Novak Djokovic, despite having been a four-time champion, has never quite felt loved at Wimbledon. All he had earned was grudging admiration. On Sunday, he gave the crowd at SW19, and the world at large, another chance to reassess that relationship with a performance for the ages to defeat eight-time winner Roger Federer 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(4), 4-6, 13-12(3) and clinch his fifth crown and 16th overall Grand Slam.
In the battle of wills that lasted four hours and 55 minutes, Djokovic rose from the dead during the nearly two-hour final set, saving two match-points with Federer serving at 8-7. The first was a great forehand pass while the second was a Federer error off a deep Djokovic forehand.
Then at 11-11, he fended off two break points – the second with a daring charge to the net – to drag the set to the newly introduced fifth-set tiebreaker. Once there, it seemed like familiar territory, for he had won the two early tiebreakers, as he scampered home losing just three points.
Djokovic may have edged the on-court duel, but Federer had the line of the evening. ‘We will never forget this match,’ he was told. “I would try and forget,” he replied. For Federer, the defeat will surely hurt. For the first four sets, the Swiss was clearly the better player. Yet, he was magnanimous in his praise for Djokovic.
“I had my chances. So did he,” he said. “I am very happy with the level of my performance. Novak… Congrats man. That was crazy! Now it’s back to being a dad and husband. It’s all good.”
It was however a match Djokovic should have wrapped up long before when he had broken to 4-2 in the fifth set. But Federer clawed his way back to 4-4 and kept up the pressure throughout. Once he had lost the opportunity to serve it out at 8-7 though, there was a sense of inevitability about the tie-break.
Earlier in the afternoon, the first set was cat-and-mouse. Federer was brave, hitting ever so closer to the lines, especially on Djokovic’s backhand side, to take the ball well beyond the Serb's strike-zone. Whenever under duress though, Djokovic came up with some clutch serving.
It required a tie-break to settle the opening set and Federer, who until then had shaded the tennis, cracked first, missing two uncharacteristic forehands. But the Swiss was quick to shed the lethargy. He went 5-3 up and with a serve still in the bag, it was his to lose. But the 37-year-old pulled two forehands wide, on both occasions trying to find the extreme angle. An unforced error gave Djokovic the first shy at the set and he duly forced a backhand error to clinch it.
The defending champion, however, switched off completely in the second, going down two breaks to lose 6-1. Djokovic took a break, as if to clear his thoughts. He didn’t necessarily come out with a spring in his step, but composed himself enough to arrest the slide.
The contest was reset and for the first eight games of the third set, Djokovic and Federer seemed like two boxers feeling out each other in the opening rounds of a heavyweight bout. It the ninth however, the level lifted.
Federer earned a set point with a majestic pick-up volley, which could have left the great John McEnroe teary eyed. The crowd erupted, but by the time they settled Djokovic had fought his way back in and eventually took the set in a tie-break. Play in the fourth vacillated before Federer broke in fifth and seventh games. Djokovic got one break back but Federer held on to drag it to a fifth. But it was not his day.
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