Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominated men’s grand slam tennis in the last year and a half.
But now Novak Djokovic is set to end their duopoly once again, just like he did in 2011 when the Serb truly became a sustainable threat to the tennis behemoths.
Djokovic might not ever return to his halcyon days of winning four straight majors but his 6-2 6-2 7-6 (7-3) win over a drained Kevin Anderson in the Wimbledon final watched by Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton is a sure sign the 31-year-old’s comeback from two years in the abyss — by his standards — is complete.
The lone resistance Djokovic encountered Sunday as the score suggested came in the third set, when he saved five set points on his serve in two different games, producing first serves on each of them. Again.
Elevating his game on pressure points has been a theme throughout the fortnight.
Moments after Anderson sent a return into the net on a first match point, Djokovic, in a familiar ritual at Wimbledon, tore a smidgeon of grass from world famous Centre Court and ate it.
He will eat properly at the Champions’ Dinner later Sunday.
His three-year-old son Stefan was allowed into his player box to watch his father hoist the trophy on a sunny, warm day in southwest London.
“It was one of, if not the biggest, motivation I’ve had for this Wimbledon this year,” said Djokovic. “I was visualizing, imagining this moment of him coming to the stands, cherishing this moment with my wife and me and everyone. It’s hard to describe.
“That was just a moment that I will carry inside of my heart forever.”
The “private” issues Djokovic spoke of but never elaborated on, elbow surgery, a brief loss of motivation and changes to his entourage in the roughly 25 months since bagging his last grand slam at the 2016 French Open make his 13th major success and fourth at Wimbledon extra rewarding. Plus having Stefan to take in the trophy ceremony.
“I think alongside the first Wimbledon title when I managed to get No. 1 of the world for the first time in 2011 and win my dream tournament, this is probably next to that the biggest achievement I had,” said Djokovic.
Another lopsided final
This even with the relatively lopsided nature of the two-hour, 19-minute contest, the second year in a row the men’s final has flattered to deceive as a spectacle.
In 2017 foot blisters to Marin Cilic severely hampered Croatia’s gentle giant and he fell to Federer in a rapid one hour, 41 minutes.
At the best of times it would have been difficult for the world No. 8 and last year’s US Open finalist to better Djokovic: Despite his monstrous serve, Djokovic could be the greatest returner tennis has ever seen and he had won five straight matches against the South African. Overcoming Anderson from a two-set deficit at Wimbledon in the fourth round in 2015 included.
Factor in Anderson’s exertions in the previous two rounds and the 6-foot-8 Florida resident never really had a chance to become the first person from his country to win Wimbledon.
He spent six hours, 36 minutes on court Friday in eliminating college rival John Isner in the third longest match in tennis history after a four-hour encounter against the eight-time champion Federer in the quarterfinals.
Isner — still Wimbledon’s ultra marathon man after his 11-hour victory against Nicolas Mahut spread over three days in 2010 at Wimbledon — said Friday his left heel was “killing” him and he developed blisters on his feet.
Anderson didn’t feel that much better. He said he was visited by doctors and a podiatrist and barely slept Friday night.
The 32-year-old and Isner called for an end to the rule where players must win fifth sets by two clear games — the US Open is the lone grand slam with a tiebreak in the fifth — but even if that happens, it will have been too late to help Anderson on Sunday.
Djokovic did linger for five hours, 15 minutes against the top-ranked Nadal but positively for the Monte Carlo resident, the gripping slugfest — usually the case when they meet — was spread over two days.
When Anderson and Isner stretched deep into the evening, the later than anticipated start time for Nadal and Djokovic in the second semifinal meant they couldn’t finish prior to Wimbledon’s 11 p.m. local time curfew. They returned Saturday and Djokovic traded blows with the Spaniard for another two hours, 20 minutes.
Players bereft of a day off ahead of a grand slam final have traditionally struggled against those that do have the usual rest yet Anderson indeed didn’t have a normal match on Friday, did he? Meanwhile, Djokovic is renown for his endurance.
Already the ace leader on tour, Anderson averaged almost 30 aces per match this fortnight.
Hitting the serve requires the most energy of any stroke in tennis and Anderson’s tally of 10 aces on Sunday was another indication of his flagging physical fortunes.
He tried to get himself going with multiple shouts of “come on” in the first set but made the worst possible start, broken in the first game on a double fault.
Anderson was unable to pressure Djokovic on serve, claiming three return points in the opener that lasted 29 minutes. Anderson had his right upper arm massaged by the trainer.
Once again Anderson was broken to start a set, in the second, before Djokovic faced his first break chance at 5-2. It was saved by forcing an Anderson error and Djokovic duly engineered a wonderful backhand down the line to his coach Marian Vajda’s delight.
For the first time, Djokovic let out a roar. Knowing the state of his opponent — considered one of the hardest working and professional players on the tour — plus the score he wasn’t about to rub it in.
The fans were behind Anderson — the majority were probably also aware of his semifinal plight — and they roared in delight following a hold for 2-1 in the third.
Serve working in third
Anderson was getting more behind his serve in the third, hitting three aces to hold for 4-3, and unexpectedly earned a break chance in the ensuing game after a net-cord winner.
Djokovic saved it and two set points at 4-5.
He temporarily became irate when on the first, fans yelled out thinking his forehand was long.
Three more set points came and went at 5-6.
One sensed Anderson not capitalizing would haunt him and Djokovic — who confirmed that the influential Vajda would stick with him until the rest of the year at least — prospered in the tiebreak.
His 13 grand slams put Djokovic fourth on the all-time men’s list and one behind Pete Sampras.
With another drought not looking likely, he is bound to match the American — and surpass him.