Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 to repeat as Wimbledon champion, and win the tournament for the fifth time in his career. The match was simply a bout of epic proportions between two world class athletes who each spent time on the edge of winning the whole damn thing just long enough for the other to snatch that position away from. For the first time in Wimbledon history, a fifth-set tiebreaker had to be implemented to decide who would take home the coveted golden trophy, and it took four hours and 57 minutes—the longest match in tournament history—to officially make that decision.
As you can probably tell by the match’s score line, Djokovic seemed to have a knack for beating Federer in tiebreakers. With the fifth set being so closely contested, unlike the two sets that Federer won, it almost seemed apparent that the Serbian was going to the title at a reasonable hour, particularly when he led 6-5. But after forcing several battles at deuce, the Swiss legend was finally able to put two incredible serves back-to-back to keep pushing his opponent.
That kind of effort seemed to be a theme of sorts for the match. Despite the fact that Djokovic spent considerably less effort in the semi-final match he played just days before than Federer did with his grueling four-set match against Rafael Nadal, it wasn’t often that the 37-year-old looked like the more exhausted man on the court. That description, more often than not, was more accurate for the Serbian, who seemed to spend more time arguing with the referee and getting angry at his sneakers than Federer spent on his serves. The mental fatigue got to Djokovic in ways that many assumed physical exhaustion would catch up with Federer.
Yet the most notable moment of the match might have happened as a result of physical exhaustion from Federer, when he had a 8-7 lead over Djokovic in the fifth set. After smashing an ace to go up 40-15, Federer was just one score away from securing a victory that seemed so unlikely just moments ago. After faulting his first serve, he was unable to win on the first go-around, hitting the ball just out to put the score at 40-30. His second attempt while on the precipice of glory did not fare much better, as Djokovic was able to smack the ball just out of Federer’s reach. Thanks to hindsight, we can more or less surmise that this was the beginning of the veteran’s downfall in the match.
Federer still continued to press on and while trying to put that grave error behind him the end. His mental fortitude showed out to a certain extent as he was able to force the match into Wimbledon’s first-ever fifth-set tiebreaker. Ultimately, however, Djokovic’s perseverance and talent for getting out of tiebreakers victoriously reached new heights when it mattered most, allowing for the 32-year-old player to methodically chip away at Federer’s title chances in front of a crowd that seemed to favor his opponent in a 95-5 split. The Swiss phenom picked an odd time to show his age when down 6-3 in the tiebreaker, Federer massively misjudged the ball and sent it to the moon as Djokovic cockily sauntered over to center court to bask in the glory of what he had just done.
The fact that either man was able to put any coherent thoughts together without immediately collapsing on the ground due to exhaustion was nothing short of miraculous. Federer told the crowd he’ll try and put this loss behind him and that he was happy “in a way” because he seemed to understand that he had just been a part of a huge moment in sports history. Djokovic didn’t seem to feel let a victors’ fatigue get to him and gave an emotional speech about accomplishing his childhood dream.
“If this was not the most exciting final then it was definitely the top two or three. I was up against one of the greatest players of all time, Roger, who I expect a lot. Unfortunately one player has to lose and we both had our chances. It’s unreal to be two match points down and come back. It’s a bit strange to play a tie-break at 12-all as well. I was hoping to get to the tie-breaks as well. And Roger says he hopes he can inspire others to believe they can do it at 32. I’m one of them. When I was a boy and dreaming to be a tennis player this always has been the tournament for me. I used to make trophies out of different materials in my room and it’s extra special sharing it with my son in the crowd and my parents and my whole team. My wife and daughter are here in London but they are at home. I’ll see them soon. Back to being dad too, I guess.”
Djokovic has a few more years before he truly starts being a realistic athletic inspiration for people his age—as Federer has strangely become for some—but as long as he keeps up a healthy diet of post-victory grass celebrations, he’ll be able to keep away Father Time from doing anything too serious for just a bit longer.