THEY are very fond, are the All England Lawn Tennis And Croquet Club, of that old Kipling poem If. They even have the best known couplet from it – “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ and treat those two impostors just the same” – inscribed above an entrance to Centre Court.
Well, Novak Djokovic, Wimbledon champion for the second time, has met with the sporting equivalent of triumph and disaster, having now won seven Grand Slams, and also been on the losing side in major finals more times than he would like to remember. And he has no intention of treating the two just the same.
The No 1 seed, winner in five sets over Roger Federer in yesterday’s final, had lost his last three major finals, and five of the last six. For all that he is a multiple winner, he was in danger, at the age of just 27, of being branded a perennial runner-up. It would not matter so much that other people attached that label to him: more importantly, he was perhaps running the risk of perceiving it as part of his own character.
Now, having won another major at last – and what is more, having won it the hard way, after squandering a match point in the fourth set – Djokovic can look forward to a new phase in his career.
As of this morning he is back at No 1 in the ATP world rankings, having ousted Rafael Nadal as a result of this victory. He has no intention of quitting the position for a while.
“I was very close on several occasions to win the match,” he said. “But, you know, I could have easily lost my concentration in the fifth and just handed him the win.
“But I didn’t, and that’s why this win has a special importance to me mentally. Because I managed to not just win against my opponent, but win against myself as well, and find that inner strength that got me the trophy today.
“[This was the] most special Grand Slam final I’ve played. At the time of my career for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially, as I said, after losing several Grand Slam finals in a row. Started doubting of course a little bit.
“I needed this win a lot. I’m going to try to use it in the best possible way and for my confidence to grow for the rest of my season and the rest of my career.”
Djokovic will spend some time with his fiancée this week before resuming the rest of his season, and with a first child on the way he suggested he might be a somewhat different character from now on.
“I’m going to take some rest. There are a few important things coming up – events. Getting married. Of course in a few months becoming a dad.
“I think I can close the chapter of my tennis career just for a little bit now. I think I deserve for a few weeks to rest, to enjoy, be with my fiancée and my family.”
Perhaps this is not so much the end of a chapter of Djokovic’s life as a tennis player, and more the conclusion of Part One. Provided he stays healthy – and no-one on the tour at present looks better equipped to withstand the punishing training schedules that players go through – Part Two could bring considerable success. Yet even so, whatever he does from now on, he knows that it will take something very exceptional indeed to emulate, far less exceed, this accomplishment.
“Sincerely, this has been the best quality Grand Slam final that I’ve ever been part of. I’ve had a longest final against Nadal in the Australian Open 2012, but quality-wise, from the first to last point, this is definitely the best match.
“Roger played very well, I thought, in a very high level. He showed why he’s a champion. He showed a fighting spirit, composure in important moments when he was a break down. When I was serving for the match, he came in and played his best game. I didn’t think I did much wrong there.
“It was disappointing losing the fourth set after being so close to win it and match point. But the only way I could have won the match today is by believing that I can make it all the way until the end and staying mentally strong. That’s what I’ve done.
“I didn’t allow my emotions to fade away, as was probably the case in the Roland Garros final three or four weeks ago. Just very glad to win a Grand Slam final after losing the last three out of four.
“Roger is a great champion on and off the court. To be able to win against him as one of my greatest rivals on this occasion on a court that he’s been dominating for so many years makes it a very special trophy for me. I had tears of joy. I was overwhelmed by the moment and the occasion.”
And he knew, very clearly, the difference between those tears of joy and the tears of defeat he has known all too often in recent years.