July 15, 2018
Novak Djokovic roared to the heavens after winning his fourth Wimbledon title, despite a gallant comeback from Kevin Anderson.
There was relief, there was joy, there was even the release of years of frustration and anger in that cry of triumph.
At last, the realisation that the bad times were over.
Anderson only belatedly made a match of it. For the first two sets, the South African seemed to have very little left in the tank after his amazing exertions against Roger Federer and John Isner.
It was hardly surprising. Federer’s conqueror had shown miraculous levels of stamina to peak once more in the marathon against Isner. What a feat just to reach the final in the first place!
Novak hadn’t had it easy against Rafael Nadal either of course, in a match spread over two days.
But the Serb had played six hours less tennis than Anderson on his way to the showpiece.
And in truth, the enormity of the occasion seemed to get to Kevin too at first, as his heavy legs struggled for the rhythm that would allow self-expression.
Then suddenly Anderson came to life and earned himself a total of five set points in the third. Each one, agonisingly, was squandered as the big man tried so hard to turn the tide.
Djokovic had too much craft and composure in the tie-break to be denied, and took it 7-3. His long period out in the wilderness was over.
And let’s take nothing away from Djokovic. Here was a guy who was supposed to be emotionally washed up, remember?
Novak, with his nagging, niggling arm injuries and an allegedly complicated personal life, a man who would never reach former heights and glories again.
Well guess what? Novak Djokovic just won Wimbledon again. He has thirteen Grand Slams. He could win many more.
Some of us did see this coming – especially after Federer was knocked out. Andy Murray was the most vociferous in his support for Novak’s unlikely claim to the Wimbledon crown.
Many thought Rafael Nadal would hold sway and have too much power for the Serb. We didn’t. And neither did Novak.
And once he was in the final, against a man who had never been there, that Djokovic killer instinct was not going to go missing. Not for more than a few fragile moments, anyway.
For the most part, Anderson simply had to work too hard for each point. The Djokovic defence was at its best and he quickly wore down a man whose resources had already been eroded by his recent wars of attrition.
Novak stayed on the baseline, absorbed what Anderson had to offer, then waited for the taller man to make a mistake – and he made plenty.
Novak breezed through the first set 6-2, looking so fresh and relaxed that it might have been his first match of the entire tournament.
His angles were inciteful, his movement and anticipation spot on, his stroke play effortlessly devastating.
In summary, Djokovic set about dismantling his opponent like the classy master he is. And he was two games ahead in the second set before Anderson was able to stick up for himself.
Unfortunately for the neutrals who wanted a contest earlier, Novak breezed through the next three games and led 5-1 yet again, the set virtually done and dusted before he encountered further resistance.
Anderson not only won a game at that stage, he had break point on the Djokovic serve. But Novak created set point with a thumping backhand winner down the line, and made no mistake as he closed out for 6-2 once more.
The third set was much more of a match-up. Anderson summoned something, whether pride or the last of what had driven him here in the first place.
But he competed on a level, more than competed. He even went 4-3 ahead, building better work behind his solid serve. Not only that, but some luck with the net ribbon gave Anderson break point to go 5-3.
Novak’s steely nerve has returned, though, and he stayed cool enough to see off the threat for a time. Could he regain momentum and close out the match?
In fact, Djokovic double-faulted to hand the underdog set point. And when Novak looped a forehand on a trajectory that looked too high, it appeared to the crowd that Anderson had indeed won the set.
Not so. Djokovic won that point and the next set point he offered up, a crunching forehand saving the day that time.
Anderson should have earned himself a third bite at the cherry, but overhit a forehand at the vital moment. Novak levelled at 5-5.
Even so, Kevin was soon 6-5 ahead and presented with two more set points when a desperate Djokovic fired out. The first, Anderson netted. The second, Novak saved with a punchy forehand.
Another set point saw Anderson hit fractionally too long. How many chances would he get?
We would see in the tie-break. New life for Anderson, or game, set and match for Djokovic?
When Novak broke with a dream pass, victory seemed moments away. The Serb soon commanded a 5-1 lead.
Anderson wasn’t coming back from that, for all his stubborn determination.
It was a wonderful final…in the end.