Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The latest chapter in an amazing tennis story

Novak Djokovic kisses the most coveted trophy in tennis after
winning the 2014 Wimbledon gentlemen's singles championship.

You can learn a lot about world-class athletes by the way they comport themselves during an awards ceremony and in post-match interviews. Such was the case following Sunday's nearly-four hour epic Wimbledon gentlemen's singles final between the seven-time champion, Roger Federer, and the world's no. 1 player, Novak Djokovic. It was their 35th meeting and, always, there's familiarity when these two meet on court.

Sunday's match did not produce a storybook finish to this year's Championships at Wimbledon that many, including myself, had hoped for as Djokovic won 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 to prevent Federer from winning an eighth Wimbledon title. However, it did give everyone who witnessed the Centre Court clash of titans, in which Federer came from down 2-5 in the fourth set to win five straight games while holding off one match point, a sense of hope that there are more chapters remaining to be written in Federer's amazing story.

From perspective, Federer knows he can't go on forever and each Grand Slam final is a precious opportunity. He expects a lot of himself. Had Federer, a living legend just a month shy of his 33rd birthday, won on Sunday, he would have become the oldest Wimbledon champion since the beginning of the Open Era in 1968 and his eighth Wimbledon crown would have meant his 18th career Grand Slam title, too.

"It was a great final. I can't believe I made it to five. It wasn't looking good for a while," said Federer, during his on-court interview with the BBC's Sue Barker following the trophy presentation. "Going into a match with Novak, it's always going to be tough and physical. He plays athletic points. I can only say 'congratulations' today. Amazing match; amazing tournament once again. Well deserved.

"I enjoyed myself a lot. See you next year."

Federer and his family have been royalty at Wimbledon's Centre Court since he won the junior boys' title in 1998. This year, his parents, wife Mirka and his twin daughters, Myla and Charlene, attired in matching floral dresses, were all there to bear witness. Always gracious in victory or defeat, the very public Federer shed no tears in accepting his runner-up plate. Later, he said: "It's even more memorable when I see my kids there with my wife and everything. That's what touched me the most, to be quite honest. The disappointment of the match itself went pretty quickly."

Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Djokovic's seventh Grand Slam title was special for him. The way in which he bounced back during the ultimate fifth set against Federer -- overcoming mental and physical frailties -- showed a lot of determination.

When it was time for his name to be called out during the trophy presentation, Djokovic lifted his head and raised his arms to the sky, partly in jubilation and partly as a means of giving thanks. During his post-match interview with Barker, Djokovic fought back a lot of emotions.

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer
with their Wimbledon trophies.
"First of all, I want to congratulate Roger for a great tournament and a great fight today," said Djokovic. "It was a great match to be proud of. He's a magnificent champion, a great athlete."

Turning to look Federer in the eye, Djokovic remarked: "I respect your career and everything you've done. Thank you for letting me win today!" It drew a smile from Federer.

Continuing his praise of Federer, Djokovic said: "In important moments, he comes up with his best shots. That's why he's won 17 Grand Slams and is the best in the game. After dropping the fourth set, it wasn't easy to regroup. I had to compose myself and find the necessary energy to win the fifth. I don't know how I managed to do it."

Asked to put winning this year's Wimbledon title into perspective, Djokovic said: "This is the tournament I always dreamed of winning. It's the best tournament in the world, the most valuable one. The first tennis match I ever saw, when I was five-years-old, was Wimbledon. That image has always stuck in my mind. To be able to compete at such a high level, I'm so grateful for this opportunity and to be able to hold this trophy."

Finally, it was time for Djokovic to recognize those who played a role in his victory: "I dedicate it to a few people," he said. "First of all, I would like to dedicate it to my future wife (Jelena Ristic), and our future baby. I'm going to become a father soon. I'm still preparing for that. It's a great joy in life. I would like to dedicate it to my family: my parents, my brother, and all of the family in my team." Djokovic's team included his coach, three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker. "Of course, they've sacrificed a lot of their free time and life in order to live the dream and be where I am at this moment. And, last but not least, I would like to dedicate this title to my first coach that taught me all the basics of tennis shots and behavior and everything I know about tennis, Jelena Gencic. She passed away last year. This is for her."

Djokovic lifted the winner's trophy aloft and kissed it. He was grateful for the opportunity to so publicly share a poignant moment. The Wimbledon final was broadcast to over 180 countries around the world.

Off the court, Djokovic called Sunday's Wimbledon victory "the most special Grand Slam final I've played. At the time in my career, for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several Grand Slam finals in a row. I started doubting, of course, a little bit. I needed this win a lot."

Looking back on Sunday's championship match with a day's-worth of perspective, one thing is certain. What a treat for tennis fans around the world this year's final provided us with to remember: Five sets of extremely high level of play stretched out over almost four hours -- with lots of resilience and mental and physical fortitude -- was exuded by both athletes. Regardless of whom you wanted to win, you had to admire and appreciate the level of tennis that Djokovic and Federer brought to Centre Court.

No doubt, both players left the Wimbledon grounds with their heads held high.

A postscript: Four days after winning his second Wimbledon title, Novak Djokovic married his long-time girlfriend, Jelena Ristic, in the grounds of Montenegro's Aman Sveti Stefan resort.

Photos courtesy AELTC/Google Images. 

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