Wimbledon Daily Dispatch: Iron Man Djokovic Outlasts Vintage Performance From Federer 13-12 in Fifth Set to Lift Fifth Wimbledon Trophy
By Thomas Cluck
(July 14, 2019)
One day it was all about showing up with your best on the big day. The next, it’s all about bringing the best on the biggest points. And after a huge semifinal victory over his greatest rival and nemesis Rafael Nadal, 20-time major champion Roger Federer brought his best on the biggest day once again. It still wasn’t good enough.
Facing the defending champion and top seed Novak Djokovic, Federer was bringing his A-game to a familiar final showdown on Centre Court- a rematch of their epic 2014 and 2015 finals- yet that wasn’t even good enough against the unbreakable and uncompromising Djokovic, refusing to capitulate on the biggest points and bringing his best when the stakes were highest to outlast the 37 year-old Federer 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 in a legendary, historic Wimbledon final for the ages to claim his 16th Grand Slam title and fifth trophy at the All England Club after four hours and 57 minutes of play.
“I think that if this is not the most exciting final then it’s definitely in the top two or three of my career against one of the greatest players of all time, Roger, who I respect,” said Djokovic.
“It was probably mentally the most demanding match I was ever part of,” assessed Djokovic. “The most physically demanding match was against Nadal in the finals of Australia [in 2012]- that one went almost six hours. But mentally, this was a different level because of everything.”
Staring down a chance to creep ever-closer to his greatest rivals Nadal and Federer in the all-time Grand Slam titles chase on the men’s side and facing an inspired and unwavering legend of the game, Djokovic showed what makes him truly great and the reason he has asserted himself now well and truly into the greatest of all time conversation, playing with an unrelenting desire and never allowing himself to fade or capitulate when the pressure is highest.
Following two tiebreak-set wins for the Serbian and two straightforward set wins for the Swiss mixed together, the fifth and final set promised much excitement and exhilaration and it sure did deliver- making a little history too. Going deep in the decisive set, Federer’s constant pressure from behind early on Djokovic made the Serbian’s service games tougher and tougher to escape, eventually breaking for 8-7 before creating two match points on his own serve.
But that’s where the greatness of Djokovic really started to kick in. A little genius, a little guts, a little luck too allowed the top-ranked Serb to save both of Federer’s match points with incredible precision on both, flipping the script on Federer as he broke and showed his resolve that he would never be broken again.
He wasn’t. From those two match points on, Djokovic refused to lose on his serve and forced Federer to come up with the goods, something he was able to do and create multiple breakpoint opportunities before a steely Djokovic calmly swatted away them all. Strutting his big-point guile and genius, the Serb surged following those match point saves, sending the final and its fifth and final set into a historic Wimbledon first 12-all deciding set tiebreak with all the glory on the line.
And as he did in the two other tiebreaks on the day, Djokovic dominated the big points, refused to lose on his serve, and showed Federer there was no beating him. Even a genius, inspired, brilliant baseline performance on Sunday at SW19, long the Swiss’ home court, couldn’t halt Djokovic. Instead, it was title number five and another time winning back-to-back Wimbledon titles for Novak.
Even bigger for Djokovic in his life-long dark horse journey for the GOAT status, holding the most majors of any man all-time, this epic win sizes his chances of catching Nadal and Federer in the very near future quite well, cementing once again that over this decade a healthy and motivated Djokovic may just be the toughest player to beat in tennis.
“It seems like I’m getting closer, but they [Federer and Nadal] are also winning slams. We’re kind of complementing each other,” commented Djokovic. “Whether I’m going to be able to do it or not, I don’t know. [But] I’m not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind, for me at least.”
“Well, it used to be a really, really big deal. Eventually you tie. Then eventually you break. That was big. It’s been different since,” explained Djokovic on beating American legend Pete Sampras at 14 majors recently and hunting down Nadal next at 18. “I take motivation from different places, not so much from trying to stay ahead, because I broke the record. If somebody else does- well, that’s great for them. You can’t protect everything anyway.”
For Federer, it was more history, another major, another Wimbledon, and another shot at establishing his supremacy over rivals Nadal and Djokovic missed by the centimeters he missed out on the trophy today. It appeared heartbreaking immediately after, and it appears it will be a heartbreaking loss for quite some time. But the Swiss great, still widely lauded as the greatest man to ever play the game, often comes back even stronger.
“You take it on your chin, you move on. You try to forget, try to take the good things out of this match. There’s just tons of it,” said Federer, who will surely have a shot at the next Wimbledon and the next major in a month’s time at the US Open in New York City. “Similar to ’08 maybe, I will look back at it and think, ‘Well, it’s not that bad after all.’”
“But sure, epic ending, so close, so many moments. Yeah, sure, there’s similarities. I’m the loser both times, so that’s the only similarity I see,” explained the Swiss when comparing his gutting 2008 final loss here at The Championships to Nadal to this time around now.
“I don’t know what I feel right now,” commented Federer. “I just feel like it’s an incredible opportunity missed. I can’t believe it.”
“I’m very strong at being able to move on.”
Federer will move on, and continue on just as strong, that the tennis world is most sure of. But the exciting, intriguing, oh so memorable part comes from the uncertainty. The uncertainty in each and every men’s major event now, knowing that as Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic look to advance and battle each other, that men’s Grand Slam titles leaderboard will be shaken up each and every time. The historical stakes are enormous, and the level of play and drama only goes up. And while Djokovic, winner of four of the last five majors may be surging now, that can change on the flip of a dime just as Federer’s title flashed before his eyes today in London too.