Novak Djokovic has defended his Wimbledon crown after beating Roger Federer on Centre Court.
In the first five-set match in the men’s singles final at SW19 since 2014, the two battled for over five hours with Djokovic sealing a 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 12-12 (7-3) victory over the Swiss.
Federer twice fought back from a set behind to force a final-set tiebreak and it was Djokovic who came out as the winner with an unbelievable performance in a final that will go down in history as one of the best-ever at Wimbledon.
It was a true clash of the titans. Federer had beaten Rafael Nadal with a masterful performance on Friday and many believed he laid down a marker. But it was also the case that Djokovic had perhaps conserved more energy in his four-setter against Roberto Bautista Agut.
Djokovic had the edge going into the match, having won each of their last three meetings and leading the head-to-head 25-22. But this is Federer’s second home, a place where he had won eight singles title before.
Spurred on by the disappointment of losing out in the nail-biting first set tiebreak, Federer began to make his move.
Looking far more offensive and aggressive, Federer stormed to a double break, going 4-0 up before Djokovic avoided a first bagel at a Grand Slam since his defeat to Dominic Thiem at the French Open in 2017.
But the Serbian knew there was no point drawing out this set. Federer was a man possessed, especially on his serve, as he wrapped up the second set in just 25 minutes.
Rarely had Djokovic been so swept aside so easily – needing a response.
It was just as tight. It was just as tense. There were just as many impressive shots as there were careless errors. And once again, the pair headed for a gruelling tiebreak.
Just like he had been in the first set, Djokovic swiftly took control, taking a 5-1 lead before a mini-fightback from Federer. But there was no doubt the world number one was beginning to prove he was worthy of such status, forcing Federer to defend his corners until he lodged one into the net on the stretch.
Djokovic had come through the tiebreaker once again and appeared ready for the backlash this time around.
But he wasn’t. Not by a long stretch. Federer came out fighting again, nailing down the break in the fifth game of the fourth set to take a crucial step towards setting up a finale.
After two hours and 47 minutes of play, Djokovic earned his first break point on a Federer serve – and it was about time. A simply extraordinary 35-shot rally followed and Federer saved his unbeaten record on the serve.
But Djokovic clung on and at the second attempt, Federer sunk a tame backhand slice into the net and finally, he had been broken.
In the grand scheme of things, it was just a case of delaying Federer and sapping out as much energy as possible ahead of the final set. It didn’t take long for the eight-time winner to make sure of it, but he was starting to tire out on court.
For the fourth time, two of the best players in the history of men’s tennis would go head-to-head in a fifth and final set. Worryingly for Federer, Djokovic had won all three previous encounters, including their last five-setter at Wimbledon five years ago.
It was level pegging until the fourth game on Federer’s serve. His invincibility had disappeared and the Swiss was forced to save three break points before holding. A huge opportunity missed by Djokovic.
But Djokovic wouldn’t be denied for too long, pouncing on the tiredness that Federer appeared to be displaying. His serve was no longer perfect and now he faced two break points. He wasn’t going to miss this time as he went 4-2 up.
Federer looked dead and buried. But there’s something about how champions channel their never-say-die spirit and transform it into something tangible on court.
The 20-time grand slam winner broke back immediately and consolidated it with a comfortable hold. The crowd were on his side and Djokovic seemed to notice it. Still, they couldn’t be separated as the match entered sudden death territory.
Somehow, Federer found the strength to bounce back from 30-0 down to give Djokovic a taste of his own medicine and break. Now he was serving for the championship.
One point away. That’s all it was – and with two opportunities to make it happen. Federer could see his name almost being scratched into the trophy. Djokovic had more to say, though, saving two championship points with a stunning passing forehand. Federer looked devastated.
And so on they went. The new final-set tiebreak rules meant that it would be limited to 12-12 and it felt inevitable they would reach it. There were no more slip-ups, no more break points. Just sheer endurance from both players as the match clock approached five hours.
At 11-11, there was drama. Federer earned what could be a crucial break point but three times, he couldn’t convert as Djokovic showed his metal.
After officially passing the longest time for a Wimbledon final, it was time for the new final set tiebreak to come into play. Federer started to show signs of genuine fatigue, missing an easy volley at the net that he’d normally make in his sleep.
Djokovic meanwhile, found plenty of energy reserves in the tank, taking a 4-1 lead in the tiebreak. Federer continued to battle, but it his race was run.
Source: Evening Standard