Wimbledon 2019: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic serves up a classic final for the ages
Four hours and ten minutes into the 2019 Wimbledon mens singles final, Roger Federer had just broken Novak Djokovic at 7-7 in the fifth, served up consecutive aces and arrived at 40-15.
Two championship points on serve. One swing of the racquet from Federer would seal the deal . A ninth Wimbledon title and a 21st Grand Slam beckoned. A 15000 strong partisan Centre Court Crowd waited with bated anticipation. This was what most of them had come for.
Television and mobile phone cameras were ready to capture the moment. The much loved Federer was on the cusp of another Wimbledon title, 16 long years after he captured HIS first.
A wide forehand from Federer drew collective groans. First championship point squandered. But there was another one on the Federer serve. The Swiss made the right play, attacking the Djokovic forehand and ventured forecourt, hoping to seal the point, the match and the title, with a volley into an open court. Djokovic, though, had other ideas. A rasping cross court pass tantalisingly eluded Federer's racquet and skimmed the sideline.
Deuce. Two championship points squandered and then two points later it was eight games all. The moment had come and gone in a flash for Federer. Centre Court descended into stunned silence.
To his credit though, the Swiss stayed strong on serve, and laid seige on the Djokovic serve in the 23rd game of the set. At 11 games all, Djokovic led 40-0 only to be reeled back by Federer, who forced two break points.
The partisan crowd roared in approval again. Another opportunity loomed for Federer to break Djokovic and serve for the championship for a second time.
Yet again, Djokovic slammed the door shut. Federer held serve to hold for 12 games all.
The Wimbledon final now ventured into unchartered territory. For the first time in the history of the tournament, there wouldn't be a timeless fifth set. A deciding tiebreak would come into play, following a rule change at the end of the 2018 Championships where a 26-24 fifth set win for Kevin Anderson over John Isner in the semis made for a lopsided final.
For a third tiebreak in the match, Federer was slow off the blocks and paid the price. Djokovic opened up a 6-3 lead.
Three championship points for the Serb, two of them on the Federer serve. A deep return by Djokovic forced Federer to shank a forehand. Djokovic edged out Federer in a gladiatorial Wimbledon final for the ages.
In another title match eleven years ago on the same court, then five-time champion Federer, in his sixth Wimbledon final, came second best against Rafael Nadal.
At 4 hrs and 57 mins, the 2019 Djokovic-Federer match became the longest ever Wimbledon final. Subdued celebrations ensued for Djokovic who triumphed for the fifth time in his sixth Wimbledon final, matching Federer's tally of five titles from the latter's first six Wimbledon finals.
On the day, Federer won most of the big points but not the three tiebreaks and then the two championship points on serve, which proved significant.
Not since the 1948 final when Robert Falkenburg saved three match points against John Bromwich, had a Wimbledon champion saved multiple championship points in the final.
The Swiss could so easily have been seated in the other press conference, with the headlines screaming "Federer prevails over Djokovic in epic clash to claim record ninth Wimbledon title." But that was not the case.
Perhaps a traditional long set (with no tiebreaks) could have had a favourable ending for Federer as he was the stronger player on serve and broke Djokovic seven times to being broken thrice. Perhaps Federer would feature in another epic at Wimbledon 2020.
This defeat will rankle Federer for a while when he admitted likewise in the post match press conference:
"Its such an incredible opportunity missed, I can't believe it!". The pain would subside on the morning after the night before but the scars would linger on for a while.
It revoked painful memories of the 2011 US Open semifinal when Federer had two match points at 5-3 (40-15) on serve against Djokovic and went on to lose the match. A year earlier Federer was denied by Djokovic in another US Open semifinal after having match points in the fifth.
In the 2018 Indian Wells final, Federer failed to convert match points on serve at 5-4 (40-15) against Del Potro. A month earlier, Dominic Thiem saved two match points to beat the Swiss in the Madrid Masters quarterfinals.
This is a staggering 22nd time in his illustrious career (1222-265) that the Swiss failed to convert match points in a match. The corresponding number for Djokovic is just "3".
It is of little solace that the Swiss has saved match points 21 times in his career. Djokovic has done so 14 times, three of which have come against Federer (2010 US Open semis, 2011 US Open semis, 2019 Wimbledon final).
The 2019 Wimbledon triumph was Djokovic's 75th career title (75-34) and 16th Grand Slam, numbers bettered by only two other active players: Nadal (82-37 in all finals, 18 Grand Slam titles) and Federer (102-54 in all finals, 20 Grand Slam titles) .
Victory in the final marked a fifth consecutive victory for Djokovic in his head to head against Federer (26-22) and a 14th win in 20 title clashes against the Swiss. Nadal has also won 14 tournament finals at the expense of Federer (14-10).
Its the tenth time Djokovic has beaten Federer in a Grand Slam (10-6). Nadal is the only other player to have ten Grand Slam match wins over the Swiss (10-4).
"Every Wimbledon defeat hurts", Federer rued remorsefully, but as he has demonstrated on so many occasions during his storied 21-year career, the Swiss has always remained respectful of his opponents and has come back strong from debilitating defeats which would crush a lesser player.
At the age of almost 38, Federer is still contesting for Grand Slam titles against younger players. He leads the tour with 38 match wins and three titles from five finals and has only lost five times this season. In two of those five losses, he had match points which he couldn't convert (Dominic Thiem in the Madrid quarterfinals and Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final) .
Federer's career tally of 1222 match wins and 102 titles is dwarfed only by Jimmy Connors (1274 match wins, 109 titles) in the all time list.
A record 100th match win at Wimbledon in the quarterfinals against Nishikori did not eventually culminate into a ninth title triumph for Federer but the story of the Swiss legend hasn't been told yet in entirety.
Perseverance, humility and dedication have been the hallmarks of Federer's career as the Swiss now looks forward to a successful stint on outdoor hardcourt culminating at the US Open next month.
One is truly privileged to be living in the era of Roger Federer, the magician with a single handed backhand,whose graceful movement and effortless strokeplay is the embodiment of poetry in motion on a tennis court.