Djokovic steps up pursuit of Federer records after surviving Wimbledon final fantasia

OPTA

London, July 15: The greatest tennis player of all time squandered two championship points. Match point had to be replayed after a line-call blunder.

And Wimbledon had its equivalent of a Super Over when the final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic went down to a deciding set tie-break at 12-12 for the first time.

Was there some sort of competition between London's great sporting spectacles on Sunday? A bet on which could end in the highest drama? Sneaky attention seekers, both of them. Let's call it a draw, because just sometimes there doesn't need to be a winner.

England's Cricket World Cup triumph barely registered at Wimbledon, just as this match would have been an afterthought at Lord's. Keeping tabs on both would have blown the mind.

Djokovic certainly hit Federer for six with his triumph on Centre Court, coming back from the brink of defeat to beat the Swiss for a third time in the men's title match.

After 2014, 2015 and now 2019, no wonder Federer said he wanted to "forget" all about the latest loss. Fat chance of that. Classics like this live long in the memory.

The record books that Federer has rewritten over the last 20 years may soon be due a redraft, with Djokovic fast closing both on the man from Basel and Rafael Nadal in the grand slam stakes.

His 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) success was remarkable in many ways, not least because he trailed 8-7 and 40-15 in the deciding set, with Federer having the match on his racket as he served for a ninth title in SW19 and 21st slam overall.

Djokovic may one day consider the passing shot to save the second of those championship points as the most important of his career.

He becomes the first man over 30 in the Open era to successfully defend this title and has won four of the last five slams, missing out only at the French Open last month, where he fell in the semi-finals.

The 32-year-old Serbian's tally stands at 16 slams, with Nadal's 18 and Federer's 20 under threat. At Wimbledon he has matched Bjorn Borg's five. Federer's eight may still be reachable.

This astonishing match finished in bizarre circumstances, with the last point having to be played twice after a faulty line ruling.

At the second time of asking, Federer clattered the ball off his racket frame, high, ugly and way out of court.

Four hours and 57 minutes it lasted, the longest men's Wimbledon final ever. Federer, at 37, still has the hunger and plenty of game, but it is hard to imagine him having a better chance of a ninth crown.

He was first nagged about his age as he inched towards his late twenties, peppered with questions about how long he might have left at the top.

In January 2009, the 27-year-old Federer was asked at an Australian Open press conference if he needed to win a couple more grand slams before there would be "a whole lot of Gulbises and Cilices and Del Potros breathing down your neck".

Bless Ernests Gulbis, for he is an outlier in this story.

Federer's longevity is a modern wonder of the world. A poll from Swiss broadcaster SRF showed 86 per cent expected another Federer victory in London, with Wimbledon's own Twitter survey revealing 70 per cent fancied the same outcome.

Swiss newspaper Blick said Djokovic would need to "shift up a gear" to be competitive, as John McEnroe delivered the same verdict but about Federer.

This was their 48th match. Djokovic has now won 10 of their 16 grand slam meetings.

Conventional wisdom dictated that Federer would struggle if he dropped the opening set, but there has been little about his career that has adhered to convention. Pete Sampras' 14 grand slams were widely reckoned to be an insurmountable stack before Federer, Nadal and then Djokovic all overtook the American.

It was "conventional wisdom" that was cited at the 2008 US Open when a reporter, after Federer beat Andy Murray in straight sets to take the title, pointed out how some had portayed the Swiss as a declining force.

Back on Centre Court, over a decade on, Federer the revisionist duly banished tie-break frustration and sauntered through the second set against Djokovic.

Where would this match pivot? They had split the first two sets of each of their three previous Wimbledon matches, when Federer won in the 2012 semi-finals and Djokovic the 2014 and 2015 finals.

The man who captured the third set in each of those matches wound up prevailing. When the third went to a tie-break this time, Djokovic punched the air at 5-1, an action of hostility he had the chops to back up.

Centre Court has become a Church of Federer to which his disciples - celebrity, royalty, and civilian - flock with unflinching faith. Prince William was watching on. Movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston were at courtside too, along with Federer favourites Stefan Edberg and Rod Laver.

Into the fifth set they went after Federer hit back again, his wife Mirka on her feet, whispering a wish to the gods.

John Bercow, the speaker of the United Kingdom's House of Commons, was toadying up his role of chief Federer fan boy.

Before the match began, Nick Kyrgios tweeted: "Federer please win", a snippy reminder of the Australian's disdain of Djokovic.

Djokovic would never court the affection of Kyrgios, nor give a Castlemaine XXXX for his opinion, and the man from Belgrade feels worthy of greater admiration from the Wimbledon crowds.

They rose to acclaim his success, which perversely might not help him in the popularity stakes.

At Wimbledon, they hold a unique place for Federer, this greatest of men's champions.

It is high time they showed a similar deference to Djokovic.

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