He has been the outstanding player of the year, has already won two Grand Slam titles and will be crowned world No 1 tomorrow, but nothing would mean more to Novak Djokovic than winning Wimbledon. "It's just something I've dreamed of for ever," the 24-year-old Serb said yesterday as he looked ahead to this afternoon's final against Rafael Nadal.
On the evidence of this year's head-to-head meetings between the two players the dream could well become reality. Djokovic, the outstanding player of 2011, has met Nadal in four Masters Series finals – two on clay and two on hard courts – and won them all. Indeed the Serb has lost only one match all year, to Roger Federer in the semi-finals at Roland Garros, in the course of a season which has already brought him seven titles, including the Australian Open.
Djokovic, nevertheless, appreciates the size of his task. "There is no bigger challenge at this point in our sport than playing in the Wimbledon final against Nadal," he said.
While Djokovic has had the upper hand on Nadal in recent months, the Spaniard has had it all his own way in their Grand Slam confrontations. Nadal has beaten Djokovic three times at the French Open, once at the US Open and once here, when the Serb retired in the third set of their semi-final four years ago.
"It's quite different playing Nadal in a Grand Slam because it's over the best of five sets," Djokovic said. "Physically we all know that he's superior and he's the strongest player around, the most prepared, so I'm ready for long rallies, long points. I need to be physically ready, which I am. I feel fit, and mentally obviously motivated. It's my first Wimbledon final. The four times I won against him this year can probably help me in some ways mentally prior to this match."
Nadal also has a phenomenal record on these courts. Since 2005 he has lost only twice at the All England Club, on both occasions in finals against Federer, and is on a 20-match winning streak in SW19, having won the title on his last two visits. The defending champion's record in Grand Slam finals is equally formidable. In 12 appearances in finals his only losses were those two against Federer here. If he wins today the 25-year-old Spaniard will become the second youngest man in history to win 11 Grand Slam titles after Bjorn Borg.
Grass has been the most challenging surface for Djokovic, but the way in which he won his semi-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who put out Federer, suggests that the Serb has conquered whatever reservations he might have had about playing on it.
Nadal will not under-estimate his opponent. "His mental position over me today is probably a little bit better because he has won the last four finals against me, but I will try my best," he said. "I'm playing well, really well, but we will see what happens . I have to play aggressively. I have to play with intensity, with rhythm. That's what I'm going to try to do."