International Blog – Michael Dickens
After Novak Djokovic won the longest Wimbledon gentlemen’s singles final in history over Roger Federer, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6 13-12 (3), which lasted an exhausting four hours and 57 minutes, it added to his legacy of five Wimbledon singles titles and 16 Grand Slam crowns.
Djokovic won the exhilarating match not because he was necessarily the best player on Centre Court. Instead, he played the best when he needed to the most.
While it was remarkable that Djokovic saved two championship points against Federer, trailing 8-7, 40-15 in the fifth set, it was inspiring to see the Swiss star remain a viable opponent at age 37. It didn’t matter who won or lost. Between both superstars, there was plenty of superior, high-quality play to appreciate.
“I hope I give some other people a chance to believe at 37 it’s not over yet,” Federer said during the awards ceremony that took place on Centre Court early Sunday evening.
While Federer spoke, the 32-year-old Djokovic took it all in while standing off to the side with his newly-won champion’s trophy secured under his arm. When he was interviewed by the BBC’s Sue Barker, a smiling Djokovic remarked “Roger said he hopes that he gives some other people a chance to believe they can do it at 37. I’m one of them.”
It’s been a golden era in men’s tennis throughout much of the 21st century for the Big Three, in which Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – all over age 30 – remain the top three-ranked players in the sport. Each has dominated the Grand Slams for many years running while keeping the next generation of ATP stars like Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Karen Khachanov at a safe distance. After winning Wimbledon, there’s no reason to doubt that Djokovic some day might eventually break Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam singles titles – not to mention his record of 310 total weeks at No. 1. He’s the current No. 1 and will remain in that position heading into next month’s U.S. Open. His 16 Grand Slam crowns place him solidly in third place, trailing Federer by four and positioning him two behind Nadal’s 18, and he has spent 260 weeks at the top of the ATP rankings.
“It seems like I’m getting closer, but also they’re winning slams,” said Djokovic, who is one of four players in the Open Era to win five or more Wimbledon titles. “We’re kind of complementing each other. We’re making each other grow and evolve and still be in this game.
“Those two guys, probably (are) one of the biggest reasons I still compete at this level. The fact that they made history of this sport motivates me as well, inspires me to try to do what they have done, what they’ve achieved, and even more.”
Toward the conclusion of his news conference, Djokovic, who over the past year has re-established himself as his sport’s best big-match player, took some time to reflect on his tennis legacy. He remains inspired by what Federer has been able to accomplished at his advanced age.
“I’m not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind, for me at least,” said Djokovic, who has won two of this year’s three Grand Slam titles and is the reigning U.S. Open champion. “It depends on circumstances in life.
“I’m not just a tennis player. I’m a father and a husband. You have to balance things out. Obviously you need to have the right circumstances, the right support, for things to play out in the right way.”
Although Djokovic has now bested Federer in three Wimbledon finals – 2014, 2015 and 2019 – Federer remains sentimental to many British tennis fans, which the Serbian accepts. During Sunday’s final, there were many more “Roger, Roger” cheers echoing throughout the 15,000 fans lining Centre Court than “Novak, Novak.” That’s OK with Djokovic.
“It’s hard to not be aware,” Djokovic admits. “You have that kind of electric atmosphere, that kind of noise, especially in some decisive moments where we’re quite even. It’s one way or another. The crowd gets into it.
“Of course, if you have the majority of the crowd on your side, it helps. It gives you motivation, it gives you strength, it gives you energy. When you don’t, you have to find it within.
“When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger,’ I hear ‘Novak.’ It sounds silly, but it is like that. I try to convince myself that it’s like that.”
While Sunday’s Wimbledon final reminded everyone what a great sport tennis is, it’s important to appreciate what Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have contributed to the fabric of its excellence. After all, they won’t be facing one another on Centre Court forever.
“I don’t have any obligation to play,” said Djokovic about tennis, a sport he’s been playing since age 4. He grew up idolizing Hall of Famer and six-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras as a kid, then made his professional debut at 16. The future Hall of Fame star has won three of the nine tournaments he’s competed in this year, compiling a solid 35-6 win-loss record, and he’s regarded by many as the game’s best returner.
“I play because I really love it, and I have support of the closest people in my life. As long as that’s so, hopefully in five years time I can be hearing the same chants.”