WASHINGTON, July 16, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
One year ago, Novak Djokovic left Wimbledon injured and uncertain of his future. On Sunday, the Serbian left the All England Club as the 2018 Wimbledon gentlemen’s singles champion for the fourth time. As a further reward, he even got to share a dance with this year’s ladies’ singles champion, Angelique Kerber, at last night’s Champions’ Dinner.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) 16. Juli 2018
While the past couple of years have seen some dark, barren times for the 13-time Grand Slam champion, his 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3) win over 32-year-old Kevin Anderson of South Africa in this year’s Wimbledon final proved without doubt that Djokovic is back – and, now, he’s the newly ranked No. 10 player in the world.
Meanwhile, Anderson’s memorable fortnight, which included a five-set victory over No. 1 seed Roger Federer in the quarterfinals that propelled him toward reaching his second Grand Slam final in less than a year, lifted him to No. 5 in the latest ATP rankings.
“Even though today is not the result I was looking for, I think in the next few days, just seeing my new career-high ranking is going to mean a lot to me,” said Anderson during the trophy presentation following Sunday’s final. “Looking back at some of the matches, especially my quarterfinal and semifinal match, it will really set in what I’ve accomplished. I can be happy with that and use it for continued motivation.”
At No. 21, Djokovic became the lowest-ranked male to win Wimbledon since Goran Ivanisevic won in 2001 while ranked No. 125.
Grand Slam champion again
While the 12th-seeded Djokovic’s victory, which came a day after an epic five-set semifinal win over World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, lifted him back into the Top 10, its worth asking just how good was Djokovic during the Wimbledon fortnight? Does this put him in the right frame of mind with the U.S. Open just a few weeks away? Can Djokovic win any more majors?
Tackling these pressing questions one at a time, Djokovic remains the best returner in men’s tennis, bar none, and it made a big difference against the 6-foot-8-inch Anderson, who was hobbled by mental and physical fatigue brought on from his six-plus hour marathon semifinal on Friday against John Isner, in which the fifth set alone was stretched to 50 games (26-24 in favor of Anderson) and lasted nearly three hours alone. Understandably, the personable giant, who is one of the nicest and most polite professionals on tour, had little left for the final. Indeed, by winning Wimbledon, it gives Djokovic a big psychological boost heading into the U.S. hard court season leading up to the United States Open, which begins the last week of August. And, yes, if Roger Federer can still win Grand Slams at age 36, there’s no reason that Djokovic can’t win a few more, too – he’s just 31.
New (old) coach
While the past couple of years saw a decline in Djokovic’s desire – not to mention turmoil among his coaching team – coupled with a serious injury to his right elbow that required surgery following this year’s Australian Open, on Sunday, it was great to see the champion, who is nicknamed “Nole,” back on Centre Court playing in a Grand Slam final, and reunited with his longtime coach Marian Vajda, who sat perched in Djokovic’s box. He played solid if not at times patient tennis throughout much of the two hour and 19 minute match. Djokovic won 76 percent (52 of 68) of his first-serve points, hit 20 winners against 13 unforced errors and broke his opponent four times in four tries. Although Anderson finished with 10 service aces and 26 winners, he committed 32 unforced errors and was zero-for-seven in break-point conversions. Djokovic outpointed Anderson 100-74.
On match point, with Djokovic serving at 6-3 in the third-set tie-break, he forced Anderson into netting a forehand return. The final was over. After meeting Anderson at the net to shake hands, Djokovic lifted his arms in triumph – much to the delight of the cheering crowd. Soon after, the new champion knelt down to nibble a few blades of grass in celebration in a literal interpretation of tasting victory.
Shortly after the ancient silver gilt cup that is awarded to the winner was solidly in Novak’s hands, the BBC cameras quickly cut to Djokovic’s box where the charming sight of his three-year-old son, Stefan, secure in the arms of his mother, Djokovic’s wife Jelena, applauded his papa’s accomplishment.
LOVE GRATITUDE HAPPINESS JOY FAMILY pic.twitter.com/QsRFGuxwq0
— Jelena Djokovic (@JelenaRisticNDF) 15. Juli 2018
“It feels amazing – the first time in my life I have someone screaming ‘Daddy! Daddy!’,” said Djokovic, beaming a smile during his on-court interview with the BBC’s Sue Barker. “I’m very emotional with him being there, and my wife and whole team. I cherish this moment.”
Polite and gracious, Djokovic continued: “I would like to congratulate Kevin. I was quite lucky to get through. I’m very grateful to everyone who has been supporting me. The last couple of years haven’t been easy, facing for the first time a severe injury. I had many moments of doubt and didn’t know if I could come back. But there’s no better place in the world to make a comeback. I always dreamed of holding this trophy as a boy. This is a sacred place for tennis. It’s very special.”
Indeed, as Djokovic showed everyone on Sunday, there’s no better place in the world than Centre Court at Wimbledon to make a comeback.