So this was why Novak Djokovic recruited Boris Becker to his coaching team. The 27-year-old Serb had feared he was becoming a serial loser on the world’s greatest stages, but with one of Wimbledon’s legendary champions in his corner he found a way to win again here on Sunday.
To do so Djokovic had to play one of the matches of his life before beating Roger Federer 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 after nearly four hours to claim his second Wimbledon title. The last fortnight has seen a new wave of players emerge as major challengers to the sport’s biggest names, but when it came down to the climax of the world’s most famous tournament it took two of the “Fab Four” to produce a final worthy of the occasion.
Federer came back from 5-2 down to win the fourth set, saving a match point along the way, and when Djokovic sent for the trainer because of a leg problem early in the decider it seemed that the Swiss might go on to become the only man in history to win the Wimbledon title eight times. Djokovic, however, fought back to ensure that he would not join Ivan Lendl, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray as the only men in the Open era to lose four Grand Slam finals in a row.
“This has been the best quality Grand Slam final that I’ve ever been a part of,” Djokovic said afterwards. “I played in the longest ever final against [Rafael] Nadal at the Australian Open in 2012, but in terms of the quality of the tennis from the very first point this was definitely the best match.”
Djokovic said that given the stage he is at in his career and his recent losses in Grand Slam finals, this was the victory of which he was most proud. He added: “I could easily have lost my concentration in the fifth set and handed him the win, but I didn’t. That’s why this win was so important to me mentally.”
The stars watch the men's final from the Royal Box
The stars watch the men's final from the Royal Box
1/11 Bradley Cooper
2/11 The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
3/11 Sir Chris Hoy
4/11 Chris Hemsworth
5/11 Sean Connery
6/11 David and Victoria Beckham
7/11 Samuel L Jackson
8/11 Duke of Kent
9/11 David Beckham talks to Samuel L Jackson
10/11 Hugh Jackman
11/11 Princess Eugenie
It was after his loss to Rafael Nadal in last year’s US Open final that Djokovic asked Becker to head his coaching team. Another defeat in a final followed – to Nadal at last month’s French Open – as Djokovic’s record rose to five losses in his last six appearances in Grand Slam finals. With Becker by his side, however, the Serb has halted the trend.
Djokovic, who replaces Nadal at the top of the world rankings today, took his tally of Grand Slam titles to seven by winning a match in which the quality of the tennis matched that of the Federer-Nadal finals of recent years. Federer, who was aiming to become the oldest men’s Wimbledon champion in the Open era, has rolled back the years over the last fortnight, ridiculing those who had written him off.
The first Grand Slam final for four and a half years not to feature Nadal or Murray was the 35th meeting between Djokovic and Federer. With delicious symmetry, that was also the total number of matches contested by Becker and Stefan Edberg, Federer’s coach.
The morning rain cleared in time for the final to begin in warm sunshine and in an atmosphere that crackled with anticipation. From the start it was clear that the crowd were on the side of Federer, the hero of Centre Court for more than a decade. Djokovic, the man all of Britain wanted to lose in last year’s final against Murray, might be getting a complex about these things. Even with Britain’s favourite German in his camp, the Serb had the public against him.
The match was an intriguing contrast of styles. Federer was the constant aggressor, always attacking and looking to get into the net. Djokovic, who loves having a target, hit some stunning passing shots and tried to dominate from the baseline.
Both men served beautifully – Federer hit 29 aces – and showed great athleticism to produce some breathtaking rallies. The statistics told their own story about the high quality of the match. There were 142 winners (75 by Federer) and only 56 unforced errors (29 by Federer).
Federer won the first tie-break 9-7 and it was not until the third game of the second set that there was a break of serve – by Djokovic. Federer did not even force a break point until Djokovic served for the second set. The Swiss hit four successive aces to win one game in the third set, in which there were again no breaks. Djokovic played the tie-break with steely resolve, winning it 7-4.
When Djokovic broke to lead 3-1 in the fourth set Federer was looking a beaten man, but it proved to be the first of five breaks of serve in nine games. Djokovic failed to serve out for the set at 5-3 and in the following game Federer saved a match point with an ace. Djokovic played a woeful game to drop serve at 5-5 and Federer served out for the set by winning his fifth game in a row.
Was Federer about to become the first man to win a Wimbledon final after saving a match point since Bob Falkenburg in 1948? You would not have bet against it when a limping Djokovic had treatment for a leg problem early in the decider and had to save a break point at 3-3.
Federer, however, needed to save three break points in the following game and at 4-5 the former world No 1’s missed forehand gave Djokovic two match points. He needed only one of them as Federer dumped a backhand in the net.
After celebrating with his team Djokovic dedicated his victory to his girlfriend Jelena Ristic and their future baby, to his family and his team and lastly to Jelena Gencic, the coach who worked with him throughout his early years and who died last year. As he said the latter words, Djokovic raised the trophy to the sky.
Federer thought it had been “a great match” but was disappointed not to have made more inroads into Djokovic’s service games.
Djokovic, having knelt down and tasted the Centre Court grass at the end of the match, was asked what it had tasted like. “It tasted like the best meal I have ever had in my life,” he said.Reuse content