LONDON — Novak Djokovic’s large lead in the rollicking Wimbledon final was slipping away, due in no small part to Roger Federer’s regal presence and resurgent play.
No man has won tennis’ oldest major tournament more often than Federer, and he was not about to let it go easily. Djokovic went from being a point from victory in the fourth set to suddenly caught in the crucible of a fifth, and knew all too well that he had come up short in recent Grand Slam title matches.
Steeling himself when he so desperately needed to, Serbia’s Djokovic held on for a 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 victory after nearly four hours of momentum shifts Sunday to win Wimbledon for the second time — and deny Switzerland’s Federer what would have been a record eighth championship at the All England Club.
“I could have easily lost my concentration in the fifth and just handed him the win. But I didn’t, and that’s why this win has a special importance to me, mentally,” Djokovic said. “I managed to not just win against my opponent, but win against myself, as well, and find that inner strength.”
Cradling his trophy during the post-match ceremony, Djokovic addressed Federer directly, saying: “I respect your career and everything you have done. And thank you for letting me win today.”
Even Federer had to smile at that line.
Truth is, Djokovic deserved plenty of credit for figuring out a way to raise his Grand Slam total to seven titles and allows him to overtake Rafael Nadal at No. 1 in the rankings.
“Novak deserved it at the end, clearly,” said Federer, who hadn’t been to a Grand Slam final since winning his 17th major at Wimbledon in 2012, “but it was extremely close.”
Federer, who turns 33 next month, won 88 of 89 service games through the semifinals and produced 29 aces in the final, but Djokovic broke him four times.
Federer went to the net aggressively, only to see Djokovic zoom more than a dozen passing shots past him. And with most of the Centre Court crowd of about 15,000 raucously cheering for Federer, the 27-year-old Djokovic kept believing in himself.
That part might have been the most difficult, given that Djokovic lost his past three major finals, and five of his past six, including against Andy Murray at Wimbledon last year, and against Nadal at the French Open last month.