Wimbledon 2014: Emotional Djokovic denies spirited Federer to win title

Wimbledon 2014: Novak Djokovic beats Roger Federer in a five-set thriller to claim his second title at the All England club

Talk of the ‘big four’ has been a hot topic at this year’s Wimbledon.

Perhaps, many were starting to say, this may be the Grand Slam where one of the rising stars, perhaps a man born in the 1990s, could break the stranglehold of the quartet lately broken not by a young new player but by the 29-year-old Stan Wawrinka.

After all, Ernests Gulbis had finally reached a Major semi at Roland Garros. Milos Raonic, the first of the ‘young guns’ to break the top 10, made his first Slam quarter-final in Paris too, and took a step further with a semi finish at Wimbledon. And Grigor Dimitrov made his first Major quarter in Australia before joining Raonic in the Wimbledon semis.

But ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’: in this case two of the ‘big four’. As so many times before, it came down to age and experience: No1 seed and 2011 champion Novak Djokovic beat Dimitrov and No4 seed and seven-time champion Roger Federer beat Raonic.

And it set up a dream final, a replaying of one the rivalries of the Open era. This would be the 35th time they had crossed swords on a tennis court, and their 12th in a Grand Slam: No other pair in the Open era has met so often in a Major.

Remarkably, though, this would be only their second meeting in a Grand Slam final: The first was seven years ago at the US Open. Even more remarkably, this was only their second meeting on grass: The first was here in 2012.

Possibly, of all the rivalries between the famous quartet, this has become many fans’ favourite, pitching Federer’s all court fluency, attack and tactical guile against the super-fit, super-flexible body and intellect of one of the greatest defenders in the game.

Both are also capable of probing, accurate serving and both boast flat baseline power, challenging sliced backhands, and an ability to turn defence into attack at the drop of a hat. Their rivalry is akin to physical chess—and it can be magical.

Even their various stats through the tournament suggested there was nothing between them. The Serb had hit 73 aces, Federer, 69; Djokovic 240 winners to Federer’s 230; 132 points won at net to 137… and so it went on.

But whatever the tactics, whoever took control, one thing was certain: It would again be an intense, intelligent and tight contest. Few, though, could have predicted just how intense, how tight, how full of swings in fortunes and drama in what unfolded into perhaps the best final since the one dubbed by many experts as the greatest ever—in 2008, when Federer lost to Rafael Nadal 7-9 in the fifth set.

The fireworks started right from the off, with both men going after the other’s serve. But Djokovic’s serve settled very quickly and he went three games for the loss of only one point, while Federer faced deuce in the eighth and the 10th games. However, the Swiss absorbed the pressure to take it to a tie-break.

The crowd, already heavily behind their seven-time champion, roared Federer on as he took the early advantage, 3-0, but this, like the entire match, would not be so clear-cut. Indeed twice Djokovic held set point before a couple of aces turned the score around, and a rare error from Djokovic handed Federer the set, 9-7.

The tightly-fought, tightly-packed 51 minutes produced some outstanding quality: Both had hit more than twice as many winners as errors, and it was going to get better.

Federer came under immediate pressure again, facing two break points and three deuces in an exhausting 7-minute first game. Djokovic slipped over and Federer held, but he was soon back defending again, and some amazing returns of serve from the Serb finally broke the Swiss.

After brief treatment to his ankle, Djokovic resisted pressure of his own as he served for the set—three deuces and a break point—but despite some clutch serving and bold serve-and-volley plays from Federer, the set was the Serb’s, 6-4.

The level rose still further in the third, with some dazzling serving and net work from Federer and remorseless, accurate baseline shot-making from Djokovic. Federer threw down the gauntlet with a four-ace love hold at 5-4 but Djokovic was up to the challenge, and it became Federer again who looked over the precipice as he fended off break points with two aces.

The Centre Court was like a bubbling cauldron as the match headed to another tie-break, but by now, Djokovic seemed to have the momentum, and a fatal volley put long by Federer gave the Serb a vital lead and ultimately the set, 7-4.

Djokovic looked destined for his victory when he broke to lead 3-1, but Federer has not been a multiple champion here for nothing. He broke back and the arena erupted, only to sigh as Federer was broken again. Djokovic was playing quite stunning all-court tennis, and as he held for 5-2, he raised his arms to demand the crowd’s support. He got it, but an inspired backhand top-spin pass from Federer got the break back—and it was immediately clear where the hearts of the crowd, including those of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, lay.

Even now, Djokovic had the match on his racket but Federer aced twice to fight off match point and, with his tail up, pulled off a stunning break and served out the set, 7-5.

The match was three hours old, and the level was still quite stunning: for Djokovic, 54 winners to just 18 errors; for Federer, 58 winners to 19 errors. As they edged to 3-3 in the fifth, Federer earned a break point for what would surely have been a title-winning chance, but the mental resolve of Djokovic, as much as his remarkable and resilient tennis, saved the day.

In the end, just as at the start and at the mid-point of the match, it was Djokovic who seemed—just—to have the edge in pace and consistency. Having weathered the storm, he almost broke at 4-4 but kept the fans on the edge of their seats for just a little longer, finally breaking Federer for an emotional win, 6-4, after four hours of wonderful tennis.

It was a great final. I can’t believe I made it to five

Roger Federer

To lose such a match with 75 winners to just 29 errors seems almost cruel, but that is what Federer did, for Djokovic was equally clutch and ultimately ruthless in his execution.

It was an emotional Djokovic who addressed the Centre Court crowd with generous words to his opponent: “I was hoping Roger was going to miss the first serve [on match point]. It didn’t happen. That’s why he has 17 Grand Slams and is the most successful player ever. In the important moments, he comes up with his best tennis. I had to regroup and find the energy to win the fifth set.

“I want to congratulate Roger on a great tournament and great fight today. It was a great match to be part of. He’s a magnificent champion, a great example of a great athlete and a role model for many kids. I respect his career and everything he’s done. Thank you for letting me win today.”

Federer was just as gracious in defeat: “It was a great final. I can’t believe I made it to five. It wasn’t looking good there for a while. You know going into a match with Novak it’s always going to be tough; we play athletic points. I can only say congratulations today for an amazing match, amazing tournament and well deserved.”

But the Serb was clearly emotional not just from winning the title that he prizes the most highly along with the No1 ranking.

For Djokovic has cause, now more than ever, to recognise Federer’s achievements. He, like the Swiss, is about to become a father, and he dedicated his victory to his soon-to-be-wife and their baby. And looking down on the scene were Federer’s two twin daughters, almost five now, who now have two-month-old twin brothers somewhere behind the scenes.

When Federer became a father, he said he hoped one day that his children would be able to watch him play. Perhaps too young to appreciate it, they saw him win here in 2012—but they have now seen him lose with just as much fighting spirit.

Djokovic’s child will be a similar age to Federer’s daughters when the Serb reaches the Swiss man’s age—Federer turns 33 next month. And he will hope that his children, too, have a chance to watch their father player such a match as this.

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