Monday, 7 July 2014

Novak and Roger deliver a classic

Too rarely the final match of a Grand Slam tournament is an anti climax to what has gone before, but no need for concern with the Gentlemen's Singles Final at Wimbledon 2014.
Promising plenty, Roger Federer was attempting to win his eighth at the All England, and pass Pete Sampras - it was the great man's first visit to a GS final since his last Wimbledon success two years previous, and on the way to that success he knocked over Novak Djokovic in the semi final.
Novak won here in 2011, but had not tasted major success since the Australian Open in 2013, despite making three finals in that time.  He ached for this one at least as much as Roger.

The match began at a high standard, Djokovic holding serve easily through three tries, while Federer had a couple of deuce games, due not to his serving woes - he was doing very well from the line - but to the incredible returning and passing efforts of Djokovic.  Already the policy of coming to the net, while necessary and largely successful, needed a little tempering.

Federer served increasingly better as the set rolled on, and at the back end it became Djokovic who struggled to hold.  In the tie break, which was always going to be the only means of deciding the opener, Roger cracked the first hole in the Serbian scorecard with a mini break.  Still the terrier in Novak wouldn't let the Swiss star slip away, and in fact gathered two set points, each time thwarted by a smart serving Federer.  An unexpected error from the top seed was the moment where Roger was able to wrest the set to his advantage, and he took the lead 7-6.

The second set was the stage for a Djokovic revival, not that he had been missing for much.  He created many chances on the Federer serve with crisp ground strokes and the invention of angles which will cause trigonometry and geometry textbooks to be rewritten.    
The break came in the third game, assisted by a Federer double fault, but mainly caused by the pressure of groundstrokes consistently finding their way back to Roger's side of the net.

Games went to serve and that left Novak to serve it out which he nearly failed to do, needing to save a break point.  The two were locked at a set apiece.

Federer served brilliantly again in the third, and Djokovic had to hold each time to stay level.  He managed to do that with some wonderful tennis of his own, before the inevitable tiebreak reared it's head.  This time Novak claimed the lead with the first mini break, and reached 4-2 with his second serve to come.
Roger intervened and in the blink of an eye the advantage was gone.  Unperturbed, Djokovic ran out the final few points to take a two sets to one lead 6-7 6-4 7-6.

The fourth set was strange - after three more holds of serve, what followed was a major surprise.  Novak all of a sudden had three break points on a faltering Federer, and although those were saved with fantastic serving, the immense pressure from the Djokovic racquet proved too much and he led 3-1.  Roger did as a champion does and broke straight back, but could not hold back the burgeoning Serbian flood and with a break and hold Djokovic was playing all his favourite shots plus some that we didn't know he had in his arsenal. 5-2 and only a game away.

Federer simply wouldn't lay down, winning the next five games, including staving off one match point.  The sudden and timely reversal of the tide was unpredictable but added another chapter to an epic tale.  Two sets each and all the momentum now with Roger, but the first serve in the final set to be delivered by Novak.

The final phase of a stunning match did not lack for any of the class which had been the hallmark of the four sets already done and dusted.  For six games the server was in charge and with no tie break available in the fifth the stalemate could proceed for ages.  Djokovic had to pull out some vintage tennis to save break point in the seventh, just as Roger's volleying assisted him from the danger of break point down in the eighth.

Down 4-5 Federer unfortunately played his worst game of the match at the worst possible time, and finally the pressure of groundstrokes from Djokovic had taken its toll.  The match was over, and it was one of the best seen by me, certainly one of the two best Wimbledon Finals in over forty years of watching.

Djokovic has taken another significant step in his Grand Slam career, having now beaten one of the best ever grass court players in a final on the surface.  Federer is back in a Grand Slam final after a two year hiatus, and that augurs well, considering the unhealthy dominance of Nadal and Djokovic over the past five years (14 of the past 19 majors)

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