Sunday 6 July 2014
What do you do when you have lost five of your last six Grand Slam finals? You go out and win Wimbledon, that’s what.
Novak Djokovic had captured the gentlemen’s singles title at The Championships before, of course, in 2011 but the manner in which he took the crown once more, after five sets and almost four hours and against the greatest Grand Slam winner of them all, Roger Federer, was very special.
So special that the 27-year-old from Serbia knelt to kiss the turf on which he had just triumphed while in his box his team, with its latest recruit Boris Becker, joined in a delighted scrum.
Then, in tears, he dedicated his win to “my future wife” Jelena Ristic and the baby they are expecting in the autumn, “my friends, my brothers, all my family and my team for all their sacrifices” and finally to his first coach, the late Jelena Gencic, raising the trophy and his eyes heavenwards as he did so.
And being the correct and polite person that he is, Djokovic made a point, at the presentation ceremony, of congratulating his opponent. “He is a magnificent champion and a role model for me”, and he told Federer, “I respect your career and everything you have done.” And he added with a smile, “Thank you for letting me win today.”
Jimmy Connors, winner of more titles than anyone else in men’s tennis and twice a Wimbledon champion, praised Djokovic: “He showed guts and real character to take charge in the fifth set after the disappointment of the fourth. How he handled it was pretty spectacular. Great stuff.”
Having led 5-2 in that fourth set, served for the title at 5-3 and had a match point – denied by machine rather than man on a Hawk-Eye overrule – Djokovic was duly grateful for that fifth set comeback. “After dropping the fourth it was not easy to regroup. I had to pace myself and find the energy to win. I don’t know how I managed to do it.”
After he had time to reflect, Djokovic said it was the most important of the 14 Grand Slam finals he has played. “At the time of my career for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several finals in a row. I started doubting, so 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.
“I could have easily lost my concentration in the fifth set 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 not just to win against my opponent but win against myself as well, and find that inner strength that got me the trophy today.”
The fact that he will go to No.1 in the rankings again is virtually incidental. Today was about winning his seventh Grand Slam in his 14th final and, most crucially, the major he yearned for more than any other. Discussing his chances against Federer beforehand, Djokovic had said, “You need to have a very good day and be mentally strong and have the belief that you can win.”
He exhibited all those qualities, overcoming several falls, two spells of treatment for injury and battling against a Centre Court spectator tidal wave of support and sympathy for Federer, the all-time champion and their long-time favourite.
He called it “the best quality Grand Slam final I have ever been part of. Roger played to a very high level. The only way I could have won was by believing I could make it all the way until the end and staying mentally strong. That is what I’ve done.”
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