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Wimbledon 2019 • A Match For The Record Books • Novak Beats Roger In 5 Sets Including A Tiebreaker

By Alix Ramsay


Relief. Sheer relief. That is all Novak Djokovic could feel after nearly five hours of emotional turmoil on Centre Court.


He had survived Roger Federer’s every assault, he had – for the most part – blocked out the 15,000 people cheering for anyone but him. He had dealt with the strangeness of the first fifth set tiebreak in a men’s final at Wimbledon (it kicked in at 12-12 and seemed more like a damp squib than a grand finale) and he had endured the longest men’s final at the All England Club. He was the champion for the fifth time. And he was done for.


This time there was no breast beating, no shirt ripping, there was none of the offering up of love and energy to the crowd, that gesture that one of m’colleagues thinks makes him look like he is auditioning for a part in a Wonderbra advert. He did eat a blade of grass or two, but he appeared only to be going the motions. He had hung on to his dream of another grand slam title, clung to it as if his life depended upon it, and he had emerged triumphant. There was nothing left in the tank.


“It was probably the most demanding, mentally most demanding, match I was ever part of,” he said. “I had the most physically demanding match against Nadal in the finals of Australia that went almost six hours. But mentally this was different level, because of everything.


“It’s hard to not be aware [of the crowd]. 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.


“When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger’ I hear ‘Novak’,” he said. “It sounds silly, but it is like that. I try to convince myself that it’s like that.


“That was one thing that I promised myself coming on to the court today, that I need to stay calm and composed, because I knew that the atmosphere will be as it was.”


Even the Royal Box were jumping on the Federer bandwagon. When the Mighty One cancelled out Djokovic’s lead in the fifth set, immediately breaking back, everyone was on their feet, even the celebs in the posh seats. This was very un-Wimbledon-like but, then again, it was Fed in another final (who knows how many more times we will see that again) and it was Fed in a final against Djoko: the two top seeds trying to knock lumps out of each other.


“Playing against Roger on any surface, but on grass, in a finals, it’s a lot of constant pressure because he stays close to the line,” he said. “Regardless of who he’s playing against, whether the serve is coming 150 miles an hour or as mine, 120, he’s there. He blocks the shots very well. He anticipates very well. He’s so talented. He’s got a perfect game for this surface.


“I thought most of the match I was on the back foot actually. I was defending. He was dictating the play. I just tried to fight and find a way when it mattered the most, which is what happened.”


It was the most bizarre of matches. For so much of it, Federer was the better player. He won 14 more points than the winner, he hit 40 more winners than the champion. But he lost. Essentially, he lost on three duff tiebreaks – he played them poorly, Djokovic seized his chances. So five hours of play came down to those 20 minutes of tension. Tennis is funny like that.


As a spectacle, it was great viewing; as an exhibition of the finest tennis, it was patchy – they both played well but not necessarily at the same time. But it was Djokovic who held firm to the bitter end. That is what champions do.


“It was a huge relief in the end, honestly,” he said. “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. It was one shot away from losing the match, as well. This match had everything. It could have gone easily his way.”


But it didn’t. It went Djokovic’s way. So now he is equal with Bjorn Borg with five Wimbledon titles, he is one trophy closer to Federer record of grand slam 20 titles and he is homing in on Rafa Nadal’s tally of 18. And there is still the US Open to come. It was no wonder he was exhausted.

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