NOVAK Djokovic’s bid for a second Wimbledon and a seventh Grand Slam title ended with a historic victory for Andy Murray and a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche.
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” said the Serb in the aftermath of only his second straight-sets defeat in a Grand Slam in 11 appearances. “I need to have that kind of mentality and move on. I’m still young and hopefully I have more opportunities to win this title.”
The rivalry of the Scot and the Serb has many more Grand Slam finals left to play you would have to thin. This was their fourth meeting and the score now stands at 2-2. They are united, too, in their mutual respect and in defeat we really did see class of a different kind from the 2011 champion. He spoke wonderfully after a thunderous final, heaping praise on Murray with a big heart, even though his own must have been hurting badly.
“The bottom line is that he was a better player in decisive moments,” said Djokovic. “In both second and third sets I was 4-2 up and I dropped the serve in those games and just allowed him to come back for no reason. I mean, he was getting some incredible shots on the stretch and running down the drop shots. The volleys and drop shots didn’t serve me well. He was getting all of them basically. He was all over the court. He played fantastic tennis, no question about it. He deserved to win.”
This was a vicious final, the margin of Murray’s victory doing nothing to reflect how rough a ride it was the for the Scot. Under the baking hot sun, Murray and Djokovic proceeded to beat each other up with their power and their athleticism, their mutual, and jaw-dropping, ability to stay in a point despite the point seemingly being lost, their extraordinary powers of defence and unrelenting attack.
“I really fought,” he said. “It wasn’t my day. I didn’t play at the top of my abilities and with this kind of game I didn’t have a chance to win. I wasn’t patient enough in the moments when I should have been. It was a long opening to the match – six, seven games, almost 40 minutes.
“As I said, I wasn’t patient enough when I should have looked for a better opportunity to attack and my serve wasn’t as good as it was the whole tournament. But also that’s because he’s such a good returner. Even when I was putting my first serves in he was always getting them back in the court and making me play an extra shot. That’s why he won this tournament.
“We both defend really well and it’s very important. He had his first serves when he needed and I didn’t. That’s maybe one of the shots that decided the match. Also the fact that I didn’t take my opportunities at the net. I lost a few crucial, crucial points at the net. You don’t get many opportunities against him.”
When Murray won the opening two sets, all manner of statistics started to appear. It was a fact that the last time somebody came from two sets behind to win the men’s final was when Henri Cochet beat Jean Borotra in 1927. It was also a fact that Murray had won 76 straight matches when winning the first two sets in a best of five contest.
You never wrote off Djokovic, though. Far from it. Even when trailing two sets to love and in terrible trouble in the third, all of Centre Court still feared a comeback, a la the US Open last year when he almost mugged Murray after losing the first two sets. With Djokovic, anything is possible. But when Murray is dominant, then the possibilities reduce.
“He’s gotten better, evidently,” said Djokovic of the new champion. “He has won the US Open, the gold medal at the Olympics and now Wimbledon. That shows enough. I think he has changed things concerning the physical and the tactical, but mostly mental. I guess [he has] the understanding of what he needs to do to win big matches. [Ivan] Lendl helped him with his own experiences. They’re a good team. You need self-belief in the important moments and he has got it now.”
Djokovic knows only too well what this means to Murray and his people having won this title himself and having been greeted by 100,000 people in Belgrade when he made his homecoming.
“Well, it must mean a lot to everybody. Wimbledon is the most important tennis tournament in the world, especially for him as a British player and in front of his own crowd. It couldn’t be a more perfect setting for them. He deserved to win and that’s it. The atmosphere was incredible for him. For me, not so much, but that’s what I expected and that’s how it was.
“It was a very level of tennis. I knew that I had to be at the top of my game in order to prevail in this match. He had huge motivation to win his first Wimbledon title. I also had a lot of motivation. The semi-final [his near five hour epic against Juan Martin del Potro] took a lot out of me, but I cannot look for excuses because of a match two days ago. Yes, it went almost five hours, but I’ve been in these situations before. I felt OK. Maybe I didn’t have enough gas in the important moments. OK, that’s life. You have to move on. I always try to analyse, especially the losses because that’s where you have done something wrong. You try to improve.”
There will be another Grand Slam meeting between these two soon enough. Theirs is surely set to become one of the sport’s all-time great rivalries. Two-each in their head-to-heads. Six-two to Djokovic in Grand Slam titles. Bring on their next clash, quickly.