal sprinted from one corner to another, tracking down strokes that would be 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 as play carried on.
When Nadal won two points in a row early in the second set with superb defense, Murray put his palms up as if to ask, "How many great shots do I need to hit?"
Nadal is 7-3 against Berdych, including six consecutive wins. But Berdych, 24, has never played with the confidence and patience he has displayed so far.
He was broken only once against Djokovic, displaying the same booming serve and forehand that carried Berdych to the French Open semifinals a month ago and past Federer this week.
"I'm looking forward to the next one," Berdych said, "and definitely not (fearing) anybody."