At 33 years of age, Roger Federer is supposed to be in the twilight years of his career. In this golden era for international tennis, the growing expectation in the buildup to Wimbledon was that Federer was approaching the end of his remarkable career and beginning to step aside to allow his younger rivals to scrap as a triumvirate of Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. A generation which he himself had begun.
However this year at Wimbledon, Federer has not followed the script. In this year’s Wimbledon final, it was not Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal who walked out on Centre Court to face Novak Djokovic, the current world number one and leader of this exceptional new guard. Instead it was the consummate champion Roger Federer who was preparing himself to fight for his eighth Wimbledon title.
Far from raging against the dying of the light, Federer has instead burned brighter than ever at this tournament, playing the sort of tennis that his younger opponents can only dream of playing, let alone compete against. Remarkably Federer had only dropped one set en route to the final. The straight set annihilation of a stunned Andy Murray provided the most damning evidence of Federer’s scintillating renaissance.
Upon extinguishing British hopes of another Murray Wimbledon title with such ruthless style, Federer was once again the de facto darling of Centre Court. However as this final once again proved, Centre Court fans saw their favourite fall to the better player. He may not have the raw appeal of Rafael Nadal, the elegance of Roger Federer or the fanatical home support of Murray but it is impossible to ignore the formidable and outstanding player that is Novak Djokovic.
All of those attributes which his rivals possess are rendered superficial when pitted against a player like Djokovic, who can produce the sort of outstanding tennis which has won him nine grand slams (with many more surely to come) and stop even the greatest players in their tracks. It was here that the seemingly unstoppable object of Federer met the immovable force of Djokovic with the former succumbing to his heir apparent.
Federer may have rolled back the years in his procession to the final and provided a reprise to the years in which he dominated world tennis. Yet make no mistake, there is now an undisputed number one in world tennis in Novak Djokovic, a player who has the potential to replicate Federer’s dominance even in this thrilling golden generation.
This final exhibited the qualities which have come to typify the rejuvenated number 1 Novak Djokovic. In the years when Federer stood at the peak of international tennis, Djokovic was considered the nearly man and perhaps too fragile and fiery to fulfil his obvious potential. Through his radical reinvention of his training, diet and game mentality, Djokovic has emerged a regenerated player who has shattered his past constraints.
This was evident in the first set of this final. When Federer forced Djokovic onto the ropes near the end of the first set, Djokovic saved set point and took the game to a tie break. After such a monumental effort to keep the majestic Swiss at bay, Djokovic then proceeded to blow Federer away to win the tie break 7-1 and the first pivotal set. Such a blistering response was encapsulated by the seemingly improbable chipped shot from practically off the boundaries of the court, to win the first point of the tie break and emphatically demonstrated to Federer the machine he was up against. 7-6. 1st set to Djokovic
Roger Federer is always a joy to watch whenever he plays and on whatever surface. He has the ability to produce extraordinary and incomprehensible shots which may sometimes prompt his opponents to question whether they are playing a magician rather than a tennis player. Flashes of this brilliance were on display in the final with some sweeping forehands, excellent rallying and deft backhands that on occasions, bamboozled the world number 1.
However this was not the same Federer who had demolished Murray in the final. Sadly that player was not there when it mattered most. There were several unforced errors and careless shots into the net which had not been seen previously on Federer’s leisurely march to the final. It would prove to be his undoing.
However that is not to say that Federer was a sacrificial lamb to slaughter as so many of his opponents en route to the final had been. Some who questioned whether the exertions of the Murray semi final had taken too much out of the statseman Federer were forced to revaluate their claim after he took the 2nd set to level the scores after an epic tie break. Federer prevented a repeat of the first set onslaught from Djokovic but was still forced to save a set point. Federer rallied himself and eventually managed to claw himself back into the game, winning the tie break 12-10 to win the set 6-7 to the jubilant cheers of the Centre Court crowd. It was clear whose side they were on.
The loss of the second set clearly riled Djokovic. His barely contained fury was plain to see and in the wake of losing the French Open recently in a shock defeat to Stan Warawinka, was this going to be the psychological breakthrough that Federer could capitalise on and steal this title from the number one’s grasp?
The rain delay inevitably arrived, a natural occurrence for a British tournament played in the summer. However on the players return to court and restart of play, it was clear that this break had been timely for Djokovic to regain his composure and continue with the task at hand.
From this point, Federer seemed to fall away while Djokovic clicked into top gear. A pivotal moment arrived when Federer’s audacious backhand pass down the line failed to stay within the boundaries, gifting Djokovic a 40-0 lead to make it 5-3. It seemed the tide had turned and even Federer’s magic would struggle to stop it. Even though Federer endeavoured to hold love, he was unable to stop Djokovic taking the 3rd set 6-4.
This set the tone for the final set. It was now clear to see the unfamiliar sight of Federer struggling to stay in the game. Despite his best efforts, errors were creeping into his game with more frequency and this culminated with a double fault to make it 40-30 at 4-3. Federer valiantly delayed the inevitable for a few more minutes but soon it was 6-3 and game, set and match to the ecstatic Djokovic. The veteran Federer could only hold his hands up and accept the defeat with grace.
Everybody loves an underdog story. A shock, an upset that adds to the narrative of an already huge sporting final. It is difficult to ever consider a player as great as Roger Federer ever being the underdog going into a match. However as he gets older and Djokovic continues to excel in his prime, this unfortunately was the situation going into this final. Federer will continue to dazzle us with wonderful tennis and will still compete at the top level for a few years yet but perhaps that oppurtunity of a final grand slam has now eluded his grasp.
However Djokovic is now the man who will be king. This was his second Wimbledon title in a row, his ninth Grand Slam and he is only 28 years old. As Andy Roddick eloquently put it as the champion walked up to the stage to receive his trophy, Djokovic “is marching through history and we are watching it”.
Photograph: Ella Ling/BPI/REX Shutterstock/Ella Ling/BPI/REX Shutterstock