Novak Djokovic defeats Roger Federer 7-6 (7-5), 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 13-12 (7-3) to win 5th Wimbledon and 16th Career Grand Slam
In an epic match that goes to five sets and ends with the first fifth set tie breaker in Wimbledon history, there are a handful of key points and moments that can mean the difference. For Roger Federer, he played a phenomenal match and well enough to win but came up just short. Of course, he will lament the two squandered Championship points. After breaking Djokovic to go up 8-7 and hitting a sharp ace to set up two Championship points, it seemed like Federer was on the brink of his 9th Wimbledon and 21st career Grand Slam. Considering his serve was virtually unbreakable all match, a victory should have been imminent. Nerves certainly play a part at a Championship Point and the will and resilience of Djokovic definitely factors too. Regardless, overcoming two Championship points is extremely rare. Federer had the outcome of the match all in his control and it slipped through his fingers. He hit a forehand wide on the first point and then Djokovic hit a great backhand passing shot as Federer moved toward the net on the second point. Federer will also regret losing three tie breakers. Going 0 for 3 in one of the defining matches of his career would have seemed unthinkable until it happened. Moreover, the shot selection was questionable in those tiebreakers. Again, Federer was dominant in his service game and did not get broken until the 4th set. In the tiebreakers, he went for a little too much rather than playing out the points as he had during the rest of the set [especially up 5-3 in the first set and going for an overly aggressive forehand after Djokovic’s return of serve]. In the end, those key points and moments tilted the outcome in Djokovic’s favor. Federer is left thinking about what could and maybe should have been.
If Djokovic had lost the match, he would also have had regrets. First, his lackadaisical second set was odd. It seemed like he lost complete focus after an intense first set. Next, he is the greatest returner of all time. Federer served extraordinarily but Djokovic did not put the usual pressure he does on his opponents. His break opportunities were few and far between. Of course, he broke Federer when he needed the most down two Championship Points and bore down in the tiebreakers. Ironically, Wimbledon implementing a fifth set tie breaker for this year’s tournament after the set is tied 12-12 played a decisive role in today’s match. The tipping point that caused the rule change was the marathon match between Kenny Anderson and John Isner. As I noted last year, no one would have had a problem if two legends like Federer and Rafael Nadal [Novak Djokovic] kept on playing until someone broke serve. It was only because it was two tall powerful servers with poor return games [most fans are not dying to see play four hours], who played the match, that there was an uproar. If Federer and Djokovic played another hour, no one would have complained. Instead, there is some criticism that the set and match was decided by a tie breaker. From my perspective, I wish the old rules were in place for this very situation but both players played by the same rules. In the end, Djokovic rose to the occasion when he needed and played a hair better than Federer. Again, Federer was serving with two Championship Points so a rule change is not the reason he lost.
Of course, this match has huge historical significance. For Federer, he could have extended his Grand Slam lead over Rafael Nadal back to three and his lead over Djokovic to 6. Instead, Nadal remains at 2 and Djokovic inches closer with his 16th Grand Slam that puts him 4 behind Federer. The 2017 Australian Open was supposed to decide the greatest tennis player of all-time as Federer and Nadal looked like they were near the end and duking it out in one last Grand Slam final. At the same time, Djokovic lost motivation then got hurt. Ironically, the big three have reestablished dominance over the sport since then and have taken turns winning every Grand Slam since. That crucial Australian Open was pivotal between Nadal and Federer. Outside of the French Open, Federer has reeled off a number of victories against his rival and reversed the lopsided head to head career record against Nadal a lot. Moreover, they would be tied at 19 Majors if Nadal had won instead of Federer. The “swing” matches are critical at this point of the big three’s careers. Along the same lines, this Wimbledon is a big swing. Instead of trailing by 6 Grand Slams, Djokovic is only down 4. If Djokovic eventually catches Federer, this Wimbledon will definitely be a pivotal victory in that journey.
