Saturday 24 March 2018

Djokovic victory now secures his total dominance

Novak Djokovic celebrates his Wimbledon triumph over Roger Federer
Novak Djokovic celebrates his Wimbledon triumph over Roger Federer

Simon Briggs

It was a great Wimbledon, and a tournament with many twists and turns. In the end, however, it was the world's two No 1 players who claimed the singles trophies in a manner that underlined their class, self-belief and undoubted superiority.

After Serena Williams' 6-4, 6-4 victory on Saturday, Novak Djokovic did not have it quite so easy against Roger Federer yesterday.

Above all, he had to swallow the frustration of losing a memorable second set, which was decided by perhaps the finest tie-break to be played in a Wimbledon final since the Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe classic of 1980.

A couple of years ago, Djokovic might have lost his composure completely at that point.

He saw seven set points come and go - seven opportunities to put himself two sets to the good.

Instead, it was Federer who snatched that tie-break by a 12-10 margin, after a sequence of extraordinary points during which Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and the rest of the two camps were jumping up and down in their seats like the mechanical figures on a town-hall clock.

With 1hr 50mins on the clock, that levelled the match at a symmetrical 7-6, 6-7 scoreline, and left the players to contest a three-setter for the Wimbledon title.

The next couple of games were crucial, as both players staved off break points.

Djokovic showed a rare flash of temper as he prepared to deal with his, smashing a ball into the turf as the ball-kids supplied him with his ammunition.

It would be the only time he lost his composure in the match, making this an unusually single-minded display from a man who has a reputation for emotional ebbs and flows during five-set matches.

In fact, this could be seen as the most alarming part of the whole afternoon for Djokovic's rivals, for his tempestuousness on the court has been one of his few weaknesses.

If he is reaching the point where he can compete with the relentlessness of a Federer or a Pete Sampras, it could be some years before anyone can seriously challenge him.

At 1-1, the pressure rebounded on to Federer's serve again and this time he crumpled as he faced yet another break point, missing the simplest of forehand put-aways with the court at his mercy.

That gave Djokovic the crucial advantage, and now he shut the match down as only he can, exerting his formidable willpower and flawless technique in a 60-minute sequence of virtually unimpeachable strokeplay.

There would be 16 more games played, as it turned out, yet Djokovic rolled through them with the sort of breezy self-assurance that is animating England's batsmen at the moment, committing just four more unforced errors as he surged to a 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

As he slammed a backhand winner away on match point, and roared in triumph, his dominance was so absolute that you wondered how you could ever have doubted him.

In dispatching Andy Murray in straight sets in the semi-finals, Federer had produced what the BBC commentator Tim Henman described as "the best performance I have ever seen from him".

But the conditions were significantly different yesterday: much colder and windier, with a sense of imminent showers that did manifest itself in one 19-minute rain-break early in the third set.

"With the sun, the air is thinner, the ball goes faster," Federer said afterwards, in a comment that suggested his mastery of tennis mechanics is theoretical as well as practical.


What is undeniable is that he did not land his first serves as consistently as he did against Murray. And particularly in the opening set, when he struck only two aces to place against the 11 that rained down on Friday.

The battle of the groundstrokes was more one-sided too, as Federer hit a number of the shanked backhands that have attended his weaker performances for several years now.

Having lost his serve only once in the first six rounds of this tournament, Federer was broken four times yesterday as returns rained back at him, homing in on his shoelaces with equal ruthlessness whether he hovered on the baseline or danced forward to the net.

Djokovic has many extraordinary gifts, but perhaps the greatest of them is his command of depth, which he calibrates as precisely as a professional scuba diver.

At the close of his victory, Djokovic bent to carry out his traditional celebration - plucking a blade of grass from the court and chewing it as if it was caviar. His win here showed the mental strength that comes from a four-year stretch on top of the tennis pyramid.

It was certainly a phenomenal turnaround from the French Open final five weeks ago, which might have been expected to cause some psychological scarring after he surrendered a one-set lead to Federer's compatriot Stan Wawrinka.

As we digest the implications of this latest masterclass, it feels as if Djokovic has opened up clearer water ahead of the rest of the field than anyone since Federer himself at his mid-Noughties peak.

The decline of Rafael Nadal means that the 'big four' men are no longer the last word in tennis, while Murray is now occupying a curiously indeterminate position just off Federer's shoulder.

On the one hand, Murray is more consistent in regular tour events than he was when Ivan Lendl was coaching him.

On the other, he has never quite reclaimed the conviction he showed during those two magnificent years, when he was arguably the best player in the world.


Since his back surgery at the end of 2013, he has lost eight of eight matches against Djokovic and four of four against Federer.

The one rogue element in this new world order is the wrecking ball known as Stan Wawrinka, who has the ability to beat anybody on his day, thanks largely to that bombshell of a backhand.

As Wawrinka accurately suggested on the eve of this tournament, he is the only man whom Djokovic really fears.

However, Richard Gasquet took him out in a superb quarter-final and so opened up the champion's path to the title.

What we can say, however, is that the Wimbledon men's final once again delivered a match to remember for that second-set tie-break alone.

In the past 10 years, only one of these showpiece occasions has delivered a really damp squib, that being Nadal's three-set win against Tomas Berdych in 2010.

Otherwise, we are still talking about a golden age of men's tennis, and the gold standard of modern sport.

Meanwhile, Martina Hingis completed the doubles-double as she and Leander Paes walloped Alexander Peya and Timea Babos 6-1 6-1 to win the mixed doubles.

Twenty four hours after partnering another Indian, Sania Mirza, to the women's doubles crown, 34-year-old Hingis - the 1997 Wimbledon singles champion - combined with Paes to scoop their second mixed title of the year, having also triumphed at the Australian Open. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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