July 6, 2014
They might still be talking about this one in a hundred years. It was a final which lived up to all expectations…and then left them far behind.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic ran each other almost to a standstill, until desire was all they had left.
Novak ate a blade of grass when all was said and done – his relief palpable, his love affair with Wimbledon never-ending. We all felt that love in the same extraordinary moment. We had been feeling it for hours. The fourth set, which was full of genius, desperation and glorious unpredictability, summed up the drama best.
Djokovic 5-2 ahead before more breaks of serve, a saved match point, breathtaking rallies. We wondered how much we could take and then, outrageously, we were treated to the priceless gift of a fifth and final set.
Those lucky enough to be present on Centre Court for the 2014 climax will always be able to say: ‘I was there for one of the greatest finals in the history of Wimbledon.’
For the record, Djokovic defeated a great, great tennis champion 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4.
It really was a bit of a tragedy that someone had to lose. Even sadder that it was the legendary Roger Federer. The great man said afterwards: ‘it was a wonderful final. Can’t believe I made it to five! Wasn’t looking good for a while. Congratulations to Novak. Amazing match. Deserved.’
The scoreline couldn’t possibly convey the force and skill behind this clash of wills, the technical excellence, the poignant nature of the occasion, or indeed the stunning quality of the exchanges between two true giants of sport. A tearful Novak said:’This is the tournament I always dreamed of winning, the best, the most valuable.
‘It was a great match to be part of, Roger is a magnificent champion, a great role model, I respect everything you’ve done and thank you for letting me win today. ‘I dedicate the win to my future wife and our future baby. I’m preparing to become a father, it’s a great joy in my life.’
This is why Wimbledon is so special. This is why we said the 2014 Championships should be savoured like no other.
At 32, Federer can be so, so proud of his efforts. He won the first set, he might even have won the third. When we wrote him off, perhaps forever, he mocked us by winning the fourth. We admired Roger’s magnificence from the start, we relished every moment, hardly daring to wonder whether he would ever grace a Grand Slam final again.
The sporting romantics the world over would have loved for Federer to win one last time. Yet it must also be said that Djokovic fully deserved his victory in the end. Novak’s stroke-play was more spectacular for longer periods, even though Roger in full flow is always more beautiful to watch than any sportsman alive; even though it was Federer who created the high-points of the entire match in that unforgettable fourth set.
King Roger held court in those precious moments…and even Novak had to bow. What kept Federer in contention for so long? His balance, his graceful movement and a wonderful display of serving. Such qualities gave him opportunities to pull off the upset. But Djokovic was at his best too, and for the Federer dream to become a reality, the Serb had to be playing at a lower level.
In an incredible first-set tie-break, Federer squandered 3-0 and 4-2 leads. Three careless backhands put him in trouble and twice Djokovic had set points. But Federer’s composure returned and so did his accuracy. Two booming serves turned the tables and suddenly it was Novak who faced a set point. Djokovic didn’t cope so well and netted under pressure to hand the opening set to Federer, 9-7 in the tie-break.
Novak put Roger under fierce scrutiny at the start of the second and some of his very best stroke-play earned immediate break points.
But Federer had only lost his serve once all Championships and back he came to hold. Djokovic fell heavily and called for the trainer at 1-1. But even before his medical time-out he had broken Federer at last. Roger tried valiantly to break back but Djokovic had answers from all angles and took that second set 6-4.
Unbelievable serving from Federer brought him four successive aces to leave Djokovic serving to stay in the third set. But Novak came up with some superb resistance. Roger rushed the net, only to find himself passed with apparent ease. We knew the match was entering a crucial phase at 5-5. Federer turned up the heat with more big serving just when he needed it – and saved two break points. A twentieth ace from Roger edged him ahead and we marvelled at his brilliance.
But Novak was never seriously threatened on his own serve and we entered another tie-break. Federer gambled by moving up to the net on the fifth point – and failed as Djokovic passed him. Roger was back in it when he challenged a late call but handed back the initiative when he blasted a forehand needlessly wide. A sliced Federer backhand went the same way and suddenly the Serb was 2-1 ahead in sets.
Fatigue, mental and physical, was setting in as Federer struggled to handle the constant pressure of Novak’s rhythm and accuracy.
Djokovic broke to go 3-1 in the fourth when Federer made a mess of a wrap-around forehand. It looked as though there was no way back for the great man. Yet he seemed to summon all the brilliance he had created down the years and shone it onto the very next game. He came up with some of his greatest shots in the entire match, one explosive match-winner after another, until he had broken back again.
The crowd was in raptures and rose to give Federer a long standing ovation. The moment was pure magic. Sadly for Roger, he let himself be broken again straight afterwards. He had to break back yet again to stay in the match. Impossibly, he did so, hitting new heights in the process. Roger even had to save a match point before Djokovic crumbled and had to settle for the decisive set. No one could quite believe what they had seen.
Could Federer finish the job and write his name in history one more time? He came so close.
If one shot finally undid Roger, it was a smash which might have helped him break at 4-4. He toppled backwards and found the net instead. Broken moments later, his vast resources of energy finally exhausted, the heroic journey was over. Yet Federer hadn’t just tried to roll back the years. He had succeeded. That makes him a winner too.
He just didn’t go home with an eighth Wimbledon title or an eighteenth Grand Slam.