LONDON (AP) — For the second year in a row, Novak Djokovic solved Roger Federer’s superb serve in the Wimbledon final.
And for the second year in a row, Djokovic claimed the championship at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament, preventing Federer from earning a record eighth.
The match was as even as possible through two sets, before the No. 1-seeded Djokovic grabbed ahold of it and wouldn’t let go, generating four service breaks that carried him past Federer 7-6 (1), 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-3 on Sunday for his third title at Wimbledon and ninth Grand Slam trophy overall.
That puts him more than halfway to the record 17 collected by Federer, who has reached two major finals over the past three seasons — both at Wimbledon, both against Djokovic, both losses. They have met 40 times, each winning 20 matches. As always, it presented a fascinating duel: Federer’s serve and attacking style vs. Djokovic’s return and scrambling, body-twisting defense.
“He makes you push your limits, he makes you work hard and earn every single point,” said Djokovic, who equaled his coach Boris Becker’s three Wimbledon titles. “He’s not going to hand you the match.”
Federer was grim-faced as he walked across the Centre Court lawn to receive his runner-up tray.
“You sort of walk away empty-handed. For me, a finalist trophy is not the same,” Federer said. “Everybody knows that.”
At Wimbledon in 2014, Federer held serve in 88 of 89 games through the semifinals, then got broken four times by Djokovic during the five-set final.
This fortnight, Federer held serve in 89 of 90 games entering the final, then again met his match in Djokovic.
Djokovic’s serve was stout, as well: He saved 6 of 7 break points. It helped, too, that Federer was not the same height-of-his-powers player who defeated Andy Murray in the semifinals. Pressured by Djokovic’s ability to extend points, Federer committed 35 unforced errors; Djokovic made only 16.
“Novak played not only great today,” said Federer, who turns 34 on Aug. 8 and was the oldest Wimbledon finalist since 1974, “but the whole two weeks, plus the whole year, plus last year, plus the year before that.”
Federer is right.
He might very well be the greatest of all time, as some say, but right now, the best in the men’s game is Djokovic.
The 28-year-old Serb won the Australian Open in January, then was the runner-up at the French Open last month. Go further back, and Djokovic reached 15 of the past 20 Grand Slam finals, winning eight.
Still, it was clear which player most spectators were pulling for: Federer. So breathlessly quiet between points that ball bounces at the baseline could be heard before serves, fans voiced an “awwwww” of lament after a fault by Federer or a mid-point “ooooh” of excitement when he would hit an exquisite shot.
So Federer, and his supporters, rued letting the opening set get away, when he twice held set point. The opening tiebreaker was all Djokovic, ending flatly when Federer double-faulted.
That was part of a run in which Djokovic reeled off 14 of 15 points, particularly noteworthy against this foe, on this surface, at this tournament. Federer owns seven Wimbledon titles, including five straight from 2003-07.
That was the last time a man lifted the trophy in consecutive years at the All England Club until Djokovic crouched down Sunday to pluck a few blades of grass and shove them in his mouth.
“It tasted very, very good this year,” Djokovic joked. “I don’t know what the groundspeople have done, but they’ve done a great job.”
He had a chance to run away with it in the second set, seven times standing a point from a two-set lead. But seven times, Federer wouldn’t let him convert.
So 110 minutes in, they were all tied up. Not just at a set apiece, mind you, but here’s how close it was: In the first set, each man won 37 points; in the second set, each man won 51 points.
“A pity I couldn’t make more of the momentum, I guess,” Federer said.
Indeed, 15 minutes later, Djokovic regained the upper hand, breaking to lead 2-1 in the third. After a 20-minute rain delay at 3-2, Djokovic finished off the set. Federer failed to put up much resistance in the fourth, getting broken twice more.
When Djokovic redirected a 123 mph serve by smacking a down-the-line backhand return winner, he reached championship point and bellowed. A forehand winner followed, and it was over.
“It feels good when you make a return winner off Roger’s serve on the grass,” Djokovic said. “It doesn’t happen often.”
Not for most. But Djokovic is alone at the top for the moment.