Wimbledon 2019

Master of attrition

Left: Novak Djokovic celebrates beating Roger Federer in an epic Wimbledon final on Sunday. It was the Serb's fifth win, trailing only Federer (8) and Pete Sampras (7). Above: A runner-up plate was scant consolation for Federer who had two match poin
Novak Djokovic celebrates beating Roger Federer in an epic Wimbledon final on Sunday. It was the Serb's fifth win, trailing only Federer (8) and Pete Sampras (7). PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Novak Djokovic celebrates beating Roger Federer in an epic Wimbledon final on Sunday. It was the Serb's fifth win, trailing only Federer (8) and Pete Sampras (7). Above: A runner-up plate was scant consolation for Federer who had two match poin
Above: A runner-up plate was scant consolation for Federer who had two match points.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Perceived lack of fanfare acts as motivation for Djokovic in his quest for more major titles

LONDON • Maybe when the fans start serenading Novak Djokovic in a Centre Court love-in, will that be time for him to call it a day.

When he starts receiving the same adoration reserved almost exclusively for Swiss Roger Federer in Sunday's epic Wimbledon final that ended in a 7-6 (7-5), 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 13-12 (7-3) victory to the Serb, maybe his love of "sticking it to them" will fade.

In the meantime, the "Come on Roger" chants will simply continue to fuel his hunger for the fight.

Asked how he managed to keep his composure in the face of a partisan crowd, Djokovic, who also revealed it was "probably my most demanding match", told reporters with a smile: "When the crowd is chanting 'Roger', I hear 'Novak'."

Speaking after he confirmed his status as the sport's anti-hero, by defeating fan favourite Federer to clinch his fifth Wimbledon crown and 16th Grand Slam title in 4hr 57min, he admitted that while he has yet to fully win over the neutrals, "hopefully, in five years, I can be hearing the same chants".

Sunday's triumph, in which he saved two match points and soaked up 94 winners off the 20-time Grand Slam winner's racket before clawing his way over the line in the longest Wimbledon singles final, was a true test of not just physical, but mental stamina.

Apart from those in the Serb's box, it seemed the entire arena was rooting for Federer.

They even booed him angrily whacking a court-side microphone near the end.

Djokovic had the last laugh, though.

While Federer and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain are still swinging their rackets, he will trail behind them in the popularity stakes.

AGE DOESN'T MATTER

Whether I'm going to be able to do it or not, I don't know. I mean, I'm not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind for me.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC, on reaching Roger Federer's Grand Slam record of 20.

Sheer single-mindedness and generational talent are the reason the "big three" remain out of reach of the chasing pack and the reason they share 54 major titles, including the last 11 straight.

But, while Federer paints the court with strokes of magic and Nadal plays tennis like a superhero, Djokovic is the master of attrition, winning by a thousand cuts.

No matter that he is arguably the best returner the game has ever seen, is the best athlete and has an engaging personality. No matter that he holds a 21-10 and 20-9 record over Nadal and Federer respectively in the past nine seasons.

There is, after all, only so much love to go around. And, when it comes to public sentiment, the duo are beloved, while Djokovic is simply respected.

For now, he will not care and, if anything, the perceived lack of fanfare acts as further motivation in his quest for more Slams, to eventually move past Federer and Nadal (18) at the top of the all-time list.

"Whether I'm going to be able to do it or not, I don't know. I mean, I'm not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind for me," the world No. 1, who is the only man since Australian great Rod Laver to have held all four Grand Slams simultaneously, said on Sunday.

"It just depends how long I'm going to play, whether I'm going to have a chance to make historic No. 1 or Slams. It depends not only on myself, it depends on circumstances in life."

Had Federer converted one of the two match points, which he called "a missed opportunity" that came his way at 8-7 in the fifth set, the former world No. 1 would have gone six clear of his opponent at the top.

Instead the Swiss' major lead is now four and, having won five of the last six on offer, Djokovic appears to be in a period of domination that shows little sign of ending.

He will go into Flushing Meadows as the red-hot favourite to retain his title and, when next year begins, he will have his eyes fixed on winning an eighth Australian Open crown.

His former coach Boris Becker believes that the big three will presumably add to their tallies, but time is on his side and it is time "people wake up to the greatness of Novak".

The German great told the BBC: "You have to respect a four-time champion a little bit more. Novak is not quite happy yet. He's one of the greatest of all of time, but he wants to be the greatest of all time.

"He's a year younger than Nadal (32), six younger than Federer, we all know he fancies overtaking them... The race is on."

NY TIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2019, with the headline 'Master of attrition'. Print Edition | Subscribe