Novak Djokovic claimed his third Wimbledon title Sunday, beating seven-time champion Roger Federer in a thrilling final for the second year running at the All England Club. It had been Federer who came into the contest on the back of a serving master class in his semifinal win over Andy Murray, but once more he found the world No. 1 tennis player’s remarkable solidity too much to overcome, as Djokovic prevailed 7-6 (1), 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-3 in five minutes short of three hours.
Having taken the opening set in a tiebreak, Djokovic saw seven chances go by to take the second set, won by Federer after an epic tiebreak that will go down in Wimbledon folklore. But it said everything about Djokovic’s physical and particularly mental resilience that he bounced back immediately to break and take a third set, interrupted briefly by a rain shower. The key damage had been done, and Federer fell away in the face of Djokovic's consistency in the thrid set, losing serve for a second time as his rival yelled with delight when putting away a winner on set point.
Djokovic not only had to show his incredible powers of resolve during an absorbing, high-quality matchup on Center Court, but also had to do it throughout these two past weeks. Just a month after perhaps the most painful loss of his career, when missing out on the one Grand Slam title still to elude him in the final of the French Open against Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic has returned fully focused and utterly undeterred to reinforce his standing atop the tennis world.
His latest victory does much to further enhance Djokovic’s legacy, having emerged from the shadow of the Federer-Rafael Nadal era. At Wimbledon, he now moves level with his coach Boris Becker and John McEnroe with three titles, tied for fourth most in the Open Era. And with his ninth Grand Slam title, he goes clear of Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors, out on his own for fifth place in the Open Era list.
For his opponent, however, the day represents the painful loss of another chance to add to his record haul of 17 Grand Slam titles. Victory Sunday would have made the man who turns 34 next month the oldest Grand Slam winner in 33 years. That Federer is still competing at this level, ranked No. 2 in the world and reaching the latter stages of tennis’ marquee events, is a remarkable feat in and of itself. But once again he has just failed to cross the line over the course of a two-week, best-of-five-sets Grand Slam in an attempt to add to what is still his last Grand Slam title, at Wimbledon in 2012.
As in his five-set defeat in the final last year, there may well be a few regrets for the Swiss. Federer had produced one of his best-ever displays in the semifinals and continued that form early on to get a break and go up 4-2 in the opening set. It was Federer who was playing the better tennis at that stage, yet he was immediately dropped his serve for just the second time at this year’s Wimbledon. Still, Federer soon had two set points, but Djokovic produced two clutch serves and then stepped up his level at a pivotal time to run away with the tiebreak.
In the second set it was Federer doing the holding on at the death. Having saved one set point at 4-5, he faced a remarkable six more in a classic tiebreak, only to get himself out of danger and level the match with a serve-and-volley play that harked back to his first Wimbledon triumph in 2003. It was a classic tiebreak that brought back memories of the most famous one in Wimbledon history, between Bjorn Bjorg and John McEnroe in 1980. But just as then, the winner of it was to go on to lost the match.
For most players losing a set in such circumstances would be incredibly difficult to recover from. But not Djokovic. In fact it was Federer on whom the exertions of the tiebreak appeared to take the greater toll. As the Serbian continued his remarkable high standards, Federer could not maintain his. And, already a break down in the third set, a rain delay of around 20 minutes perhaps took even more of the zip out of Federer’s play.
The third set was wrapped up in clinical fashion, and there was rarely any doubt that the fourth would go the same way. Federer’s pinpoint serving, so devastating throughout this tournament was neutralized by the greatest returner, and still the greatest player, in the world.