Novak Djokovic underlined his new status as the world’s top tennis player by shattering Rafael Nadal’s winning streak at Wimbledon to add his own name to the roll of honour at The Championships for the first time.
The 24-year-old Serb, with his country’s president watching from the Royal Box, won 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 in two hours 28 minutes to continue his domination of tennis – and Nadal in particular – throughout this most amazing season in his career. Five times in succession he has now defeated the Spaniard in finals, but none were as important or will taste as sweet as this.
Djokovic is the first from his country to capture a Wimbledon singles title and his joy as a Nadal backhand sailed over the baseline was unconfined. He fell flat on his back, arose with both arms uplifted before squatting down with his head in his hands to briefly contemplate what he had achieved.
On such an occasion the first prize of £1.1 million was virtually meaningless, especially to a Monte Carlo-based millionaire. He had turned a childhood dream into reality and to any true sportsman that is priceless. Officially installed from Monday as world No.1 by virtue of reaching the final, Djokovic showed he is worthy of usurping Nadal in that position as he took his win-loss record for the year to 48-1.
A pair of cracking forehand winners followed by an ace in the opening game were clear indication of Djokovic’s intent to carry the fight to the defending champion and what ensued merely underlined that intention. Djokovic was playing a smart game, serving to the widest corners and drawing Nadal forward with drop shots, which enjoyed mixed fortune. One was exquisite and unreturnable, another struck the netting and a third was run down by the Spaniard.
So there was the unusual sight of the man who specialises in destroying the opposition forced onto the defensive, especially in the longer rallies. “You’re a genius, Rafa, genius” bellowed one Nadal fan, but it was a worried genius who was attempting to stem the flow of Serbian winners.
Djokovic was untouchable on service and moved 5-4 ahead with his third ace, clipping the sideline – at which Nadal stared long and hard without issuing an official challenge for a Hawk-Eye decision.
Stepping up to attempt to break the Nadal serve to win the set seemed to inspire Djokovic to new heights. At 30-0 down, he struck two brilliant winners, one on each wing. Then Nadal’s netted forehand handed the Serb his first set point.
One chance was all that a Djokovic in such form needed. He returned a 93mph second serve with such venom that Nadal’s forehand response was wide. So the underdog was a set up in 41 minutes with some superb tennis. He had dropped a mere six points on serve and Nadal – denied even a sniff of a break point – had committed seven unforced errors. To put that into context, that was equal to the defending champion’s total in his semi-final win over Andy Murray.
Having won the last two games of the opening set, Djokovic promptly won the first three of the second set, too. On a perfect day for tennis, warm and still, it was the Serb who was playing perfectly at this stage, quicker around the court and more resilient in the rallies.
Nadal finally applied the brake to that streak, albeit temporarily, by holding to love. Once more however Djokovic revved up, lifting his ace count to seven and wrapping up the second set in a little over half-an-hour. This time he had conceded just five points on his serve and lifted his total count of winners to 22. With justification, Nadal looked a worried man.
A counter-attack was the urgent requirement, and Nadal duly launched it, finally reaching his first break point and cashing in on it when Djokovic netted a backhand approach. It was precisely the lift Nadal needed and he roared through the third set in inspired fashion, winning three service games to love and breaking Djokovic for a second time when the Serb perpetrated his first double fault. That set lasted a mere 30 minutes.
First Nadal double-faulted, for the first time in the match, then he sent a crosscourt forehand unforgivably wide before netting a forehand and handing his opponent three break points. Another error, this time on the backhand, and Nadal was duly broken, leaving Djokovic to serve for the title.
Despite the enormity of that prospect, Nole did not falter. A glorious backhand volley took him within one point of glory, at which Nadal – the champion for the last two years he has competed at Wimbledon – obliged with another error, a backhand out of play.
On the occasion of the 125th Championships, the Centre Court crowd had a new champion to acclaim.