Novak Djokovic is keenly aware of the significance of his fifth-set performance against Roger Federer in Sunday’s Wimbledon final.
In a thrilling conclusion to a dramatic affair, Djokovic stared down two match points when Federer was serving for the title, before coming back to win 7-6(5) 1-6 7-6(4) 4-6 13-12(3) in Wimbledon’s first ever singles match decided by a final-set tiebreak.
The fact that, at four hours and 57 minutes, it was the longest final in Wimbledon history was significant enough. As was the fact Djokovic became the first man since 1948 to save match points to win the title.
Djokovic is the first man to win a Wimbledon singles final after being down match point since 1948 when Bob Falkenburg saved three match points and came back to defeat John Bromwich
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) July 14, 2019
But the most significant takeaway of all? It’s a result that could change the course of tennis history.
“It was one shot away from losing the match, as well. This match had everything. It could have gone easily his way,” reflected Djokovic, who also saved two match points to defeat Federer in both the 2010 and 2011 US Open semifinals.
Had Federer converted either one of his match points when he led 8-7, 40-15 in the fifth set, the Swiss would have extended his lead on the all-time list of most Grand Slam singles titles won, with 21.
It would have put him three major titles clear of second-placed Nadal (on 18), and six clear of Djokovic, who owned 15 coming into the final.
Nobody will ever know if that buffer would have been enough to see Federer remain unchallenged at the top of that list in years to come.
But now, the three greats are far more tightly bunched, at 20-18-16. And Djokovic knows he’s gaining ground.
That was a big, big match in the Slams leaderboard race.
Had Federer won, the spread among the Big 3 would have been spaced out by threes:
Federer – 21
Nadal – 18
Djokovic – 15
Now, it's only spaced out by twos:
Federer – 20
Nadal – 18
Djokovic – 16#Wimbledon
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) July 14, 2019
“It seems like I’m getting closer, but also they’re winning Slams,” he smiled.
“We’re kind of complementing each other. We’re making each other grow and evolve and still be in this game.
“Those two guys (are) probably 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.
“Whether I’m going to be able to do it or not, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind for me at least.
“What I said on the court, I really meant it: Roger really inspires me with his effort at his age.”
Indeed, Federer, soon to turn 38, is almost six years older than his Serbian rival. While he continues to defy convention with his exploits at this stage of his career, one knows that he cannot play at this level forever.
Djokovic, provided he remains healthy and motivated, has half a decade of Grand Slam-winning opportunities ahead of him before he himself turns 37.
Ahead of Sunday’s final, he admitted that “I am looking to make history in this sport”. And there appear to be few challengers on the horizon to stop him. Especially at Wimbledon, which has become one of his happiest and most productive hunting grounds.
Djokovic was the defending champion this fortnight at the All England Club and en route to the final he dropped just two sets. He improved his record in Wimbledon finals to 5-1, with his solitary loss coming to Andy Murray in 2013.
He is undefeated in three Wimbledon finals against Federer, a player many consider to be the best grass-court player of all time.
These achievements are especially satisfying given this is the tournament he revered above all others when he was growing up dreaming of being a professional tennis player.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 14, 2019
“It was a huge relief in the end, honestly,” admitted Djokovic, who has now won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches, and four of the past five major tournaments.
“In a way it’s normal also to expect that there are more nerves in play. Playing finals of Wimbledon against Roger.
“In these kind of matches, you work for, you live for, they give sense and they give value to every minute you spend on the court training and working to get yourself in this position and play the match with one of your greatest rivals of all time.
“I’m just obviously thrilled and overjoyed with emotions to be sitting here in front of you as a winner.”
9 January 2018
As the first Grand Slam of the season fast approaches, top-10 players are leading the char... More
23 August 2016
You can recognise your favourite tennis players when they're on the court, but what about ... More
23 October 2019
This season has been a thrilling one for the women's tour, with young guns Ash Barty and B... More