Novak Djokovic revealed his near five-hour, five-set epic Wimbledon final victory over Roger Federer was the most “mentally the most demanding match I was ever a part of”.
It was probably the most demanding, mentally most demanding, match I was ever part of. I had the most physically demanding match against Nadal in the finals of Australia that went almost six hours. But mentally this was different level, because of everything. Novak Djokovic
The longest decider in the history of the Championships – 4hr.57min – saw the defending champion complete a title hat-trick over Federer in their third such meeting.
But the world No.1, who has been in countless epics in a career that has now gleaned 16 Grand Slams, was more concerned about the psychological rather than the physical demands of the roller-coaster encounter.
And he hinted it was brought on by the fact he was playing an eight-time champion with a “perfect” game for grass and the fact most of the crowd were pro-Federer.
Djokovic, 32, might be one of the greatest players of all time, only trailing rivals Federer and Rafa Nadal in his major singles collection by four and two respectively.
But it was his Swiss opponent who felt the love of Centre Court, even the Duchess of Cambridge was caught smiling when one shot went right for Federer.
Djokovic said: “I promised myself coming on to the court, that I need to stay calm and composed, because I knew that the atmosphere will be as it was.
“It was probably the most demanding, mentally most demanding, match I was ever part of. I had the most physically demanding match against Nadal in the finals of Australia that went almost six hours. But mentally this was different level, because of everything.
“First of all, playing against Roger on any surface, but on grass, in a finals? It’s a lot of constant pressure because he stays close to the line. Regardless of who he’s playing against, whether the serve is coming 150 miles an hour or as mine, 120, he’s there.
“He blocks the shots very well. He anticipates very well. He’s so talented. He’s got a perfect game for this surface. So I knew that I needed to bring in some variety in play. I needed to be sharp when the opportunity is there, when I have a shorter ball, to go for it.
“At times I did. At times, I didn’t. Especially in the second-serve returns, I was not doing well at all. I thought I had many opportunities, and I just didn’t hit the ball, I didn’t capitalize on those opportunities.
“But, you know, in a way it’s normal also to expect that there are more nerves in play. Playing finals of Wimbledon against Roger, so… I thought most of the match I was on the back foot actually. I was defending. He was dictating the play. I just tried to fight and find a way when it mattered the most, which is what happened.
“I always try to imagine myself as a winner. I think there is a power to that. Also there has to be, next to the willpower, strength that comes not just from your physical self, but from your mental and emotional self. For me, at least, it’s a constant battle within, more than what happens outside.”
In this match, you’re playing not only Roger Federer but the crowd?
He replied: “Yeah.”
They are decidedly for Roger. Even though you have all the inner strength, how aware are you of the crowd as the match is unfolding?
He said: “It’s hard to not be aware. You have that kind of electric atmosphere, that kind of noise, especially in some decisive moments where we’re quite even. It’s one way or another. The crowd gets into it. Of course, if you have the majority of the crowd on your side, it helps, it gives you motivation, it gives you strength, it gives you energy. When you don’t, then you have to find it within, I guess.”
And that was the case against Federer? He said: “Yeah.”
Can you take that energy and block it out or repurpose it and channel it? Is it fun in a way?
Djokovic said with a smile: “That’s a good question because at times you just try to ignore it, which is quite hard. I like to transmutate it in a way: When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger’ I hear ‘Novak’. It sounds silly, but it is like that. I try to convince myself that it’s like that. Mental training? Of course. Of course. It’s similar ‘Roger’ and ‘Novak’!”
Djokovic had his customary munch of grass on Centre Court in celebration. Several.
How did it taste?. He said smiling: “Better than ever It tasted amazing. I’m still digesting it!”
Federer reflected on two missed match points.
Did you think you’d lost it after those two match points?
He said: “No. I mean, really, look, I was still happy to be at 8-all, 9-all. I don’t remember what it was. You try to see the positives, you try to take it as a good thing, I guess, that you’re not down a break or that the match is not over yet. If I could have picked it before the match to be at 9-all in the fifth, that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. You just always try to push yourself to see things on the better side. But, yeah, it was definitely tough to have those chances.
“I know what I did well, how close I was. I think I can be happy about my performance.”
How do you bounce back?
Federer, 37, said: “Yeah, I mean, similar to getting broken when serving for the match: take it on your chin, you move on. You try to forget, try to take the good things out of this match. There’s just tons of it. Like similar to ’08 maybe (when beaten by Nadal in the final), I will look back at it and think, Well, it’s not that bad after all. For now it hurts, and it should, like every loss does here at Wimbledon. I think it’s a mindset. I’m very strong at being able to move on because I don’t want to be depressed about actually an amazing tennis match.”
It was the first singles match in the Championships to be decided by a tie-break in the fifth set.
Were you looking forward to the tiebreak or would you have preferred it to go open-ended?
Federer said: “It is what it is. I respect whatever the rule is. You play with it. I don’t know if I was looking forward to it or not. I was feeling good about either scenario.”