Having held off the new guard, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will vie to add to their Grand Slam collections when they meet in Sunday’s Wimbledon final.
In a tournament where the other two members of the long-established “Big Four” were beaten by up-and-coming stars, Federer and Djokovic were able to hold off the sea change in men’s tennis by beating Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov, respectively, in the semifinals.
The win came far from easy for Djokovic. Having ousted defending champion Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, Dimitrov gave a good account of his much-touted abilities after dropping the opening set. And there was real tension and frustration in Djokovic’s play and body language, as he struggled to put away the 23-year-old Bulgarian. A fifth set looked in the cards when Dimitrov held three set points in a fourth-set tiebreak, but Djokovic in the end just had enough to prevail.
Having won six Grand Slam titles, but none in the last 18 months, Djokovic is visibly desperate to end his mini drought. The fact that he has lost five of his last six Grand Slam finals only adds to that desire.
“There is plenty of motivation from my side to win this Grand Slam final,” he said after his semifinal win. “It would mean a lot mentally for me.
“I don't want to sound like I'm not appreciating to play finals of Grand Slam. It's already a huge result. We cannot take that for granted. But, again, I know that I can win the title. I should have won few matches that I lost in finals of Grand Slams in last couple years.”
The tough battle against Dimitrov came just a round after a five-set tussle with Marin Cilic. The progress to the final has been far from serene for Djokovic, but the Serbian hopes to use that in his favor come Sunday.
“I have been going through some tough matches during this tournament. But there is a reason, of course, for me going through these experiences and fighting through it. I'm going to try to use that experience in a positive way and encourage myself to get a title.”
Standing in Djokovic’s way of a second Wimbledon title is a man looking to take the crown for a record eighth time, and who has cruised through to the final for the loss of just one set. When Federer lost in the second round to the unheralded Sergiy Stakhovsky in last year’s Wimbledon, many doubted whether Federer would have another serious chance to add to his 17 Grand Slam titles. But this year, aided by a switch to a larger racket head and better movement following the easing of a back problem, the Swiss has come back strong at the age of 32.
“My game's back where I hoped it would be from one year ago,” he explained. “Things were difficult all of last year, most of the year, so I'm happy I worked hard off the court, you know, to get myself back into shape and back into contention for tournaments.”
In the semifinals, Federer was able to largely neutralize the big serve of Raonic and get a break in each set to cruise through. Federer, meanwhile, faced just one break point in the whole match, continuing a fine serving performance throughout the tournament that has seen him broken just once.
“My matches have been pretty quick, you know,” Federer said. “Clearly a semi like this is a perfect result before a big match in the final. I clearly am very excited for the finals because that's how you want to feel before a final, totally energized and eager to play.”
Sunday will be the first time that Federer and Djokovic will meet in a Grand Slam final since the 2007 U.S. Open when Federer saw off the then young pretender in straight sets. Federer also leads the head-to-head series 18-16 and has won two of their three meetings this year.
Prediction: Federer in four sets.
Where to watch: The Wimbledon men’s final will get underway at 9 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN, with a live stream available on ESPN3.