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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, July 14, 2019

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic denied two championship points in the final set edging Roger Federer, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) to win his fifth Wimbledon crown and 16th major title.

Photo credit: Rob Newell/CameraSport

Major mental mountains confronted Novak Djokovic as he stared down two championship points on the majestic Centre Court lawn.

The son of a ski instructor met the moment with sheer guts and a sharp timing winning a Wimbledon final for the ages.

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A defiant Djokovic denied two championship points in the final set fighting off rival Roger Federer, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) to successfully defend his Wimbledon title in The Championships' longest final—and first men’s major final decided in a fifth-set tie breaker.

"It was probably the most demanding, mentally most demanding, match I was ever part of," said Djokovic, who saved championship points when Federer served for the title at 8-7. "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.

"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."

An electrifying final spanned four hours, 57-minutes popping with audacious shot-making, intense pressure, momentum shifts, missed opportunities and insanely gripping drama culminating in the two hour, two-minute final set.

Fighting with calm ferocity, Djokovic won his fifth Wimbledon championship and his fourth major title in his last five Grand Slams.

"We love you both!" screamed a fan at one point as the decider careened toward a final tie breaker.

The 32-year-old Serbian is the first man in 71 years to win Wimbledon after saving championship points. Djokovic successfully defended Wimbledon for the second time following his 2014-205 reign, battling past Federer, arguably the greatest grass-court player in history, for the third time in a Wimbledon final.

"It’s quite unreal to be quite honest," said Djokovic, who matched Hall of Famer Bjorn Borg with his fifth Wimbledon crown. "To be two match points down and to come back, it’s a bit strange to play a tiebreak as 12-all as well.

"I was actually hoping I can get to the tie break. Roger said that he hopes he gives some other people a chance to believe that they can do it at 37. I'm one of them. He inspires me for sure."

The world No. 1 captured his 16th Grand Slam title, narrowing the gap on 18-time major title holder Rafael Nadal and 20-time Grand Slam king Federer in the all-time race.

"It seems like I'm getting closer, but also they're winning Slams," Djokovic said. "We're kind of complementing each other. We're making each other grow and evolve and still be in this game. I mean, those two guys, probably one of the biggest reasons I still compete at this level.

"The fact that they made history of this sport motivates me as well, inspires me to try to do what they have done, what they've achieved, and even more. Whether I'm going to be able to do it or not, I don't know. I mean, I'm not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind for me at least."

It’s a gut-wrenching loss for the 37-year-old Federer, who was bidding to beat Djokovic for the first time in a Grand Slam since the 2012 Wimbledon, become the oldest man to win a major in the Open Era and defeat rivals Rafael Nadal and Djokovic in the same Slam for the first time.

"I don't know if losing 2-2-2 feels better than this one," said Federer, who is now 20-11 lifetime in major finals. "At the end it actually doesn't matter to some extent. You might feel more disappointed, sad, over-angry. I don't know what I feel right now. I just feel like it's such an incredible opportunity missed, I can't believe it. It is what it is, you know."

The eight-time champion came achingly close when holding championship points, but could not slam the door shut on the resilient Serbian.

Still, this was a vintage Federer performance mixing spins and speeds masterfully and carving out dripping drop volleys. Though Federer fired 40 more winners—94 to 54—broke serve seven times and won 14 more points total, Djokovic swung freely under pressuer and played cleaner tennis when it mattered most mastering all three tie break sets superbly.

“I’ll try to forget,” Federer joked in his on-court interview. “It was a great match. It was long. It had everything. I had my chances—so did he.

“I thought we played great tennis in a way I’m very happy with my performance as well. Novak, that was great. Congratulations, man that was crazy.”

Episode 48 of the Rovak rivalry marked the 15th time in Open Era history the top two seeded men met in the final.

Tennis royalty and British monarchy mingled in the jammed royal box. Rod Laver next to John Newcombe, near Stefan Edberg, Federer's former coach, one row behind Prince William and wife Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge.

Beneath a cloud-clustered sky, Federer won the toss, elected to serve and cruised through a crisp two-ace game to open. Djokovic stamped a decisive love hold to answer.

In the opening breaker, second-seeded Swiss turned a 1-3 deficit into a 5-3 lead. Displacing Djokovic with a wide serve, Federer got the forehand he wanted but dragged the crosscourt shot wide.

Extended a lifeline, the champion asserted his authority exploiting a series of Federer forehand errors to run through four consecutive points and snatch the 58-minute opener when Federer scattered a backhand wide.

Shaking off lost opportunity, Federer pressed the issue and Djokovic dropped dramatically in a surprisingly sloppy game to start the second set. The Serbian sprayed a forehand gifting the first break of the match to his rival.

After a high-quality opening set, Djokovic suffered concentration collapse and eroding energy dropping into a triple break point hole.

Dancing around his backhand, Federer flashed a diagonal forehand winner breaking building a double-break, second-set lead. Federer backed up the break at 15 for a 4-0 lead just 15 minutes into the second set.

The top seed took a sip from an energy drink but couldn’t spring life in his legs.

Looking listless, Djokovic essentially capitulated the second set double-faulting away the third break. Federer breezed through the 25-minute second set winning 14 of 20 points played on Djokovic’s serve.

