For a change, a happy Sisyphus!

The story of this year’s Wimbledon was of people rediscovering their aura and creating something new. For Roger Federer it was a return to the confidence levels he is comfortable with and for Novak Djokovic a rediscovery of his counter-punching abilities and the reclaiming of the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings. By N. Sudarshan.

What in a tennis player’s life can come closest to resembling the plight of the Greek king Sisyphus? According to mythology, the king was condemned to eternal, hard, frustrating and ultimately unrewarding labour. He rolled a boulder up the hill, only to have it rolling back down every single time.

In the last two years, a part of Novak Djokovic’s time has mimicked Sisyphus’. The equivalent of rolling the boulder up was making five finals and two semifinals in eight Grand Slams outside the Australian Open. The equivalent of having it rolling back down was losing each one of them.

Nobel laureate Albert Camus in a 1940-essay titled ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ wrote that Sisyphus’ endless toil is not always fruitless. “If the descent is sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” But try telling that to a tennis player and you are unlikely not to be frowned at.

On that Sunday, after losing to Djokovic over five agonising sets, Roger Federer, arguably the greatest of all tennis champions, did indeed say, “It’s just nice being in a Wimbledon final. Win or lose, it’s special.” But a solitary tear that trickled down his cheek at the presentation ceremony, brushed aside in a jiffy, but not before a camera caught it, gave everything away. Tennis, as a game, might have moved to different racquets, surfaces and scoring systems, but the importance of Grand Slams is still set in stone.

So, the final match at the 128th Championships had all sorts of stakes and their significance hard to miss. Novak Djokovic was once credited with possessing almost supernatural powers of resolve and recovery. This had helped him become World No. 1 and best two all-time greats in Federer and Rafael Nadal. In the last two years, he had lost a part of that self assurance. A victory here would help banish these demons.

For Federer it was a chance to roll back the years. It was one of those rare occasions in the recent past when the odds on him winning were good, even prior to the tournament’s start. Djokovic had indeed been in three of the last four Wimbledon finals, yet he had never been entirely comfortable with his sliding style and grass still favoured Federer, the seven-time champion.

The match was not necessarily a classic but made for great watching. Mainly because in addition to bringing to the fore all that the two champions had once possessed, but forgotten to summon over a period, it showed the hitherto underrated parts of their games.

It was no surprise that Federer rained down 29 aces. But what he did when those weren’t aces was something fresh. When he won his first Wimbledon in 2003, he served and volleyed 50 per cent of the time. In more than a decade since then, it had never crossed 20 per cent until that Sunday. This was the new dimension that he hoped Stefan Edberg would bring to his game. He made 67 forays to the net and won 44 of those, including the pick-up down by his feet on a second serve when down a break point late in the fifth set.

Down 5-2 in the fourth set and staring at defeat, he won five games in a row and in the process saved a championship point too. His defence, never talked about much, was impeccable as this stat proves: in rallies longer than 9 strokes, Federer won 18. Djokovic won 18 too.

This no doubt galvanised the audience. Not for nothing is Federer the ‘People’s Champion’ and the partisan crowd chanted ‘Roger, Roger’. It seemed like a soap opera with Djokovic’s backstory adding the necessary spice. The prospect of a Grand Slam winner almost 33 was indeed attractive, for there is no better sight than seeing an ageing champion struggle and come out on top.

Boris Becker, the legendary German, was brought to help Djokovic soak up such pressure and play the bigger moments better. But when the Serb failed to serve out the match in the fourth set, all his troubles seemed amplified. Could Djokovic, like Nadal in 2008, overcome a match-point saving comeback and win his second title?

That he did was his crowning glory. “I could have easily lost my concentration in the fifth and just handed him the win,” Djokovic said. “But I didn’t, and that’s why this win has a special importance to me mentally. Because I managed to not just win against my opponent, but win against myself. This has been the best-quality Grand Slam final that I’ve ever been a part of.”

Through the match, Djokovic’s double-hander was solid, successfully attacking Federer’s one-hander. Coupled with arguably the best return in today’s game, this is the 27-year-old’s money shot. But his serving on the day was even more stunning. It took Federer close to three and a half sets to land a break. Djokovic even won 26 of his 35 approaches to the net.

“I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t breaking Novak’s serve,” Federer said. “Or actually creating opportunities. It’s one thing not to break, but it was really not creating enough opportunities to put Novak under pressure. He was doing a good job on his serve.”

It’s interesting how in an age of outright domination by the ‘Big Four’ and when certain championships have proved to be personal fiefdoms, the game still offers something new. Djokovic and Federer had met 33 times before yet had contested only one major final.

They knew each other’s games, as they confessed on the eve of the final, yet, the two could hardly have predicted the ebb and the flow.

That was then the story of this year’s Wimbledon: of people rediscovering their aura and creating something new.

Of the women’s champion Petra Kvitova showing the sort of ruthlessness not many thought she possessed; of youngsters like Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic holding their own against established stars; of a new crop emerging in women’s tennis — Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard — and making a mockery of the hardships of a clay-grass transition; of attacking tennis being back in vogue and serve-and-volley more than a just a surprise element.

For Federer it was a return to the confidence levels he is comfortable with and for Djokovic a rediscovery of his counter-punching abilities and the reclaiming of the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings. For the Championships it was yet another chapter in its glorious history and with it opening the window for a brighter season ahead.