THE FINAL with almost everything, including a rain break as the tension became almost unbearable, could not produce the winner the majority inside Centre Court desired. Novak Djokovic remains the king of Wimbledon, with a 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 win over Roger Federer, who will forever be the prince of these lawns, even in defeat.
Whether or not the 14-minute interlude in the third set had any impact on the outcome is debatable.
Restarted at 4.41pm, the match was already slipping away from Federer, as he fought to regain some sort of foothold. By just before 5.30pm his dream of winning Wimbledon, making him the oldest man to do so in the Open era, had evaporated, like the few spots of rain prompting the delay.
Djokovic earned the victory. After a slightly uncertain time, where he had to save to two set points on his own serve just to force a tie-break, he clicked into gear, winning the first tie-break with remarkable ease, 7-1.
Federer even handed him the first set with a double-fault. The ivy on the wall outside Centre Court wilted a little in recognition of a sign that the darling of Wimbledon, the player a BBC poll claimed 75 per cent of those attending yesterday wanted to see win, was being made to suffer. These leaves wilted further at 5.27pm, when Djokovic sealed the title with a cross-court forehand winner.
The Serb bowed, he strutted, he pointed towards his team’s box, where sat coach Boris Becker, whose three Wimbledon wins Djokovic has now emulated. There is still some way to go to match Federer’s haul of seven. There is little love lost between the competitors and their greeting at the net afterwards lacked the genuine warmth of the Djokovic-Wawrinka embrace at the French Open.
But perhaps Djokovic has good reason to be miffed with Federer, or at least the adoration and worship he commands. Words like “phenomenon” are used liberally in profiles of Federer. Are they with Djokovic?
Not to the same extent, at any rate. But he deserves the highest acclaim. While Federer might not have reached the heights scaled in Friday’s semi-final victory over Andy Murray – he made 28 unforced errors for example, compared to Djokovic’s 13 – there were still plenty of moments when he recreated the almost spiritual qualities of that performance, particularly in the tie-break at the end of the second set. The Swiss had to call on a combination of brilliance and nerve to win 12-10 after trailing 3-6 at one stage, with Djokovic having served for the set four times.
Djokovic had to pull out the stops, something he acknowledged later in his winner’s speech. In a break with tradition, the players left the court before the presentation to allow for the extension of the roof, which might have made for some awkwardness in the locker room for these two fierce competitors. If not arch-enemies, they are certainly not bosom buddies. But if Djokovic won the battle, Federer has long since won the fight for people’s affections. At times, it was possible to feel sympathy for Djokovic. His heroics prompted begrudging applause, while Federer’s successes were cheered to the rafters. Even Djokovic’s victory speech, polished and containing many nice sentiments, sounded just a-little-too-expertly delivered next to Federer’s more heartfelt loser’s soliloquy.
There was a theatrical quality to the match, which lasted just under three hours and built towards that short, climatic last act, when Djokovic took just over 45 minutes after the rain break to finish securing the third set and win the fourth.
Federer had emerged after the delay looking assured, wining the first point on Djokovic’s serve. He then moved 15-30 ahead with a magisterial lob. But he could not secure the break he needed, having been broken in the third game of the third set. Ominously for the Fed-Heads – and there were seemed to be very few non Fed-Heads in the house – Djokovic clinched the third set with a service game to love.
If Federer was going to win, he now knew he would need to rely on his near-34-year-old legs carrying him through a fifth set. But first he had to concentrate on securing the fourth set, something that looked increasingly beyond him after he was broken in the fifth game. It was a bad one to give away, since he had recovered to 30-30 with a cross court forehand that triggered that trademark Federer yelp of ‘C’mon!” But the hope that this might signal a change of momentum was a forlorn one; Federer netted with a return to hand Djokovic the precious break.
Another double fault from Federer in his next service game gifted Djokovic another break point, one many were interpreting as a championship one, given that the Serbian had been broken only once. A thumping first serve when he needed one most saw Federer force deuce. Although he offered up another break point when he pulled a forehand wide, he again survived, helped by an ace that Djokovic challenged but which was shown to be good.
When up love-30 in the next game, many began to dream again that Federer was going to rescue the match, but Djokovic nervelessly won the next four points to stand a game from the title.
He didn’t hang around, breaking Federer with the first of two championship points, before slumping to the turf to pluck out a blade of grass which he then popped into his mouth, a curious ritual that began after his first win here, four years ago.
What now for Federer, meanwhile? His promise to carry on prompted the biggest cheer of the afternoon. “I am still very hungry and motivated to keep playing,” he said, during an on-court interview with Sue Barker. Whether we see him back here on the second Sunday at Wimbledon, or indeed the final at any Grand Slam, remains to be seen.