WIMBLEDON, England – On a court that once solely belonged to Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic took center stage for a second straight year.
Playing the role of Centre Court spoiler against Wimbledon’s beloved Federer, the defending champion won a rematch of the 2014 final, capturing a ninth career major title with a 7-6(1), 6-7(10), 6-4, 6-3 triumph.
Federer, a seven-time champion here and holder of a record 17 Grand Slams overall, hasn’t won a major title since 2012 when he won here. Once again the Swiss maestro was confounded by the baseline brilliance from the world’s best, who was champion at the Australian Open earlier this year.
“I think Novak played not only great today but the whole two weeks plus the week before plus the entire year and last year and the years before,” Federer joked on court. “That’s sports, that’s why we come to watch it; you don’t know the outcome. I got lucky to win the second set and had my chances early in the third, and he was tougher in the bigger points. I thought he played great. That’s how it goes.”
“I’m still very hungry and motivated to keep playing,” Federer added. “A match like this is very helpful.”
It is a win that further thrusts Djokovic into the stratosphere of the game’s best, but also one that brought about murmurs of disappointment from a British public on hand hoping to witness Federer, 33, win a record eighth title at the All England Club and 18th Grand Slam title overall.
“To walk away empty handed … for me, a finalist trophy is not the same,” Federer told reporters. “Everybody knows that. Clearly I would have loved to win today. There’s no doubt about it.”
Djokovic, not yet embraced on the level that Federer is in this sport, wins for the fifth time in seven meetings against Federer and locks their head-to-head record at 20 wins apiece in 40 matches played.
“It’s always a great privilege to play against Roger, he’s a great champion,” Djokovic said. “He’s somebody that a lot of players from my generation look up to. He makes you push your limits and work hard and earn every point. He’s not going to hand you the match. You wake up every day and work repetitively on certain things and envision yourself on this court holding the trophy.”
The 28-year-old from Serbia also moves into sole possession of eighth place among Grand Slam winners in men’s tennis history with his ninth Slam, breaking a tie with Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and others.
It was brilliant tennis from the outset by Federer, who had been broken in just one service game out of 90 played during this fortnight. (A holding percentage of 99.) He broke Djokovic with a barrage of whizzing strokes in the sixth game, taking a 4-2 lead and drawing a roar from the Centre Court crowd.
But Djokovic would do the unthinkable and break right back, then drawing the match even at 4-all. Federer had two set points on Djokovic’s serve at 5-6, but the Serbian crushed wide deliveries both times rendering Federer helpless. The No. 1 seed then ran away with the tie-breaker, winning seven of eight points as Federer’s timing – and his confidence – waned.
The second set saw each man with a chance to grab it before it reached another tiebreaker, this one played out as though in a movie. Djokovic led 6-3 in the breaker and would have six set points all in all, Federer saving one with a sensational backhand cross-court winner that sent the Centre Court crowd to its feet as the duo traded sides.
Djokovic finally blinked first, putting a forehand into the net on an early ball at 10-10 and then could only watch as Federer bunted a backhand volley winner, the match back even at nearly two hours old.
Though what could have been a tide-turning moment in this match for Federer turned out to be a buoy for Djokovic. He broke in the third game of the third set before rain sent the players off court for 20 minutes. Djokovic returned in form, however, holding through the set and blasting an overhead winner to take a two-sets-to-one lead in the final.
Djokovic then sunk his teeth into the match, breaking in the fifth game of the fourth set as Federer appeared to slow, driving two backhands into the net and handing the Serb an insurmountable lead. He wouldn’t look back.
Djokovic broke for a fourth time to emerge the winner, blasting a forehand approach shot winner in the ninth game of the fourth set and pumping his arms in triumph, champion for a third time here. He knelt down, as he did in both 2011 and 2014, and grabbed a couple of blades of grass to taste.
“It tasted very, very good this year,” Djokovic said, laughing. “I don’t know what the grounds people have done, but they’ve done a very good job. I’ve been dreaming of winning Wimbledon since I was a kid.”
In a tournament where Federer’s serving had been nothing short of sublime, he met his match in Djokovic. Federer made just 67% of first serves for the match and won 74% of points played on those serves (compared to 85% in his previous six matches). It’s a tip of the cap to Djokovic’s return game, as the Serb was able to break his foe four times throughout the day.
It was the third time in the last three years that the world’s top two players met in a Grand Slam final, Djokovic for the first time emerging the victor in such a contest. He fell as the No. 1 seed here in 2013 to Andy Murray, then as the No. 2 seed against Rafael Nadal at the French Open a year ago.
“I just proved to myself that I can do it again,” Djokovic said of his third title. “I took out everything that was in me. I still obviously don’t realize what kind of achievement it is. And it’s a great achievement. Even though it’s the third title here, it feels like first.”
Djokovic improves to a tour-best 48-3 on the year and notches the 200th Grand Slam win of his career. He also moves ahead of Federer in their head-to-head battles at majors, the two having split 12 meetings before today.
It was a match that – particularly after the second set – belonged to Djokovic. He had been a slight favorite coming in, and watched as Federer struggled with his timing throughout the latter parts of the match.
Djokovic becomes the first man to defend a Wimbledon title here since Federer did so in 2007, when he won for a fifth consecutive time. The win also removes some of the sting of Djokovic’s stunning loss to Stan Wawrinka, another Swiss player, in the French Open final just over a month ago.
Roland Garros is the lone major still missing on the résumé of Djokovic, who will retain the No. 1 world ranking come Monday.
A third title here for Djokovic means he now equals that of his coach, Boris Becker, who first won here as a 17-year-old in 1985. Djokovic has worked with Marian Vajda since 2006, as well.
Rain had threatened this match for much of the day, but a small spitting spell was all that came down during that 20-minute delay early in the third set. Officials closed the roof once the match had been completed, sending the players off court before they returned for the trophy presentation.
Unforced errors, this is a crucial category in tennis, but what is already unerzwungen against Djokovic? He leads every opponent to hit a ball still – which inevitably increases the risk more in the opposing box. At the end, 35 of this unforced error to beech, which made up the difference to the semi-finals when almost everything succeeded him were for Federer.
With Boris Becker, while Djokovic has a trainer at his side, which is very popular in Wimbledon – anymore but the seven-time winner Roger Federer is revered. Accordingly, the favor of the audience was very one-sided distributed, which briefly allowed to breath, as the Swiss still clinched the second set, although he seemed to. After Federer had lost the first round, however, somewhat unhappy in the tiebreak, this was the only phase where this encounter actually could have a turn.
Djokovic showed short effect, had the first serve game after a break ball fend off – and the gas pedal was by then and stopped it almost up to the last ball change. Even the break he took at the earliest opportunity, and even the twenty-five minute rain break then changed nothing. A good hour later Boris Becker was allowed to raise above the arms in the players box – 30 years after his Wimbledon victory he was again among the winners.
On the way to this third title, Djokovic had only a tricky task to survive than him in the second round against the South African Kevin Anderson 0:2 sets had been back. He still set balance was achieved before the match because of the collapsing dusk had to be interrupted and won the day then continue confidently. “He has developed a great mental strength,” said the former American Weltranglistenerste Andy Roddick “earlier he let on himself, if he had doubts, and before everyone knew, you gotta hold on just long enough on the square that Djokovic, then he will show weaknesses already. But that’s the last thing you should make friends, because it absolutely minimizes your chances today now.”