Djokovic's grass-court U-turn pays ultimate dividends with Wimbledon title

Novak Djokovic was rewarded for not skipping the grass-court season with a first major title in two years at Wimbledon.

Published : Jul 15, 2018 21:49 IST

Less than six weeks ago Novak Djokovic suggested he might skip the grass-court season. On Sunday he became Wimbledon champion for the fourth time of his resurgent career in ruthless fashion.

A merciless 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) victory over a lethargic Kevin Anderson on Centre Court got Djokovic his first title of the year to remove any shadow of a doubt that he – now a 13-time grand slam winner, one adrift of Pete Sampras – is, mentally and physically, back at his best.

The Serbian showed signs he was regaining the unbeatable form that saw him complete his career Grand Slam at the French Open in 2016 when he returned to Roland Garros after two tumultuous years beset by injury and coaching changes, but a shock quarterfinal loss to Marco Cecchinato left him in a state of despair and down at 22nd in the rankings.

"I don't know if I'm going to play on grass," he said, likely caught up in the heat of the moment, during a terse news conference in Paris. "I'm not thinking about tennis."

But a hiking holiday with wife Jelena - and without their two children – enabled the mindful Djokovic to "recalibrate". Coupled with the further evolution of his new serving technique to a point where his troublesome elbow, a key factor in him slipping outside the top 10 for the first time since October 2006 this May, was comfortable, he was convinced otherwise.

Djokovic, who has amended the dimensions of the racquets to ease the burden on his elbow when serving, quickly changed his tune and opted to warm up for Wimbledon at the Fever-Tree Championships. Following 6-1, 6-2 win over John Millman in the first round at Queen's, he said: "Right now it's all about tennis, all about improving, and getting on a high level."

The Serbian made it to the final, but failing to convert a match point in the second set before losing to Marin Cilic left question marks over if he still had the mentality of an uncompromising champion.

A stunning five-set victory over world number one Rafael Nadal in a five-hour Wimbledon semifinal that spanned two days and a one-sided display in the showpiece against Anderson provided an emphatic response.

The South African knew he would have to back up his big serve to have a chance in this final, but his main weapon was nowhere to be seen in the first set.

Djokovic is one of the greatest returners and Anderson's first serve percentage of 45 in the opening set, coupled with 11 unforced errors, saw the Serbian take the set in under 30 minutes.

Anderson, also a runner-up at last year's US Open on his grand slam final debut, subsequently received treatment on his right biceps – the effect of spending 21 hours on court at the All England Club prior to the final evidently having taken its toll – but his fortunes remained the same.

The 12th seed had comfortably played the equivalent of one match fewer than Anderson during the championship and remained in complete control, coming off better in baseline rallies and moving his beleaguered opponent around the court as much as possible.

Anderson managed to find some of the spirit that saw him fight from two sets and match point down against eight-time champion Roger Federer and overcome John Isner in a titanic six-and-a-half-hour semifinal to get his first break point at 5-2 down in the second set. Djokovic was unforgiving and shot down his hopes of getting back into the match.

The last meeting between these two at Wimbledon in 2015 saw Anderson force a fifth set after falling two down and he courageously found the deepest reserves to try to repeat the trick.

However, the eighth seed was unable to convert any of the five set points that came his way as Djokovic loosened up and displayed his major mettle and held his nerve at the crucial moments.

The stoic Djokovic forced errors from Anderson in the tie-break and it ended up being another crushing defeat in a major final for Anderson, who has overcome knee, shoulder, groin, hip, thigh and ankle injuries since 2016 to take his game to new heights.

But he came up against one of the all-time greats in Djokovic, who provided a display befitting the tag to secure a return to the top 10.

Opting against skipping the grass-court season well and truly proved the right decision.

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