Djokovic Returns To Grand Slam Winners' Circle At Wimbledon
Serbian star wins first major since 2016 Roland Garros
The Serbian No. 12 seed swept past eighth-seeded South African Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6(3) in a final watched by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. During the trophy ceremony, his three-year-old son, Stefan, joined his wife Jelena in the players' box on Centre Court, shouting out "Daddy, Daddy" as Djokovic began to speak to BBC television interviewer Sue Barker.
Djokovic, with 13 major titles (13-9 in finals) following his first victory since May 2016 at Roland Garros (d. Murray), now stands in fourth place in the all-time Grand Slam singles final list, behind Roger Federer (20), Rafael Nadal (17), the player he beat 10-8 in the fifth set of this year’s semi-finals, and Pete Sampras (14).
As the lowest-ranked man to win the Wimbledon title since No. 125-ranked wild card Goran Ivanisevic in 2001, Djokovic will return tomorrow to the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings (at No. 10) for the first time since 30 October 2017 (No. 7). The victory also boosts his chances of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals, the elite eight-player season finale, at The O2 in London from 11-18 November.
“I did not expect to be back in the top shape already here in Wimbledon so quickly,” said Djokovic. “If you asked me after Roland Garros, I would probably maybe doubt that. At the same time there is a part of me that always believes in my own abilities, believes in my own quality of tennis. Whenever I come to the tournament and a Grand Slam, especially, I believe I can have a good opportunity to fight for the trophy.”
“My ambitions are quite high. I think maybe I went against myself, especially the first few months post-surgery, because [my own] expectations were so high that I could not understand why I could not perform and play on the level that I'm used to… But I want to thank all the people who were really close to me and really believed in me, as well.”
Twelve months ago, the former World No. 1 retired in the second set of his Wimbledon quarter-final against Tomas Berdych with a right elbow injury, which resulted in a six-month injury layoff. Djokovic returned to the ATP World Tour in January this year with a refined service technique and gradually rebuilt his confidence in recent months, including a semi-final run at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia (l. to Nadal) and a runner-up finish at the recent Fever-Tree Championships – his first ATP World Tour final for 12 months.
“It was a long journey, especially considering that elbow injury that took me out from the tour for six months,” said Djokovic. “When I started training again, [when I] came back on the tour and played in Australia, I played with the pain… It took me several months really to regain the confidence, go back to basics, start to hit as many balls on the practice court as possible so I could feel comfortable playing at a high level.
“It took me many tournaments, but I couldn't pick the better place, to be honest, in the tennis world to peak and to make a comeback. Wimbledon has been always a very special tournament to me, and to many players obviously. I dreamed of winning it when I was a seven-year-old boy. I made a lot of improvised Wimbledon trophies from different materials. I really always dreamed of winning Wimbledon.”
Djokovic secured his fifth grass-court title — and 69th of his career (69-31 overall) — against Anderson over two hours and 18 minutes on Sunday, in his first major final since September 2016 at the US Open (l. to Wawrinka). He hit 20 winners and committed 13 unforced errors for his 25th and most significant match win of the year (25-9). He now leads Anderson 6-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
Anderson, who beat eight-time champion Federer in the quarter-finals, also edged past John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set of their semi-final on Friday. He will break into the Top 5 of the ATP Rankings (a career-high) on Monday. The 32-year-old was as low as No. 80 on 16 January 2017.
“It was a tough start for me,” said Anderson. “You always have high hopes. Going into the match, I was hoping to draw on some previous experiences, playing at the US Open in the final, obviously playing Federer a few days ago. But I didn't really find my form the way I wanted to. Of course, my body didn't feel great. I don't think you're going to expect it to feel great this deep into a tournament when you've played so much tennis.
“But I was definitely quite nervous starting out the match. I didn't play great tennis in the beginning. I tried my best to keep at it. I definitely felt much better in the third set. I thought I had quite a few opportunities to win that third set, especially a couple of the points where Novak hit a couple balls. I thought they were actually going out, [but they] managed to land right on the line. I would have loved to have pushed it to another set, but it obviously wasn't meant to be.”
The South African clinched the fourth ATP World Tour title of his career at the inaugural New York Open (d. Querrey) in February and finished runner-up at the Tata Open Maharashtra (l. to Simon) and Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC (l. to del Potro). He advanced to his first clay-court semi-final at the Mutua Madrid Open (d. Thiem).
Anderson got off to a nervous start, striking a forehand long at 30/30 and then double faulting at break point to gift Djokovic the first game. Djokovic won 12 of the first 15 points to seize early control of the final. Although Anderson has contested the 2017 US Open, the occasion at the All England Club, coupled with nerves and stellar groundstroke play from Djokovic, ensured the South African’s potency on serve and movement was compromised. Djokovic soon led 5-1 after just 21 minutes and Anderson received treatment for a right arm injury at the end of the one-sided first set.
Djokovic carried the momentum into the second set, breaking Anderson’s serve in the first and fifth games. Although Anderson was more competitive, Djokovic kept the upper hand in longer rallies and kept his opponent on the backfoot with changes in groundstroke pace. Anderson created his first break point at 2-5, 30/40, but he struck a backhand long in an 18-stroke rally and Djokovic won the next two points for a commanding lead.
Anderson grew in belief in the third set, finding his service rhythm (having hit just two aces in the first two sets) and groundstroke depth to prevent Djokovic dominating baseline rallies. One break point went begging on Djokovic’s serve at 3-4, but the pressure kept building on the Serbian, who saved two set points at 4-5.
Anderson slipped in retrieving a deep forehand that hit the baseline on the first set point, which ended with Djokovic striking a forehand drop shot winner close to the net. Djokovic was again able to step into the court, two points later, in saving a second set point with a crosscourt forehand winner. Errors crept into Djokovic’s game and at 5-6, Anderson could not convert three further set point opportunities. Each time, Djokovic struck his serve to Anderson’s forehand. A forehand pass by Djokovic at 2/1 in the tie-break propelled the former World No. 1 onto an emotional win.
“The first game I got a break of serve, which was a perfect possible start,” said Djokovic. “After that I cruised for two sets. In the third set, he started hitting his spots with the serve much better. He started swinging through the ball, making less errors. He was the better player in the third set, without a doubt. I was just trying to hold on and keep my composure in decisive moments. I served well, played some good shots when I was set points down and then played a perfect tiebreak to finish.”