If you happen to follow tennis, you probably know that we are living in a golden period of men’s tennis – probably the best ever era in the history of the sport. If you don’t follow tennis, now would be a good time to take some interest in this sport for the aforementioned reason. Around a decade and a half back was when the period of American dominance in men’s tennis ended with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi winding up, the former having won a record 14 Grand Slam Singles titles. Grand Slams are 4 tournaments held every year – the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon (in England) and the US Open – and winning a Grand Slam is the crowning achievement in tennis. Since Sampras, not one, not two, but three players have surpassed his record. These are Roger Federer of Switzerland with 20 titles, Rafael Nadal of Spain with 18, and Novak Djokovic of Serbia with 16. These three, also known as the Big Three, have unbelievably been at the pinnacle of men’s tennis for a number of years now, even though their ages are all on the wrong side of 30 (Federer is the oldest at 37). Their battles over the years have been something to savor, and just when you feel that they have achieved greatness and enthralled tennis fans beyond belief, Federer and Djokovic served up a classic for the Wimbledon Final this Sunday.
Prior to the final, Federer had had a very good run in the tournament and was coming off of a victory over rival Nadal in the semi final. Djokovic had also had a good tournament and defeated Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut in his semi final. The final was perfectly poised, with the top 2 seeds going head-to-head. If Federer won, he would move one more title ahead of his rivals – which would be a relief given that he will probably retire before the other two. Djokovic was in red hot form, having won 3 out of the last 4 Grand Slam titles, and was the defending Wimbledon champion. With the stage set, the match started at 6:10 in the morning (PDT).
The 1st set saw the players match each other blow for blow, neither being able to break the other’s serve. Federer played marginally better and got close to breaking, but was unable to. The set moved into a tiebreak which Djokovic won to win the first set. This prompted Federer to up his game, and Djokovic seemed to succumb too easily in the 2nd set. Federer broke Djokovic’s serve thrice to win 6-1. At a set apiece, the 3rd set proceeded somewhat identically to the first with neither player breaking and Djokovic again winning the tiebreak. The 4th set looked to be proceeding identical to the 2nd, with Federer breaking the Djokovic serve twice. Although Djokovic broke back once, Federer held his serve to win. So with the players tied at 2 sets all and the scoreboard reading 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, the match moved into the decisive 5th and final set.
Wimbledon has a rule now that a tiebreak will be played if the final set is tied at 12-12. This rule serves as a last gasp measure, in practice, the probability of a match reaching 12-12 in the final set is extremely slim. Djokovic went ahead in a set for the first time in the match when he broke the Federer serve and went up 4-2. However, Federer broke back immediately, much to the delight of the pro-Federer crowd. The 5th set kept on serve till 7-7, when Federer broke the Djokovic serve to lead 8-7. It was his own serve coming up and if he held, he would be Wimbledon champion for a record 9th time. Federer was serving at 40-15 and had 2 championship points. But Djokovic held his nerve! He broke back to level it at 8-8. The crowd were going nuts, mostly on the sorrowful side since it was heavily biased towards Federer.
The next 8 games were all on serve and the improbable had become a reality. The final set was tied at 12-12! Enter the final set tiebreak. This match had now become the longest Grand Slam final ever played, beating the 2008 epic final between Federer and Nadal. Djokovic got the better early on in the tiebreak and went up 6-3, giving him 3 championship points. After having been on the brink of losing twice before, he was now on the brink of glory. Federer was serving. Djokovic seemed to hit a backhand wide, which could have given Federer a point. However, Djokovic challenged the call and the replay showed that the ball had landed inside the court. The point was replayed and Federer, with a seemingly momentary and very costly lapse in concentration, hit a forehand way outside the court. Djokovic had won! Nearly 5 hours and countless points later, he was a Grand Slam champion for the 16th time.
This match was truly an epic. Another epic was concurrently unfolding – the Cricket World cup final, which will go down as possibly the greatest one-day cricket match ever played – but that’s for a different article. Novak Djokovic fought one of the greatest players of all time, fought a partisan crowd, fought his self belief which was at a very low ebb a little more than a year back, and came out on top after an enthralling, energy-sapping encounter which will go down as one of the greatest in the history of tennis. This is truly a privileged time to be a tennis fan!
Published on July 16th, 2019
Last updated on January 19th, 2021