July 12, 2015
Novak Djokovic held his nerve and clinched a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles, denying the great Roger Federer what would have been an historic eighth.
The popular Novak emerged with a hard-fought 7-6 (7-1), 6-7 (10-12), 6-4, 6-3 victory. Now he has won as many Wimbledon titles as his coach Boris Becker.
The awesome Serb is the real deal, a fearsome tennis machine, a man without an obvious weakness in body or mind. The best there is deserved to defeat the best there has ever been; and we salute Novak for a ninth Grand Slam success.
The Swiss master had his chances but never established the same dominance over Djokovic as he had enjoyed against Andy Murray. By his own standards of near-perfection, Federer’s first serve and backhand deserted him at key moments, just when they were so badly needed.
Some of his unforced errors were truly surprising, if only because we are used to his faultlessness. Roger’s mistakes were partly the consequence of relentless pressure from his opponent and growing exhaustion.
Only an athlete as supreme as Djokovic could have applied such pressure, his iron will an imposing force, even against an all-time-great like Federer. And yet, as Stan Wawrinka showed in the Roland Garros final, those superhuman Djokovic defences can be breached through all-out attack. Too often Federer traded from the baseline, a tactic that ultimately proved fatal.
From the start, this was as intriguing and absorbing as sport can get. Federer was first to break and did so to love. Just when he looked on target to take that opening first set, he was broken straight back – for only the second time in the entire tournament.
As the set developed, Federer became too passive, worn down by the punishing precision of the Djokovic counter. When the great man might have attacked, he played safe and defended instead, waiting for Novak to make a mistake. It didn’t happen – at least not usually. So that familiar Federer brilliance, which had blown away Murray in the semi-final, was gradually neutralised in bruising baseline rallies that were always going to hurt the older man more that Djokovic in his prime.
For all that, Roger had set points in the twelfth game, both saved by defiant Djokovic serves out wide. But in the tie-break, Federer’s game almost fell apart. All match he had struggled to handle anything that reared up at his backhand, as if Novak’s kicker of a second serve was completely alien to him. The breaker was one-sided and Federer double-faulted to end a 7-1 rout.
The final will be best remembered for a superb second set, during which Djokovic had no less than seven set points. There were three to exploit when Novak led 6-3 in the tie-break. Incredibly, Federer was able to demonstrate his own mental strength and reluctance to submit. And unusually it was Federer who emerged the winner from an extraordinary 27-shot rally that had the crowd gasping and cheering in delight.
Pretty soon Roger had a set point himself, but this time Novak served down the line to resist. When Djokovic had yet another set point at 10-9, Federer summoned enough to save the day. Finally, at 11-10, Federer attacked the net and clinched one of the most spectacular tie-breaks Centre Court has ever seen.
Could he maintain the momentum? Typically, Djokovic let out his frustration quickly and was soon back at his most dangerous. He had two break points at the start of the third. Federer fought back and had a break point of his own to go 2-0 up. Novak raised his game, held and broke, thanks to a catastrophic miss by Federer at the net. Almost 34 now, Federer was slowing noticeably and might have been helped by a longer rain delay. But Djokovic could already sense victory and he simply looked more solid and focused than ever as he closed out the third set with increasing confidence.
Federer, on the other hand, was soon battling fatigue again; and there was a sense of inevitability when Djokovic broke to go 3-2 ahead in the final set. What courage it took for Federer just to stay in contention and even threaten a break-back, as he did at 3-4. But we should have known that such a great champion wouldn’t simply raise the white flag, even if he was ultimately broken one last time before the end.
We shouldn’t underestimate what it took for Federer to come this far, to brush a physical specimen such as Murray aside so easily. To bring so much of his very best tennis to Wimbledon 2015 was an achievement in itself and a rare pleasure for those who watched him. The grace, the balance, the sheer class of the man will never be forgotten.
In the final it could be argued that Federer got his tactics wrong, or at the very least found it impossible to put into practice what would have been the right tactics. Credit for that must go to Djokovic, who never gave the genius a moment’s breathing space, until the title was his once more. Such ruthlessness, such passion and above all such indomitable mental strength is something to behold as well. So congratulations Novak Djokovic!
Roger said later: ‘Novak played great today, for the whole two weeks, the whole year and the whole last year. Well done Novak! I had my chances in the first set up a break, I got lucky to win the second but he played tough on the bigger points and was rock-solid in the third and fourth, so that’s the way it goes. I’m still hungry and motivated to keep playing and a match like this is very helpful.’
Novak said: ‘It’s a great privilege playing against Roger, he has done so much for our sport on and off the court, and all the players from my generation are trying to follow his lead. He makes you push your limits and earn every single point. For these matches you work all your life, repetitively on some things, and envision yourself being here. It’s a great feeling. I ate some grass again like last year and it tasted great this year, the groundsmen have done a wonderful job. It’s becoming a tradition!’
After what he has just achieved, the irrepressible Novak Djokovic is probably entitled to eat and drink what he likes!