With so many things and thoughts to write in order to describe the 2019 Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, perhaps it’s better to go the minimalist route, and not overburden such a historic spectacle with letters, sentences and pseudo wisdoms.
Roger Federer had it in his hands, incredibly, and let it slip away. Serving for the championship with a 40-15 lead and an 8-7 games lead in the 5th set (Wimbledon and its quirks), Djokovic found those special powers that helped him overcome situations similar to that in the past. He turned into a wall again, won four consecutive points, and never trailed in the match again.
The first instinct is to try and compare this final to epic matches of the past. The obvious one is Wimbledon 2008. Perhaps the 2012 Aussie Open. Or the 2011 US Open. Hard to say. Perhaps a bit of perspective and time will do this decision good. On a whim, I’ll say the classic Federer-Nadal final from ’08 was better. Today’s clash had too many ups & downs in ability. Memory does play tricks on us, but I think in consistency of high tennis level, the old version trumps the contemporary one. Federer lost in both.
Wimbledon’s surface has changed. Kinder to baseline players, less rewarding to serve and grass specialists. No excuses, just facts. Djokovic wasn’t his dominant self in this match for too long. But he was, for lack of a better word, clutch, winning the tiebreak game three times to claim his 16th Grand Slam title and 5th at Wimbledon. Federer, like all players who end up on the wrong side of history, will try to analyze what he didn’t do enough or did too much of. In the end, he lost to the better player at the moment, even if he did have him on the verge of elimination.
Djokovic doesn’t necessarily want the villain role, but in Wimbledon and the US Open (moreso in Queens actually), he is forced into it. Fans will always go with Federer unless he’s playing on his opponents’ home soil. Djokovic was gracious in victory, but his face as he was sitting down, letting the victory sink in, told the story of someone who just won a difficult away match. Perhaps the proper response should have been Jose Mourinho-esque, with his hand to his ear, taunting the fans. If tennis fans are going off script more and more, why shouldn’t players?
Djokovic has won four of the last five majors. Not quite Federer in 2004-2007 yet, but he’s not just the man to beat at the moment – it’s almost impossible to see who can beat him in 5 sets, unless it’s Rafael Nadal’s Parisian practice surface.
Federer won on the stat sheets. More aces, more winners, more points. Better serve percentages. It didn’t matter. Djokovic won those that had more significance. He didn’t play “pretty.” He sat on the Federer backhand. Kept going for the same corner, dragging the match as far as he could. He kept serving into Federer’s body. In short, what the books says about playing Federer. And while not perfectly, it worked. Romantics might prefer the more adventurous tennis to win, but it was not to be. Not today.