Novak Djokovic secured his seventh Wimbledon title to level the total triumphs secured by Pete Sampras, who inspired him to take up the sport, and declared: “Every single time it gets more meaningful.”
I am lost words for what this tournament and this trophy means to me. It always has been and will be the most special one in my heart. It motivated me to play in my small mountain resort and I saw Pete Sampras win and I asked my mum and dad to buy me a racket Novak Djokovic
Djokovic turned up the heat in 35 degree temperatures on Centre Court to defeat unseeded Nick Kyrgios 4-6 6-3 6-4 7-6(3).
The 35-year-old Serb’s tournament triumph was his fourth on the spin and his 21st Grand Slam, one behind the record number achieved by Rafa Nadal.
And it left Andy Murray, who became, in 2013, the first Brit in 77 years to lift the title, as the only player to beat him in the Championships’ decider.
He said: “I am lost words for what this tournament and this trophy means to me. It always has been and will be the most special one in my heart. It motivated me to play in my small mountain resort and I saw Pete Sampras win and I asked my mum and dad to buy me a racket.
“It was my first image of tennis – every single time it gets more meaningful and I’m blessed to be standing here with the trophy.
“It is the most special tennis court in the world and when you walk on the untouched grass and everything is so directed on the tennis, the players’ ball and racket and it has the most recognition in the world.”
“My family my parents – my daughter is here as well. She’s not five years old yet so she wasn’t allowed to watch but next year she can watch daddy play live.
“My thanks to everyone that has been there. My son is the only one missing because he is playing a set against Bob Bryan’s son. Thank you because without you this is not possible.”
He was also celebrating his wedding anniversary and he told his wife Jelena sitting in the player’s box: “Darling, happy anniversary – this is my present.”
He also praised Kyrgios, telling him: “Nick – you’ll be back, not just in Wimbledon but in finals. I know it’s tough to find consolation words after a tough loss like this, but you showed you deserve to be the best in the world especially on this surface, after this tournament, I wish you all the best.
“I really respect you a lot, you are an amazing talent and now everything is starting to come together for you. I never thought I would say so many nice things about you considering the relationship. OK it’s officially a ‘bromance’!
“The winner buys dinner – that’s why he lost. I don’t know if we’re going to make it happen tonight, but this is the start of a wonderful relationship between us. I didn’t respond to the nightclub question because my wife was next to me but let’s start with dinner and drinks.”
Kyrgios said: “Yeah he is a bit of a god, I’m not going to lie. I thought I played well.
“First of all congratulations to Novak and your team, you’ve won this Championships that many times I don’t even know any more.
“Obviously to all the ball kids, the umpires, I know we have a tough relationship at times so thanks for putting up with it.
“And [thanks] to the crowd, it has been an amazing couple of weeks for me personally.”
Has playing in his first Wimbledon final made him hungry for more?
Kyrgios smiled: “Absolutely not! I’m so tired honestly. Myself, my team, we’re all exhausted. We’ve played so much tennis. I’m really happy with this result and maybe one day I’ll be here again but I don’t know about that.”
Kyrgios has had the chattering classes on overdrive this past fortnight as he spat at a spectator, risked default and got a summons to attend court back home on an assault charge. He has even seriously discussed his mental health and self-harm issues. Openly. Honestly. And also laughed that he had developed a ‘weird’ bromance with Djokovic and that the pair had agreed to go out to dinner after the final with the winner paying the bill.
Djokovic trailed by two sets to Italian Jannik Sinner in the last eight and was one down against British No.1 Cameron Norrie in the semi-finals. There was discussion on both occasions as to whether the 35-year-old could shake off the nerves and lack of form in both matches in a tournament in which his game hadn’t reached the heights shown so regularly in a stellar career.
We all know, of course, what happened otherwise who was that bloke facing Kyrgios hoping it was third time lucky having lost his only previous two meetings with the Australian?
The two combatants had their say pre-final. Kyrgios felt he would join the ‘tennis immortals’ if he could beat a player he described as among ‘the untouchables, along with Rafa Nadal, who withdrew from their scheduled last-four showdown with injury, and Roger Federer. Djokovic declared himself “the best tennis player” out there, insisting it is an attitude he has to maintain in his seemingly endless hunt for trophies.
The pundits had their say courtside before the final began. John McEnroe changed his mind and drifted from Djokovic to Kyrgios to win in five, while 1987 champion Pat Cash felt “the Gods” might be with his fellow countrymen Kyrgios although he had “no idea” who would come out top, while believing the searing heat beating down on the world’s most famous lawn might be a factor, perhaps speeding the ball up.
