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Switzerland's Roger Federer returns the ball to Serbia's Novak Djokovic during the men's singles final match of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Sunday, July 14, 2019.
Switzerland's Roger Federer returns the ball to Serbia's Novak Djokovic during the men's singles final match of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Sunday, July 14, 2019.|Tim Ireland | Associated Press
Tennis

Wimbledon reflections on the historic Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer final

Steve Ross

Steve Ross

As the 5th set of the nerve-racking Wimbledon Final between top seed, Novak Djokovic and # 2, Roger Federer, was tied at 9 games each, I said to my wife, “what's sad, is that one of these guys has to lose.”

Wait! “Tied at 9 games?” Huh?!

Well....a rule change took place at Wimbledon – highly unusual for the normally bound-by-tradition, often staid, All England Lawn Tennis Club – the tournament's governing body. Because marathon matches in the past have wreaked havoc with its schedule, it was decided that a 5th set tiebreak would be played in the Final, if the match were tied at 12 games each.

Lo and behold, it happened in its very first year.

Federer had his sights set on capturing his record 9th Wimbledon title and 21st Grand Slam overall. All that stood in his way was the top seed and his Serbian nemesis, Djokovic, in search of his 5th Wimbledon and 16th Grand Slam title.

Roger was steady throughout, while Djokovic was subject to peaks and valleys. In the end, however, Djokovic prevailed – demonstrating grit, determination and according to him, “an enormous amount of self-belief.”

At 7-games all in the fifth set, Federer smoked a forehand winner to break Djokovic and serve for the match. After rushing to a quick 40-15 lead, the Swiss star had the match on his racket – with two championship points – but couldn't close the deal.

Djokovic fought back and broke Federer to even the match at 8 games each – in what must have been an “uh-oh” moment for Federer. Eerily similar to what occurred in their 2011 semifinal throw-down at the US Open, when the Serb inflicted a similar gut-wrenching loss on Federer, who also had match points that day, yet could not prevail. Djokovic plays like a combination of Gumby and a high-wire daredevil – who always somehow manages to escape. This time, the score was 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12. Bottom line? Djokovic won all three tiebreaks against the G.O.A.T.

This was yet another heart-breaking loss for Federer, who – despite turning 38 next month – never seems to tire, or sweat – even after nearly five hours of an emotionally draining and physically demanding Wimbledon Final.

After the amplitude of this match finally sinks in, there will be the inevitable comparatives with the 2008 Wimbledon Final between Federer and Rafael Nadal – often acknowledged as the best tennis match ever played. The irony, is that as Federer pointed out in the post match press conference, “I was the loser in both.”

And, while that may be true, it is, nonetheless, misleading. For, Federer is anything but a loser.

The reason he is widely acknowledged as the most likable athlete in sports, is because – regardless of what occurs – he is always respectful, humble and exudes class. Men's tennis could not possibly have a better ambassador for its sport. He does everything well and most of all, he's refreshingly genuine.

The same could be said for his two distinguished rivals – Nadal and Djokovic – who both breathe that same rarefied air as does he. Amazingly, the world's three top-ranked players, have collectively captured 54 Grand Slam titles – the most in tennis history.

Try to imagine just how many Grand Slams one of them would have won, had the other two not been around.

But, to the delight of tennis fans worldwide, that is not necessary to contemplate, as all three were, and thankfully still, are!