WIMBLEDON, England — They know his name now, know that he’s the best men’s tennis player in the world. They know his quickness, his return of serve and his ability to react, sprinting from one end of the court to the other. They even know his tendency to take tumbles as he reaches for balls beyond his reach, but not his hopes.
Novak Djokovic was always somewhat of an outsider, not so much an oddball but unusual — at least to Americans. Djokovic had a talent for mimicking other players, men and women — he knew every Maria Sharapova twist and move — and a talent for fading in big matches.
And then, for heaven sakes, when he was second in the 2007 U.S. Open, in the post-match award ceremonies, TV analyst Dick Enberg called him “Da-jokovic,” not realizing the “D’’ is silent.
What people call him now is champion. He won Wimbledon for the second straight year and third time overall on Sunday, again beating the man who used to be king, Roger Federer, 7-6 (1), 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-3. It was a fine match, halted briefly in the third set because of a drizzle. Yes, there’s a retractable roof over Centre Court, but they’ll do anything to keep the All-England Lawn Championships an outdoor event.
Federer, playing in his 10th Wimbledon final, and trying to become the first man to win the tournament eight times, did everything he could to win. It was a brilliant tournament for Federer, more than might have been predicted as he nears 34. But he simply couldn’t keep up with a 28-year-old who is in full flight.
“He’s clearly making a big name for himself,” Federer said of Djokovic, “having won as many times as he has in these different Slams.” He has nine Grand Slams wins overall, more than Jimmy Connors, more than Andre Agassi, more than Boris Becker, Djokovic’s coach, who also took Wimbledon three times.
“But he also has his streak at world No. 3, 2, 1, keeping it up, keeping it going. Clearly he’s going to be one of the top guys. Where, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Federer and Djokovic exchanged compliments the way they did forehands, and why not? Federer was so long on top of the sport, an icon with a beautiful stroke. Rafael Nadal was virtually unbeatable on the clay of the French Open, but Djokovic has swept in and swept away all the doubts. Including his own.
“Coming into the court today and knowing that it’s the finals at Wimbledon,” said Djokovic, “and I’m going to play against the most successful player of all time in this tournament, I think just that fact makes you nervous.
“Of course (Federer) played amazing tennis throughout the entire tournament. He deserved to be there. I know that he’s not going to drop his level too much. He’s going to make me earn every point. I’m going to have to win. You know he’s not going to lose. I’m going to have to win it if I want to lift that trophy.”
And win it he did, despite losing a second-set tiebreaker when he had set points seven times. Despite a majority of the 14,000 fans cheering for Federer, who through his familiarity and his outrageous success has become as endeared in Britain as the Scot who won in 2013, Andy Murray.
“It’s an absolute privilege to play here,” said a barely chastened Federer. “To be on Centre Court with those fans. I’m still very hungry and motivated. Novak was very good, but I enjoyed myself.”
Federer had moved through six previous matches, including the semifinals against Murray, losing serve only once. But Djokovic was a step too quick, and at the end, Federer was firing serves in desperation, trying to make up for his inability to get Djokovic off balance.
“It’s no fun ever losing, really, unless you know you’ve entertained the crowd,” said Federer, “and you can be happy with your performance and then get it over quicker. But it doesn’t mean you’re not disappointed.
“At the same time I lost against the world No. 1 at the moment. That’s the kind of guy you can probably lose against and say it’s normal. It’s not. Even though at the end it might look routine, I don’t think that was the case.”
It wasn’t routine. But it was indicative. Novak Djokovic is better than anyone else. We learned his name. Then we learned his game. It’s brilliant.