For a fleeting moment it looked like the eagerly awaited, and long overdue, passing of the torch to the next generation of tennis stars was finally upon us.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal had lost to the Australian teen sensation Nick Kyrgios, defending champion Andy Murray crashed out to 23-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, and both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic appeared on the verge of elimination in their respective quarterfinals.
And yet, when Sunday rolled around, it wasn’t a matchup between two fresh-faced up and comers, but two seasoned veterans of the big finale, with a combined 24 major titles and perhaps even more staggering 37 major final appearances between them.
While it may have been the same old faces, there was nothing boring or predictable about this epic encounter. For close to four hours, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer went toe-to-toe, exchanging blow-for-blow, never letting up, never giving up, and delivering the crowd in the stadium and around the world plenty to cheer from the first game to the last.
It was, in a word, a classic.
Read: Djokovic downs Federer in five-set thriller
Djokovic was clearly the better player. For four and a half sets, the Serb out-hit, out-moved and out-played the 17-time grand slam winner. In fact, had one Federer forehand landed just a fraction of an inch further out in the first set tie-break, we could have been looking at a straight-sets victory for Djokovic.
And yet, Federer managed to stay with Djokovic until the end. And, very nearly won.
Despite being almost a decade past his prime, older, in fact, than the chair umpire (32-year-old James Keothavong was making his debut calling a major final), Federer looked fitter, healthier and more agile than his opponent, barely seeming to break sweat as he fought vigorously to hold back to tide.
Regularly employing the once thought extinct serve-and-volley game, brought back to life by his new coach Stefan Edberg, who perfected the art form in the 1990’s, Federer managed to keep himself in the match against all odds in a manner not seen at the All England Club in years.
He even managed a miraculous comeback from the verge of defeat in the fourth set. Down two sets to one, and 5-2, Federer found an extra couple of gears, roaring back to take five straight games and force a deciding set.
Unfortunately, even Federer cannot hold back the inevitable.
Djokovic showed he too had just as much guts and determination. After failing to convert a set point in the first set, a match point in the fourth set, losing five straight games, receiving treatment for leg issues and then missing two opportunities to break late in the fifth, Djokovic might have been forgiven for thinking it just wasn’t to be. But it was and, deep down,he believed it.
He found the edge that’s been missing from his game the last couple of years, broke serve at 5-4 in the fifth and claimed a thoroughly deserved second Wimbledon title.
Djokovic, aged 27, will be back. He will make more finals and he will win more major titles. Federer’s future on the other hand is not so clear.
Whether it’s the new racket, the new coach or the recent additions to his family (the Federers had their second set of twins back in May), the Swiss master has rolled back the years.
In doing so, he's rediscovered the sort of form that made him arguably the greatest player of all time. There’s no reason to think he can’t win one or two more grand slam titles.
However, it’s only a matter of time before players like Dimitrov, Raonic and Kyrgios are right in the mix at the majors.
It’s going to take a whole lot to hold back that tide.
Hearty congratulations to champion Novak. Runner-up Roger looks very good for many more Grand Slams. Thanks for the epic show of grit and class. Wishing the two super stars all the best.
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‘Open Court’ is CNN’s monthly tennis show, hosted by former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash.