Stepping onto Centre Court for the Wimbledon Final this afternoon was a homecoming of sorts for the great Roger Federer, a seven time Champion at the All England Club. The 32 year old Swiss Maestro was back at the scene of his greatest triumphs, determined to turn back the clock one final time and become the oldest Wimbledon Champion since tennis’ open era began in 1969. Sadly, it was not to be. In a glorious five set duel, his opponent Novak Djokovic played the role of gallant gate crasher to perfection defeating his adversary 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4.
Djokovic and Federer, universally recognised as two of the greatest players ever to wield a racket engaged in an enthralling contest, from the first ball to the last. Djokovic, a speedy and athletic baseliner pitted his skills against Federer, a free flowing attacking genius. The first set culminated in a tie-break, which Federer snatched by 9 points to 7 after Djokovic dumped a backhand in the net. Federer had drawn first blood. Following the most testing 12 month period of his career in which the words “retirement” and “decline” swirled around his press conferences, the 32 year old legend had shown he was prepared to dig deep in what was fast becoming a dog fight.
Inevitably, Djokovic the most resilient competitor in tennis fought back in the second set. A fall by Djokovic at 0-1 mirrored a tumble he took earlier in the tournament against Gilles Simon in the third round, and foreshadowed the match’s end result. Djokovic had hit the deck but he would clamber off the turf and keep on fighting. He managed to break Federer’s serve at 1-1 and proceeded to take the second set 6-4. Disconcertingly for Federer he had not played badly at all, Djokovic was simply too consistent and too accurate from the backcourt. In extended baseline rallies he hardly missed; finding the corners of the court with startling accuracy.
Neither man would let up or surrender ground in the match’s pivotal third set, which once again headed for a tie-break. Djokovic, fuelled by the desire to avoid losing a fourth grand slam final in a row punctured Federer’s resolve, taking the breaker 7 points to 4. Daylight at last, he had finally pinned his old foe down, the end was in sight. The 27 year old Serb opened up a seemingly unassailable lead serving for the match at 5-3 in the fourth set. It was then time stood still. Was this 2014 or 2004 when Federer was in his pomp? Federer broke serve, pulling Djokovic out wide and sending him sprawling on the lawn before steering a forehand down the line into the open court for a winner. Vintage Federer, and he was only getting started. The Swiss fourth seed then saved a match point 4-5 down with an ace, that the hawk eye challenge system declared had caught the back end of the service line; landing in by a fraction. Djokovic was beginning to tighten up whilst Federer was in the ascendency; he reeled off two more games to take the fourth set 7-5 forcing the match into a decider.
For the first time since Federer escaped Andy Roddick in the longest Wimbledon Final on record in 2009, the most sought after prize in tennis would be decided in a fifth set. The match was now a titanic clash of wills; Djokovic was driven by the sting of failure, he could not fathom the prospect of losing in yet another grand slam final. Federer on the other hand was motivated by history, the greatest tennis player of all time looking to add to his record tally of 17 Slam titles. Federer’s season had been building up to this very moment, geared towards reclaiming a trophy he won on five consecutive occasions from 2003-08, was this to be his momentous homecoming? Early on in the set it looked to be the case; Federer who had only dropped serve once in the tournament heading into the final was playing his slashing brand of attacking tennis with assurance, moving forward to the net whenever possible. He held serve to love twice early on in the final set. However, Federer wasn’t confronted by a man willing to let him stride into the history books and secure title number eight; he was against Novak Djokovic the most resilient match player of his generation. Time and time again the Serb has found an unnatural second wind in matches from a losing position, and once more this would be the case. Serving to stay in the match at 4-5 down the Swiss Legend cracked. The final point of the match saw him send a backhand into the net to give Djokovic a hard fought victory. Centre Court had just witnessed a marvellous display of grit and guts from two legends, but cruelly there could only be one winner.