A calm Djokovic slammed a 119 mph serve winner to save set point unleashing clutch serves under pressure to pull even at 5-all in the third set.

Displaying the body control of a contortionist and the racquet skills to bend the ball inside the line from the stretch, Djokovic again delivered a higher gear in the third-set tie breaker, while Federer’s backhand instability—and inability to get to the frontcourt—cost him in the breaker.

A cluster of three backhand errors in the first five points helped Djokovic surge to a 4-1 lead.

A high-octane 23-shot rally erupted as Federer mixed spin and angle trying to disrupt Djokovic’s rhythm. Stepping into the court, Djokovic cracked a crosscourt backhand seizing a 5-1 lead. That exchange prompted Djokovic’s mom to pop out of her seat raising a clenched fist to mirror her son’s emotive fist pump.

Scattering a backhand drop shot wide put Federer in a double-set point dilemma. Djokovic drilled his signature shot—the backhand down the line—rattling out another error to seal the third set.

The champion was one set from his fifth Wimbledon crown.

A sharp eye and snapping return helped Federer break in the fifth game of the fourth set. The world No. 3 successfully challenged a Djokovic drive that Hawk-Eye showed strayed slightly wide for double break point. Backing the Serbian up with a churning return, Federer elicited an off-balanced backhand reply for his fourth break of the match.

Streaking through a love hold, Federer had won 10 of the last 12 points surging ahead 4-2. 

Two hours, 47-minutes into the match, Djokovic earned his first break point. Federer fought it off ending an electrifying 35-shot rally—longest of the match—blistering a backhand down the line. That strike spiked a standing ovation from fans, including Federer’s wife, Mirka, who exclaimed “wow!”

A tense final set turned topsy-turvy: Djokovic earned three break points in that game—more break points than he had the entire match—but Federer saved two on second serves and dusted the sideline with his 16th ace, eventually earning a tricky hold for 2-all.

The backhand that had worked brilliantly for much of the match betrayed Federer in the sixth game.

A cluster of backhand errors gave Djokovic double break point. Catching the Swiss in a delayed net-rush, Djokovic bended low and blasted a clean backhand pass crosscourt breaking for 4-2 sparking chants of “Nole! Nole!” from vocal supporters.

Jittering nerves spiked as Djokovic dumped his eighth double fault into net to face break point.

Digging in, Djokovic denied it only to see Federer zap a forehand down the line for a second break point. The top seed dotted the line with a backhand but sailed a forehand to hand back the break in the seventh game.

Both champion stood up to severe tests as the set escalated. Djokovic was two points from the title in the 12th game. Federer responded with stinging serves forging a 6-all tie.

After four hours, seven minutes of pulsating play, Federer punished a crosscourt return for break point.

Stabbing back a backhand return, Federer read Djokovic’s crosscourt approach and ripped a clean forehand pass breaking for 8-7 amid a sustained roar from the crowd.

Serving for his ninth Wimbledon crown, Federer rose slashing successive aces for double championship point.

"I don’t know where the next point might take the whole flow of the match," Djokovic said. "He had match points. He was serving. I never stopped believing.

"Although I was close to losing I thought he played a high level I went up and down, but I managed to find my level when it mattered most."

Fans were bobbing up and down in the aisles with index fingers extended, while wife Mirka Federer buried head in hands in an almost unbearable vise grip of tension.

Drive back by a deep return, a hopping Federer missed a diagonal forehand on first championship point.

On second championship point, Federer attacked. Eyes riveted on blurring ball, Djokovic calmly curled a crosscourt forehand pass to erase it.

Driving the ball down the line gained Djokovic break point and when a floating Federer netted a forehand the spirited champion continued his fight breaking back for 8-alll.

An electric exchange elicited audible gasps from the crowd several times before Federer touched the edge of the sideline for break point. Djokovic denied it moving forward and exhaling when Federer’s flick pass narrowly missed.

Painting the back of the baseline, Federer earned another break point when Djokovic stopped play to challenge his shot. Meeting the moment with a gutsy attack the defending champion knocked off a smash navigating a pressure-packed hold for 12-11.

All-court acumen carried Federer to the brink of victory as he won 51 or 65 net approaches against one of the premier passing artists in the sport and he continued to attack on the final tie break, but Djokovic read and reacted with poise and precision.

Shoveling a tough half-volley wide, Federer lost the mini-break on the third point then followed with two running forehand errors in a row as Djokovic extend the tie break lead to 4-1.

A bold backhand strike down the line brought Djokovic three championship points. Federer mis-hit a final shot capping a gripping final.

If you're like me, it left you buzzed, breathless and eternally grateful to live in an era of Big 3 brilliance. Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have combined to collect 11 consecutive Grand Slam titles and show no signs of slowing down.

Ultimately, Djokovic may shine brightest of all though you know rivals Federer and Nadal will have something to say about it, too.

Strong self-belief empowered Djokovic to stare down championship points and now he stands four Grand Slam titles from joining Federer at the Slam summit.

"I guess I never stopped believing," Djokovic said. "I know it’s a cliché, but it’s really true and the atmosphere was electric. He was so close. He served extremely well.

"I had difficulties the entire match reading his serve. He was dictating the serve from the baseline. He was the better play for most of the match. I just fought and found a way."


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