Will Djokovic match or pass Federer’s Grand Slam record? Federer has extended his greatness well past the prime of his career. He was a couple points from winning Wimbledon as the oldest men’s Grand Slam winner. He may have one or two left in him but it will certainly be difficult. As such, his number will likely hover at 20. At 32, Djokovic is at the point of his career when tennis players were past their prime in the past. However, he has blown past that imaginary barrier like Nadal and Federer before him. Naturally, there will be slippage in his game. Maybe, it was the brilliance of Federer but Djokovic was not getting to balls he used to in this match. As he ages, he may not be able to go all out as much. Moreover, dips in his game will occur during matches too. It obviously happens to Federer a lot more in his 30s than it did in his 20s. On the other hand, I believe Djokovic has improved his offensive game to compensate for any drop in his return game. His serving was dominant in the Wimbledon Final. Like Federer, he can utilize a strong offensive game to end points quicker. He may also have an advantage in terms of competition. Federer had to contend with Nadal and Djokovic in their primes as he was trying to pad more Grand Slams at the back end of his career. Djokovic does not currently have a young gun who is a barricade. His greatest threats remain Nadal and Federer. Federer is still contending but the end is clearly near. Nadal is still great but a little older and Djokovic has he advantage outside of clay. There are some young players with great talent, like Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas. However, they have not become dominant forces yet and it is not likely they will ever be as formidable as the big three. At 32 and winning 4 out of the last 5 Majors, Djokovic seems destined to reach or surpass the record for most Grand Slam titles. Nonetheless, each one will get more difficult with advancing age and the pressure that will be there in chasing Roger Federer. However, Djokovic is certainly in position. Of course, Nadal will have something to say in the discussion too.
If Djokovic reaches or surpasses the mark for most Grand Slams for the gentlemen, he may end up being the undisputed greatest men’s player of all-time. In addition to the records, he is one of two players to beat Nadal on clay (straight sets) in the French Open. He has now also beaten Federer three times at Wimbledon in the Finals. Nadal is obviously the greatest clay player of all-time and more dominant than any other player on his best surface. Federer is the greatest grass player of all-time. Moreover, Djokovic has a winning head to head record against both his rivals. He will never be as beloved as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal but he could very well end with the best career. My gut tells me there will be a more poetic ending to their stories and careers. With how much the three have dominated the sport together, I believe their final resumes will leave it an open ended discussion with each three having a unique claim to the title of greatest player of all-time.
Simona Halep defeats Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2 and denies Serena 24th Grand Slam
With Serena Williams winning 9 out of the 10 career meetings against Simona Halep, it seemed like a pretty good bet that she would win her 24th Grand Slam tournament to tie Margaret Court. However, Serena has a gigantic burden of history. Despite what she may say, the pressure is real and she is only human despite her superhuman abilities. She had trouble passing Chris Evert and Martina Navritilova’s career marks of 18 Grand Slam titles. After she did, she proceeded to reel off a bunch after clearing that hurdle. Going for the calendar Slam at the 2016 US Open, she inexplicably lost the match against Roberta Vinci after winning the first set. In that match, Vinci got to and returned a lot of balls. It forced a lot of unforced errors that Serena made to beat herself. While Vinci was a decent player, she was just a fringe player during her career. Halep is a world class counter puncher with incredible court coverage. Not only does she gets to balls, she returns them with force and unique angles. Going into the match, it did not shock me if she did well against a nervous Serena.
Nonetheless, no one would have predicted a demolition of Serena. It was a disaster from the start. Serena was obviously nervous. Her movement was terrible. She had way too many unforced errors. She overhit a lot of balls trying too hard to end the rallies quickly. She wanted the win so badly and was not embracing the moment. From her body language, she just wanted the relief of winning and was totally frustrated that nothing was working. Every time she hit a shot that might have got her going, Halep used her speed to come out of nowhere to smash a winner. Moreover, Halep read Serena’s serve like no one before. Considering Serena’s serve is supposed to be impossible to read, it was a minor miracle that Halep did not allow an ace until late in the second set when the match was basically over. The lopsided match was a combination of Serena’s nerve and Halep playing the match of her life. In my opinion, Serena could have still pulled it out if she had a B+ game. Regardless, it was an amazing win for Halep. After some devastating defeat in Grand Slam Finals, it was a beautiful moment to see her win Wimbledon and her second Grand Slam. She conducted herself with humility and grace. She also charmed the crowd with her genuine excitement in getting the opportunity to meet the royal family.
Will Serena get to 24? It is not a foregone conclusion anymore. Since returning from giving birth, she has showed plenty of her old form. She has reached 3 Grand Slam FInals. However, she was demolished in all 3. It is a fair question that was raised when Billy Jean King questioned whether Serena was putting enough tie into her sport to win at such an advanced age. Serena was criticized for not being completely committed to the sport in the past. In her prime, she won some Majors based on pure talent. She played herself into shape during the tournament. She still has plenty of outside ventures and now has responsibilities as a mother. Of course, most consider her the greatest female tennis player ever now anyway. She already has the record for the Open Era at 23. A 24th and 25th are certainly nice to have but not entirely necessary. However, she has noted she needs to play more tournaments outside of the Majors so she is definitely conceding the critics have a point. Hopefully, she can find a good balance. Nonetheless, Father Time is undefeated so she is running out of chances. However, I think everyone has learned to never bet against Serena Williams.