By Arnie Leshin
A historic 5-set classic? That’s an understatement, it was more than that.
To break it down, it was an epic Wimbledon men’s singles championship played in a record five hours, and when top-seeded Novak Djokovic emerged victorious in the marathon over 2ndseeded Roger Federer, there was no pumping his fists, no throwing his arms up, no joyous waving to his family, friends and coaches in the stands, just two classy men walking towards each other and exchanging hugs and back pats.
It wasn’t that they were both weary and didn’t have the strength to celebrate, it was simply respect for one another. No sense dropping to their knees or landing on their backs, that was up to Djokovic, the winner, but he wanted no part of it.
“I’d say this was about the best match I’ve had since I became a pro,” Dvokovic, “and I don’t want to hear about 37-year-old Roger. He’s great at any age, and I just came off the court against one of the best to ever play the game.”
And so the 32-year-old Serbian did it his way, preferring to (1) be happy with his fifth Wimbledon singles titles, and (2) to praise the pride of Switzerland for a job well done.
“I have the upmost respect for Roger,” he said. “I hope I can play as well as him when I am 37. I guess we put on quite a show, especially in the fifth set.”
The fifth set arrived after Dvokovic toughed his way to claim the first set, a 7-6 tiebreaker won at 7-5. Federer bounced right back to handily win the next set, 6-1, and Dvokovic again went the tiebreaker route that was won at 7-4. Federer answered with a 6-4 win to even things at two sets each.
But who would expect the deciding set to have crowd up and down in their seats at the All England Lawn Tennis and Cricket Club in London? But that’s the way it went. Each man was broken twice, each man held serve nine times, 40-40 came five times to Dvokovic, five times to Federer, who held a big edge in aces, 23-9.
And it became the first tiebreaker at Wimbledon employing a 12-12 tie, and before that, only Federer had a chance to slip off with the match. Because you had to win at this time by two games, Federer had broken Dvokovic at 4-3 and had back-to-back match points in his grasp before Dvokovic slammed a backhand shot down the line, dumped a volley over the net, and at ad, won a 23-shot tussle.
Now we were at 4-4 and looking for an edge or maybe not, for the tiebreaker at 12-12. In game nine, Dvokovic lost the first point on a double fault, but won the next four. Same with Federer in the game that followed, giving away the first point by hitting lone on Dvokovic’s return, and then sending in an ace at 40-30 to get to 5-5.
Then Dvokovic held on an ad that brought a long volley from Federer. Now down 6-5, Federer had to battle after stuck at 40-all twice, than trading ads before he stroked an ace to get to 6-6.
No emotion, no talking up a storm, no arguing on close calls that didn’t go their way, just relying on challenges. Their coaches, forget about it, they were on their own at this point, two of the best players in the world, with Rafael Nadal, of course, just respecting each other’s variety of serves, forehands, backhands, volleys, the whole bit.
“I had problems reading Roger’s serve, where he was going to send it,” Dvokovic, “and he really did serve well this day.”
But Dvokovic was broken right after on his own serve and fell behind 8-7. But the same occurred to Federer when he served next, and instead of him holding and winning 9-7, it was now 8-8. The match was now four hours old when a 24-shot parade was won by Dvokovic, and Federer held at 15 to force a 9-9 deadlock.
After Dvokovic also held at 15, and Federer again did the same, it stood at 10-10 and then 11-10 for Dvokovic on a rather long ad point. But Federer wasn’t going anywhere, just calmly keeping this marathon going to 11-11 by winning at 15. Now it was nearing the 12-all tiebreaker when, with Dvokovic serving, he fought off four deuces at 40-40, exchanged ads twice, and finally held to put the pressure on Federer.
But he just shrugged it off and served the first time in the set at love and ending with an ace. Twelve all and here comes the first-time tiebreaker in this format, except that it belonged to Dvokovic, who with the score at 1-1, nailed down three straight points. Federer, on his serve, got to within 4-3, but Dvokovic won the next three points, the last on Federer’s wide return to end it at 7-3.
It was over, but Dvokovic didn’t do the usual celebrating, instead he went right to Federer and it was first class respect by two classy individuals. The clock read 4:52, the longest singles ever played here on Centre Court. Each player served a dozen times in the grueling fifth set.
Federer grasped the runners-ups silver plaque and said, “I was hoping it would end the other way, but this will let you know that 37 year olds can still play, so just remember that, and I thank you for all the support you brought.”
Dvokovic had his own response. “I hope I can be this good at 37,” he said, “but not everyone is Roger. It’s just amazing how he continues to play the game. At times we just went shot for shot, long, short, deep, down the line. Hard, bullet-like shots.
He now has four less Wimbledon singles titles than Federer, the oldest man to play for the Wimbledon singles championship. And let’s not forget that Federer had to meet up with 3rd seeded Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.
“This had many twists and turns,” Dvokovic said. “It was an amazing journey, a roller coaster ride, and again I must say that Roger is great regardless of his age.”
Whew! And that’s no understatement. Just a royal battle in good old London town. London bridges didn’t fall down, but the capacity turnout was trying to hang on during this historic, epic battle.