Outstanding sporting achievements can be a little bit like buses, you wait ages for one and then two come along at once. Last weekend the tennis world was not only rewarded with a World Number One that wasn’t Federer or Nadal for the first time in 387 weeks, but also with a new Wimbledon Champion (the last time someone other than Federer or Nadal lifted the pineapple-topped cup aloft was in 2002). On Sunday, after 47 tour wins, eight ATP titles and six months of phenomenal tennis, Novak Djokovic was finally able to legitimately say what everyone already knew – that he is the best player in the world right now.
Djokovic had been within touching distance of World Number One for several weeks but, due to Nadal retaining his French Open title, it was only after his highly entertaining victory against Tsonga on Friday that the Serb managed to claim the top spot as his own. Despite his new found status Djokovic went into his first Wimbledon Final as the underdog with most tennis fans, including me, believing that whilst it would be a close-fought match Nadal would prevail. How wrong we were!
From the very start of the match Djokovic showed why he has only lost once this year. He was serving consistently, keeping his unforced error count low and most significantly of all outlasting Nadal in the longer rallies. Very few players on the Tour want to get involved in lengthy exchanges with the Spaniard but Djokovic seemed happy to match his opponent stroke for stroke and ended up winning 69 per cent of the points that went over eight shots – and you know that when Nadal is losing these rallies something is up. And there clearly was something up with the defending champion, perhaps it was the same nerves he suffered in the first set of his match against Murray or maybe he was stunned by Djokovic’s outstanding play; whatever it was he did not seem his usual self. On several occasions he left balls that he would normally hunt down voraciously and gone were the constant fist clenches and cries of ‘Vamos’ that usually characterise his play. In contrast, Djokovic was brimming with confidence, fuelled by his comprehensive 6-1 disassembly of his opponent’s game in the second set. It was only when Nadal broke in the third set that we truly saw some of his trademark passion and at that point my belief that he would win in five sets was reignited. The vast majority of the crowd had been fully behind the Spaniard from the start but at that point the weight of support for him would have lifted the roof off centre court had it been shut; I was not alone in my desire to see the match go the distance. Early in the fourth set it looked as if those craving a classic match would be satisfied as Nadal looked to build on his momentum gaining a break point in the first game of the fourth set. But whilst Djokovic seized almost every opportunity he had in the match, converting five of his six break points, he did not allow his opponent to do the same. With the Serb’s defensive game proving just too good, Nadal was only able to make the most of 50% of his opportunities to break. Would the match have panned out differently if the Spaniard had broken at the start of the fourth set? I doubt it. Whilst I would normally fear for any player who gave Nadal the slightest sniff at getting into a match, Djokovic was just playing far too well.
After the match, the new Wimbledon Champion credited Federer and Nadal with forcing him to raise his game and with him raising it in spectacular style you have to wonder how many titles they have deprived themselves of. Federer may have managed to beat Djokovic once this year but it seems to have only spurred him on and if he maintains this level of play it will take a monumental effort to beat him again.
My time at Wimbledon as a whole
As ou will no doubt have realised from all my blogs over the course of the Championships I had the most phenomenal week.
The main highlight of my time there obviously has to be the final; it was an event like no other. It may sound like an over-exaggeration but going into Centre Court on that day I felt how I imagine many brides feel on their wedding day. Here was a moment that I had dreamed of for many years about to come true; I was jittery with the heady combination of nerves and excitement. When Nadal and Djokovic walked onto court I started to cry, I felt so privileged to be at a high profile match that was packed full of promise. Whilst I loved the whole match the pinnacle for me was when Djokovic raised the cup for the first time, to be part of such a special day in someone’s was a real honour. The contrast of the new World Number One’s team dancing in their box whilst the defeated champion sat with his head in his hands was a moving sight. It was one of the most emotionally charged moments I’ve witnessed.
My other abiding memory of the day is of the Serbian celebrations – it was as if Wimbledon’s media alley had been turned into Belgrade’s main street. A large group of Djokovic fans clad in red, white and blue were dancing, singing, chanting around Centre Court as the crowds spilled out. When Djokovic’s parents came down to join them they lifted his father aloft and clamoured to shake the hand of his mother, all the while maintaining the festival spirit. The often reserved and respectful AELTC became a blaze of colour and joyful noise making everyone there feel as if they had an invitation to the greatest party in town.
Whilst nothing will beat that final Sunday for memories here are my other favourite bits of the Championships:
- Lisicki’s success – whether it be a routine match on an outside court, her hard-fought defeat of Li Na on Centre or her storming run to the semis of the singles and finals of the doubles, the charismatic German played every match with grace, good-humour and a smile. Her performances exuded joy and she reminded everyone that just to be on the court and in good health is a privilege.
- Watching Nadal practice – if you are ever at a tournament where Nadal is playing I would urge you to try and watch a practice session. It is only when you are close to the Spaniard that you can truly appreciate the pace, power and accuracy of his shots. Watching his whipped forehand in the flesh is to be in the presence of greatness.
- The birth of a new era – after months of me harping on about it, the new talent in the Women’s game finally came to fruition in the form of Kvitova. It was so exciting to see a non-Williams Wimbledon Champion and it was even better that it was in the shape of the humble yet determined Czech. I hope that Kvitova’s victory will be the catalyst for more of the younger players reaching their potential as I think the likes of Azarenka are just a few points away from joining her in the grand slam club. Kvitova’s victory was just one win in a weekend of Czech female success with Peschke and Benesova experiencing success in the Ladies Doubles and Mixed respectively.
- My match of the tournament had to be Tsonga’s stunning comeback against Federer, I feel so lucky to have seen it in the flesh. The Frenchman has to be one of the most entertaining players on tour and it was brilliant to see his level of skill match his performance talents, especially against one of the greatest artists in sport.
Wimbledon is a tournament like no other; from the beautifully preened purple planters to the military precision of the ball kids it is the model of perfect organisation. With it’s thoroughly English undertones and truly global audience it offers something for everyone. I will definitely be there again next year and I think you should all join me there.
The best of my photos from Wimbledon can be found on my flickr page.