Wimbledon 2015: Flawless Novak Djokovic dashes Roger Federer dream

Novak Djokovic beats Roger Federer in four sets to retain his Wimbledon crown and win his ninth Grand Slam title

This year’s Wimbledon had been one of the sunniest and warmest in years, but even when the clouds decided to leak a gentle drizzle over proceedings on the very last day, the sun—metaphorically at least—shone.

For just as last year, the top two seeds, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, were the last men standing, and if their 2014 final—a drama-packed five-setter that went to Djokovic—was anything to go by, this would be a cracker.

For not only were both men in good form, not only had Federer been one of the few men this year beat Djokovic, but this much-played rivalry, now into its landmark 40th playing, had become perhaps the most intense and charismatic among the ‘big four’ combinations.

For the Federer and Djokovic rivalry has built, through almost a decade, into one of the most admired, 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. Their matches take on the look of physical chess, such that even the protagonists recognise the chemistry.

Djokovic: “If I get to play Roger, it’s the ultimate final that I can have… He always makes you play [at the] highest level if you want to win…This is something that makes me come out with the highest possible concentration and intensity and commitment.”

Federer: “I think we play very nice against each other, and it seems people like the way we play, as well. I don’t think we have to adjust our games very much against each other: We can just play our game, and then the better man wins… It’s really a pleasure playing against him every single time.”

Last year, they had been evenly matched: Federer won in Dubai, Monte Carlo, and Shanghai, Djokovic won at Indian Wells, at that oh-so-close final at Wimbledon—and had a walk-over against an injured Federer at the World Tour finals.

Theirs was already one of the rivalries of this year, too, with three finals under their belts: Federer winning in Dubai, Djokovic in Indian Wells and Rome. And although Djokovic had the edge, and had the best win-loss record this year, Federer’s form on his favourite surface as he embarked on his 10th final here in pursuit of a record eighth title—and just a month short of his 34th birthday—had been nothing short of superb.

Straight sets wins over the likes of No20 seed Roberto Bautista Agut, No12 Gilles Simon and especially his evisceration of Andy Murray, meant he had spent over three hours less on court than Djokovic. His serving had been pitch-perfect throughout, broken only once and offering up just a single break point chance against a returner as proficient as Murray—and saving it.

And if all those positives were not enough, he would surely be buoyed up by a wave of goodwill from the thousands who packed Centre Court, all of them only too aware that his chances of claiming his most treasured title and the record that would come with it were diminishing with every season.

But Djokovic’s drive and desire for this title were no less intense, his athleticism and fitness were perhaps finer than ever, his tactics—an intelligent and ruthless combination of attack and defence—sharper with every season.

As for his confidence, it shone from him more brightly than ever, apparently burnished by fatherhood. Indeed since the birth of Stefan last October, Djokovic could barely stop winning: the Paris Masters, World Tour Finals, Australian Open, four more Masters and the French Open final.

It looked, however, as though Federer’s confidence was also sky-high—as well it might be after his Murray performance—and he broke Djokovic to love in the sixth game of the match. The Serb, though, was unfazed and some stunning returns drew a netted volley from Federer and a break back.

Federer went on to hold to love, but Djokovic’s serving may be one of the most underestimate elements of his game, placed immaculately, hit with a variety of spin and angle, and often winning a point outright. That serving wavered with a double fault at 5-6, and Federer roared ‘C’mon!’ as he worked not one but two break points—only for the Serbian to hold with an ace.

Come the tie-break and Djokovic took an immediate mini-break, chased down a drop shot for winning pass, and badgered Federer at the baseline to draw errors and take the 7-6(1) set courtesy of a Federer’s first double fault.

Djokovic had made only three errors in the set, and continued to dominate in the second set as he pinned Federer back with depth, speed and angle to each corner. The Swiss had a chance to break in a long fifth game, and again at 5-5, but could not convert, and they headed to another tie-break.

The quality, now, was at a remarkable level: Both were making considerably more winners than errors, but Djokovic again took control, 6-3. However, looking defeat in the face, Federer survived the longest rally of the match, 27-strokes, to level at 6-6. As they changed ends, he took long, calming breaths, saved another set point with a serve-and-volley on second serve, and finally survived seven set points to steal it, 7-6(10).

They had played almost as long as Federer’s entire match against Murray, heading towards two hours, and things were tense. The first three games of the third had break chances, but it was Djokovic who took the lead when Federer fired an easy volley long. After a short rain break, the defending champion duly served it out to love, 6-4. Federer had made only six errors for 10 winners in the set, but the near faultless Djokovic had made only two errors and 11 winners.

The scene was set, then, as Djokovic gave Federer not a look-in. When the Swiss could get the net, he had to make lunging volleys to stay alive. It was a perfect return-of-serve from Djokovic that skipped from the baseline and broke Federer in the fifth game of the fourth set.

And although the Swiss fought off break points for 3-4, there was no containing Djokovic. The end, when it came, was both swift and decisive: Two cracking return-of-serve winners broke again for the match, 6-3.

As Federer said afterwards, he had not played a bad match—almost twice the winners to errors—but Djokovic “not only played great today, but the whole two weeks, also this year, last year and the year before that! Well done, Novak, you deserved it… Once more, it has been a privilege to play here.”

Djokovic was gracious in response: “It’s a privilege to play against Roger, who is a great champion. He has done so much for our sport on and off the court. I was aware coming onto the court that Roger would play his best when it matters the most. He pushes you to limits.”

But Djokovic, with his 200th Grand Slam match win, third Wimbledon title and ninth Major, is also a great champion, putting himself among the greats of tennis: He has won more than the likes of their coaches Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, more than John McEnroe and Andre Agassi, more than Jimmy Connors and Fred Perry.

Not that such things concerned him today, his first wedding anniversary.

“One year ago I won the trophy, and on this day, we got married in the church, started a new life together. It’s really an amazing chapter of my life that I’m trying to enjoy as much as I can.

“But I think whether I’m winning or losing, she’s always there. Family’s always there. When I go back home, I’m not a tennis player anymore. I’m a father and a husband. That’s a kind of balance that I think allows me to play this well.”

Yes, marriage and fatherhood certainly suit this great Serb.

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