July 6, 2014

On Top of the World

It's not that it's been so long since Novak Djokovic has made an impact at the Majors.

With semifinal showings or better at all but one of the last sixteen Slams, he'd become the most consistent performer on the ATP's biggest stages -- and in that time picked up five trophies to boot. But an old rival had turned the tables on Nole in recent finals and a couple upstarts thwarted his attempts at a few others. And despite three Masters titles this year, he'd gone eighteen months since claiming his last Major crown and was clearly eager to change that.

Djokovic came to Wimbledon fresh off a heart-breaking loss in the French Open final -- what many, including myself, thought was his best chance to-date to complete the career Grand Slam -- but garnered the top seed at the All England Club anyway, ahead of Rafael Nadal, who'd famously lost super early here the last two years. He was tested, though, taking a big spill against Gilles Simon in the third round and requiring treatment mid-game, coming back from a two-set-to-one deficit against Marin Cilic in the quarters, and surviving a testy four-setter against an equally hungry Grigor Dimitrov in the semis. By the time he reached the final, he'd spent a full five hours longer on court than his opponent, seven-time champion Roger Federer.

But Djokovic proved resilient. After losing a tight opening set in a tiebreak, he scored the first break of the match -- and the only one we'd see for quite some time -- early in the second and built a lead after taking the third in another breaker. It was then that both players began struggling on serve -- after one of just four break chances were converted in the first three sets, the players combined for eleven opportunities in the fourth with Nole getting and ceding the lead twice. Federer even saved championship point before ultimately taking the set and forcing a decider. It was the first five-set final at Wimbledon since Roger's record breaking run in 2009 and this pair's third marathon at a Major.

And like in the 2010 and 2011 U.S. Open semifinals, Novak Djokovic would come out ahead again. Though Federer dominated on serve early -- he didn't drop a point in the first several games -- Nole fought hard at the end and, though he missed a few opportunities, that would have let him serve out the match, ultimately he didn't need them. He broke Roger in a uncharacteristically sloppy tenth game, ending the nearly four-hour battle, the longest in the two's history, to claim his second Wimbledon and seventh Slam.

The win pushed Djokovic back to the #1 ranking, a spot he'd relinquished to Rafael Nadal last fall, and puts the cherry on top of a season that had flown way under the radar. And while he may not be putting up the numbers he did during his stellar 2011 run, he's certainly re-established himself as the man to beat at the Majors -- after all at every big event over the last three years, he either walked away champion or lost to the man who did.

And the way he's playing these days, something tells me he's going to keep that reputation going -- and will add more than a few additional crowns to his mantle along the way.

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