But talk, as they say is cheap, and the two gladiators went out to show actions speak louder than words as they produced fireworks and top tennis.
Kyrgios won the toss and elected to receive, perhaps it was with the thought he could achieve an immediate break or maybe nerves were jangling.
Djokovic double faulted on the very opening point before holding serve.
It was a clash between the game’s greatest returner and a player with a big serve hoping to become the first unseeded player to lift the golden trophy since Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic in 2001.
And Kyrios began displaying the strength of his serve in the next game, producing a 118mph second serve, as he held.
He was playing with calm assurance and he broke for a 3-2 lead when Djokovic double-faulted.
And he maintained his composure and form to take the opening set with the Serb unable to upset his rhythm.
All was going well early in the second set for the underdog. His focus was spot on. There was a steadiness to him.
But the wheels came off for him when he was broken as the Serb edged into 3-1 in front, frustratingly for the Australian it was clinched with the help of a net cord. It was the first time Djokovic had achieved the feat in what was their third meeting.
Kyrgios fought back and had four opportunities to break the Djokovic serve as the Serb served for the second set. But a mixture of errors by the 27-year-old and superb returning from the title-holder meant Kyrgios was unable to take any of them as Djokovic levelled the match.
The disgruntled Australian was not a happy bunny, shouting at his player’s box, clearly upset by advice which had emanated from it.
Djokovic’s return made it difficult for Kyrgios to hold serve in a high quality third set.
The Australian appeared to become increasingly agitated. He complained to umpire Renaud Lichtenstein about a member of the crowd distracting him as he held for a 3-2 lead with two successive aces.
Kyrgios, who forced the BBC to apologise for an audible obscenity, said to the official: “It shouldn’t be coming down to your opinion. It’s distracting me when I am serving in a Wimbledon final. There’s no other bigger occasion, you didn’t believe me and she did it again and it nearly cost me the game. Why is she still here?! She is drunk out of her mind in the first row speaking to me in the middle of the game. What is acceptable? Kick her out. I know exactly which one it is, it’s the one who looks like she has had about 700 drinks, bro’.”
And the chuntering Kyrgios’ emotional dam burst as Djokovic broke him for a 5-4 lead after the Australian was 40-0. He turned on his player’s box, gave those in it a sarcastic thumbs up and a mouthful of invective.
Djokovic stayed out of it all and did what he had to do to take a two-sets to one lead.
Kyrgios had a few minutes to regroup as he sat on his seat waiting for the Serb to find a new shirt from the dressing room.
It was all or nothing. His cage had been rattled by all and sundry. He had to focus if he was to hold on to any hope of a first major. He needed to re-engage with the task at hand otherwise he would be history.
And he got the start he wanted. A hold. Djokovic, described as the ‘elastic man’ by Cash because of his ability to stretch for returns, was, of course, not going anywhere.
But Kyrgios had settled down and his next two service games although Djokovic to make it difficult for him. The Australian revealed his frustration when he told the umpire “It has taken two hours 21-minutes for him to miss a second service return.”
Djokovic’s serve remained more than solid – at one point his successful first-serve percentage was over 80 per cent – and kept his cool.
And his winning returns were off the charts despite an opponent serving up ace after ace.
The contrast in the pair was illustrated at changeovers. Djokovic sat quietly, trying to get his heart rate and general stress down while Kyrgios looked agitated, wound-up.
The big question was, of course, what methods would prove successful.
Kyrgios kept his nose in front and forced Djokovic to serve to save the set at 5-4. The Serb produced a big hold after a double fault on the first point.
Kyrgios knew involvement in baseline rallies were going to favour his opponent and he tried to attack more, showing his variety of shot.
But Djokovic wore him down with his accuracy, consistency and sheer will to win.
Kygios took it to a tie- break but Djokovic was not to be denied. The Australian saved two of five match points but it was third time lucky for the Serb as Kyrgios guided a backhand into the net.
Djokovic lifted both arms aloft, bent down and had a nibble of the grass and nodded in approval, before lying flat on the court and appearing to attempt the breaststroke.
He then moved up to his player’s box to hug his mum, dad, uncle, coach, other members of his team, saving the biggest one for his wife Jelena on their wedding anniversary. A special day for a special champion.
* Mike Donovan has written the book The Jimmy Greaves We Knew: The Authorised Celebration of a National Treasure which is out on Pitch Publishing on 19 September, 2022, the first anniversary of Greaves’ passing. Donovan has also written a Tennis Threads special edition on Andy Murray called Murray: Magnificent, Momentous and Memorable Achievements.