In an age of brilliant champions, Novak Djokovic continued his march towards recognition as one of the sport’s all-time greats when he claimed his third Wimbledon title. Amid all the talk about Roger Federer’s attempt to become the first man to win the All England Club title eight times, it had perhaps been overlooked that the Swiss was facing an opponent who has been the best player in the world for most of the last five years.
If Federer never rescaled the heights he had climbed in destroying Andy Murray in the semi-finals on Friday, that was largely down to the brilliance of Djokovic, who won 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 to take his ninth Grand Slam title and thereby move ahead of some of the sport’s greats, like Fred Perry, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Ken Rosewall. By winning his third Wimbledon title, the world No 1 also emulated his coach, Boris Becker.
It was the perfect response to the disappointment Djokovic suffered last month when he lost in the final of the French Open, the only Grand Slam title he is yet to win. “Obviously I was disappointed and heartbroken,” Djokovic said. “But one thing I have learned in sport is to recover fast and to leave things behind me and move on.” He added: “I’m extremely proud. It’s a huge relief. That’s the first feeling that I will feel after the tournament.”
Federer, 34 next month and having failed to become the oldest Wimbledon champion in the Open era, paid tribute to Djokovic. “He’s played great the whole two weeks, plus the whole year, plus last year, plus the year before that, so he deserved it,” he said at the presentation ceremony. Djokovic and Murray are regarded as the game’s best returners, but if you were to judge them on the last three days the Serb would clearly come out on top. Murray forced only one break point against Federer, while Djokovic put the world No 2’s serve under relentless pressure. Federer did not serve as well as he had against Murray, but Djokovic returned more effectively than the Scot.
In his first six matches here Federer won 85 per cent and 66 per cent of his first and second-serve points respectively. With Djokovic hitting some crunching returns, those figures dropped to 74 and 49 per cent. En route to the final Federer had had to defend just four break points, but Djokovic created 10 break points in the match and converted four of them.
The overcast and cooler conditions probably favoured Djokovic, who also performed better after a short rain break in the middle of the third set. It was a high-quality final, but the margin between the two players was significantly greater than when Djokovic needed five sets to beat Federer on the same stage 12 months ago.
With Federer hitting three unreturned serves in the opening game it seemed at first he might simply carry on where he had left off against Murray. Also returning serve beautifully, Federer broke to love to lead 4-2, though Djokovic fought back immediately.
When Federer went 15-40 down in the following game it was the first time in the tournament he had faced two consecutive break points. He saved the first with an unreturned serve but netted a volley on the second as Djokovic attempted to pass him.
At 5-6 Djokovic saved two set points with service winners, but in the ensuing tiebreak the Serb raised his game, pulling Federer from side to side with some bold groundstrokes. At 1-6, Federer lost the set to a double-fault. The second set was just as tight. Djokovic saved two break points at 2-2 and one at 5-5, while Federer saved one at 4-5. The second tiebreak looked to be going the way of the first when Djokovic went 6-3 up after two successive forehand errors by Federer, but he won the next three points with a service winner, a missed forehand by the Serb at the end of a stunning rally and a superb backhand winner down the line.
The crowd’s huge roar showed where their sympathies lay and they kept pumping up the volume as the drama intensified. Federer saved two more set points before Djokovic wasted his best and last opportunity at 10-9, hitting a forehand long on his seventh set point. Federer converted his second set point at 12-11 with a smart volley.
However, one horrible mistake cost Federer the third set as the momentum swung back in Djokovic’s favour. Having saved two break points in the opening game, the Swiss had what should have been an easy kill when he faced another in the third but hit his forehand beyond the baseline. After two more games the players left the court for a 21-minute rain break, following which Djokovic served out for the set.
Mistakes were now starting to creep into Federer’s game. When the seven-time champion served at 2-2 and 30-30 he put a poor backhand in the net and Djokovic converted his subsequent break point with a crashing backhand return.
Federer saved two break points at 2-4 and had his last opportunity in the following game when two huge returns left Djokovic serving at 0-30. However, the world No 1 served his way out of trouble in emphatic fashion and in the following game broke Federer for the fourth and last time with a series of huge returns.
Having clinched his third Wimbledon title with an inside-out forehand winner on his first championship point, Djokovic embraced Federer at the net before sinking to his knees and eating a blade of grass, as he has done on his previous Wimbledon triumphs.
“I was assured that’s it’s gluten free,” he joked afterwards. “It’s not processed, completely organic and natural and I could eat it.”
As for the future, Djokovic has his eyes on winning plenty more of the game’s greatest prizes. “I’m 28,” he said. “I feel good. I don’t feel old. I have hopefully many more years in front of me. I’m going to try to push my own limits and see how far I can go.”
Australian Open (5)
2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015
2011, 2014, 2015
US Open (1)
Most men’s Slams
17 Roger Federer (Swit)
14 Rafael Nadal (Sp)
Pete Sampras (US)
12 Roy Emerson (Aus)
11 Bjorn Borg (Swe)
Rod Laver (Aus)
10 Bill Tilden (US)
9 Novak Djokovic (Serb)
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