“I’ll try to forget it,” Roger Federer said after picking up the runners-up plate at the Wimbledon on Sunday.
It had been a brutal, brutal day for Federer and his supporters. The 37-year-old Swiss had tirelessly, stubbornly worked his way to the brink of the title; was one good serve away from winning the Championships. But at 8-7 in the fifth and deciding set, Federer missed two match points on his serve to go down 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 13-12 (3) against the nerveless Novak Djokovic in another epic final at Wimbledon.
“I don't know if losing 2-2-2 feels better than this one,” Federer, who was gunning for his ninth Wimbledon title and 21st Grand Slam overall, said. “At the end it actually doesn't matter to some extent. You might feel more disappointed, sad, over-angry. I don't know what I feel right now. I just feel like it's such an incredible opportunity missed, I can't believe it.”
During his run this fortnight, the Swiss had made us forget, once again, that he’s touching 38. He had glided around the grass-courts like he did in his prime and taken the attack to the most resilient of opponents. His four-set semi-final win over his most famous rival Rafael Nadal, popularly known as 'Fedal XL' (40th meeting), reaffirmed that his attacking instinct was on point and re-ignited hopes for another Wimbledon title, 16 years after he’d won his first.
For most parts of his marathon final against Djokovic, which eventually became the longest Gentleman’s final at four hours and 57 minutes, Federer held the reigns. One look at the final match statistics show that the Swiss was better in almost every department: he had more aces (25 to Djokovic’s 10), more points won on first serve, more points won on second serve, more net points won (51/65 to Djokovic’s 24/38), more break points won (7/13 to 3/8 for Djokovic), more receiving points won (36% to 32% for Djokovic). In the first three sets, Federer had not faced a single break point, and he still found himself 1-2 down. The Swiss took risks, was the aggressor and hit 40 more winners than Djokovic (94 to 54) and in the final tally, won more points than the Serb – 218 against 204. And he still finished second best.
What tilted the match in Djokovic’s favour was the unforced errors from Federer, not the number of them (62 to Djokovic’s 52), but the time at which they came. In the closely fought first set, the Swiss was the only one with a break opportunity but he fluffed it with a forehand error. In all the three tiebreaks, where the margin for errors shrinks even further, his dominant forehand wing broke down.
Meanwhile, Djokovic was in no mood to submit to the crowd favourite either. When Federer hit a picture-perfect shot, and there were many of them, the Serb brushed it off, hung back on the baseline, and made Federer work more for the points. Djokovic’s first-serve was woefully low in the opening set (54% first serves in), but when in trouble, he went for the body serve, giving Federer little room to swing and attack the second serve. Apart from the first set tiebreak, when Djokovic fell 3-5 behind, he was nearly flawless in the breakers; sticking to his defence, testing Federer out in the long rallies, and eventually breaking him down.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 14, 2019
After Federer won the fourth set – Djokovic did make him serve that out twice - it looked like the Swiss wouldn’t be able to handle the physicality in the decider. Late in the fourth, going into the fifth, his tired backhand wasn’t quite finding its mark. But a service break in the fourth break jolted him back to life. Federer broke back in the very next game and then kept attacking the Djokovic serve with his improved, deep returns. He was rewarded in the 15th game, as two uncharacteristic forehand errors from Djokovic helped him to break point. Federer converted it by hooking a cross court forehand winner. The crowd, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were on their feet. Federer was one game away from Grand Slam glory.
There would have been great symmetry to it: Federer who had lost possibly the greatest match of all time 7-9 in the decider to Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon final could win his fifth set by the same score.
Two nervous errors from both men took them to 15-15, Federer pulled off two serves right down the ‘T’ to earn two Championship points. He missed a first serve, sent the second wide to Djokovic’s forehand; the Serb slapped the return right at Federer, and the Swiss who had pulled off his 1-2 punch with panache all evening, picked up a half volley on the forehand and sent it inches wide off the baseline. An incredible forehand cross court pass by Djokovic saw the second match point blow by. As if in a state of shock, Federer played two loose points and dumped a forehand into the net to hand Djokovic the break back.
The miss brought back memories of the 2010 and 2011 US Open, when two years in a row Federer had fallen to Djokovic in the semi-final after being couple of match points up.
It is not an easy thing to walk back into battle and keep those missed opportunities from gnawing at you. But the Swiss, whose expression remained the same through the turmoil, was right back into the contest, going toe-to-toe with a man six years younger, and possibly the fittest in the business. Federer looked unshakeable on his serve even after the set had crossed the 100 minute mark, braving the relentless hitting by Djokovic. Though the Swiss couldn’t capitalise on a break point in the 11th game, he held his end steady till 12-12, when the new tiebreak rule came in. The breaker had been Federer’s kryptonite all evening, and so it was once more.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 14, 2019
The Swiss had been the better, braver player all evening. But Djokovic got the job done, tightening up the defence and raising his level on the biggest points. The victory means the Serb now has 16 Grand Slam titles and is two behind Nadal (18) and four behind Federer.
“I didn't become a tennis player for that. I really didn't,” said the 37-year-old about protecting his Grand Slam record tally. “It's about trying to win Wimbledon, trying to have good runs here, playing in front of such an amazing crowd in this Centre Court against players like Novak and so forth. That's what I play for. Like similar to '08 maybe, I will look back at it and think, ‘Well, it's not that bad after all.’ For now it hurts, and it should, like every loss does here at Wimbledon. I'm very strong at being able to move on because I don't want to be depressed about actually an amazing tennis match.”
Updated Date: Jul 15, 2019 10:08:13 IST