For the second time in the fifth set, Novak Djokovic found himself serving at 15-40. On the first occasion, he had the poise to win the next six points, save the double break of serve and threaten, if only briefly, the Rafael Nadal service game.
After five hours of intense tennis Djokovic looked fatigued. But like he has in the past, he found that little bit extra, physically and mentally over Nadal. He saved one of the five break points at 7-7 with an incredible hooked forehand pass to signal that he had a few good runs left in the tank. Not much had gone to script for the Serb in the past 24 months, but he was working desperately hard to change that. He glared at his box, remonstrated on the court but in the end got the job done.
Resilience has been the trademark of the Serbian. It’s helped him become only the second player in the Open Era, since Rod Laver’s Calendar Slam in 1969, to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time after winning the French Open in 2016.
The downfall from the highs of the tennis world came, and rattled him both mentally and physically. But as the grass season rolled on this year and Djokovic started “playing real tennis,” as his former coach Boris Becker said, the three-time Wimbledon champion had answers to everything the one-man firing-squad Nadal could throw at him.
After five hours and 15 minutes — played over two days — Djokovic secured a berth in his first Major final since the runner-up finish at US Open 2016, beating Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(9), 3-6, 10-8 to set up a clash against Kevin Anderson.
“It is hard to pick the words,” he said. “I am just going through things, flashbacks to the last 15 months and everything I’ve done to get here, to the final against one of the best players in the world, one of the longest matches of my career. I am overwhelmed.”
Of the two men’s semi-finals, Djokovic and Nadal’s 52nd meeting was the proverbial ‘final before the final.’ And it was as close as it gets. Both the players hit an identical 73 winners and 42 unforced errors, and broke each other’s serve four times. While Nadal covered a distance of 6392 metres in the match, Djokovic clocked almost 6052 metres. The Serb won 195 total points, Nadal only four less.
In the match of insanely close margins, Djokovic just edged ahead. The Nadal vs Djokovic match-up is the one played most in tennis history, with the Serb at a 27-25 win-loss advantage. The gritty Spaniard can’t quite grind him down like his other rivals. Djokovic defends almost as well as Nadal — on non-clay surfaces it must be mentioned — and attacks even better. He is the one opponent that makes Nadal play edgier, riskier tennis, quite against his natural instinct. On Saturday, Djokovic slipped back into that groove to beat Nadal, which served as the boldest notice of his comeback.
“Djokovic needed that match more,” said Becker, a three-time Wimbledon champion to BBC One. “He’s been gone for two years and needed that match to make this year important.”
The Serb concurred with his former coach: “The final is an incredible achievement for me considering what I’ve been through. It was very clear that very few things separated the two players. Until the last shot I didn’t know if I was going to win. I believed it but he is very close and had some chances. These kind of matches you live for and work for.”
The win puts Djokovic in the Wimbledon final for the fifth time. Crucial though will be how well the 31-year-old can recover in time for the summit. The same goes for his opponent, World No 8 Anderson.
Djokovic’s semi-final had to be played over two days because of the towering South African’s record-breaking against John Isner that lasted six hours and 36 minutes.
Anderson has played over 21 hours of tennis at Wimbledon en route to the final. He is the man responsible for Roger Federer’s exit in the quarter-final, after coming back from two sets down to beat the defending champion. In the semi-final he won 7-6(6), 6-7(5), 6-7(9), 6-4, 26-24.
“Hopefully, first of all, we can play both of us, get out on the court,” Djokovic said lightly. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride for him.”
Anderson will be playing in his second Major final after losing to Nadal at Flushing Meadows last year. At Wimbledon he’s shown the hunger to go a step further. Djokovic is aware of the threat, especially since Anderson had the luxury of an extra day of rest.
“I don't know if I'll be the clear favourite in that one. I think we're quite even," Djokovic said. "He's definitely playing the tennis of his life. He's coming off from two epic marathon five-set wins. I don't think he has much to lose really tomorrow. He's going to come out with big serves and big tennis. Hopefully I'll be able to weather the storm.”
Djokovic, one of the sharpest minds and best returners of the game, has a 5-1 record against Anderson. They have met at Wimbledon twice before, in 2011 and 2015. Djokovic went on to win the title in both editions. In 2015, the South African had given Djokovic a bit of a scare, winning the first two sets, before Djokovic recovered to complete a 6-7 (6), 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 victory.
Though Anderson will play the final as an equal to the resurgent Djokovic, his presence may just be the lucky omen the Serbian needs to earn his first Major in two years.
Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019.html. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.
Updated Date: Jul 15, 2018 11:43:05 IST