Djokovic sees off Federer in a thriller

THE STROKE OF A CHAMPION: Novak Djokovic yesterday showed his class in a five-set victory in the Wimbledon final

THE STROKE OF A CHAMPION: Novak Djokovic yesterday showed his class in a five-set victory in the Wimbledon final

First published in Sport

NOVAK DJOKOVIC knows first hand the words of that famous Rudyard Kipling poem that all players pass as they walk onto Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

He’s certainly experienced triumph, this was his seventh Grand Slam win and he’s second at Wimbledon, but he knows a thing or two about that impostor disaster as well.

Before yesterday, he’d lost more major finals than he’d won, including five of the last six, a run of disappointments he was struggling to comprehend, leading to the appointment of Boris Becker as a coach tasked with relocating his self-belief.

So when he let a championship point slip in the fourth set and then failed to serve out the match, Federer winning five straight games to force a decider, bad memories must have been flooding back.

Twelve months ago, Djokovic lost in a final weighed down by history, yesterday he emerged through a bruising instant classic to deny Federer a record-breaking eighth title at the All England Club.

It was topsy-turvy five-set tussle, the first final to go by the distance since 2009, that Djokovic seemed have have in his grasp, let slip and then, decisively and emotionally, clutch again.

Federer has only lost in one of his eight finals but in the end the Serb found the resolve to crack him, despite calling the trainer to the court late in the match to work on his calf.

However, as the Swiss’s backhand tamely struck the net, he raised his hands to the air after securing a 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 victory in just under four hours.

“That’s why this win has a special importance to me mentally,” said Djokovic, who now reclaims the world number one ranking from Rafael Nadal and joins John McEnroe and Mats Wilander on the all-time major titles list.

“I managed to not just win against my opponent but win against myself as well and find that inner strength that got me the trophy.

“At the time of my career for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several Grand Slam finals in a row.

Of course you start to doubt yourself and I needed this win a lot.

“There are no secrets to success. The regime of practice on the court and in the gym, off the court, physical preparation, is the same as it has been for many years. But I think the biggest difference from Wimbledon this year and last year is mental, it’s not really physical.”

Last year there were doubts about Federer’s future in the sport after his tame second run exit at the hands of Sergiy Stakhovsky, who little has been heard of before or since.

But his performance in the last fortnight gives hope to his legion of fans that he could yet add to his 17 career Grand Slam titles. He turns 33 next month but he’s up to number three in the world rankings, underlining that his commitment to the cause remains undiluted.

“There is no guarantee I will get to play another final, it’s impossible to answer that question,” he said.

“However, I’m very happy to produce performances like I did the last two weeks. That clearly makes me believe that this was just a stepping stone to many more great things in the future.

“I’ve got good feelings about this Wimbledon, even though it was pretty rough at the end. It’s been positive to play injury free, go match for match, point for point, it’s all right there.”

Last year Djokovic battled the crowd in his final with Andy Murray and it was the same yesterday, even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge appeared to be cheering Federer in his pursuit of history. They wanted a fairytale but Djokovic had a different story in mind.

“I already have seven titles, so it’s not like I need another one,” added Federer.

“But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that’s what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that.

“All the support made it so much easier to keep fighting, believing, showing great tennis to all the fans who were cheering me on.”

Federer may be looking to the future but so is Djokovic, mindful of what happened after his last Wimbledon win, which he followed up with a victory at the US Open in what remains the greatest season of his career.

“This was the most special Grand Slam final I’ve played,” he added.

“I’m going to try to use it in the best possible way and for my confidence to grow for the rest of my season and the rest of my career.”

In the weeks ahead Djokovic will become a father for the first time, something else he’ll have in common with dad of four Federer.

That and the fighting spirit of a true champion.

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