By Scott Riley, Tennis Editor, The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – Despite being ranked No. 2 in the world a few weeks ago, Novak Djokovic was installed as the top seed at Wimbledon and did not disappoint at the latest fortnight.
He killed two birds with one stone (or is it ball?) at The Championships, as he avoided losing in a fourth straight Grand Slam final and successfully supplanted Rafael Nadal atop the rankings in making a return trip to No. 1 for the first time since October.
Since relinquishing the top spot to Nadal last year, the mighty Djokovic has gone 54-4 with seven titles in eight finals, including four Masters 1000s, the ATP World Tour Finals and Wimbledon.
His run on the storied lawns at the All England Club concluded in style when he outlasted the great Roger Federer in five brilliant sets in one of the best-ever Wimbledon finals, 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-4, in a nearly four-hour affair on the famed Centre Court. Djokovic had to rally from a set down to avoid dropping a sixth major final in his last seven tries.
“Most special Grand Slam final I’ve played,” exclaimed Djokovic. “At the time of my career for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several Grand Slam finals in a row. Started doubting of course a little bit. I needed this win a lot. I’m going to try to use it in the best possible way and for my confidence to grow for the rest of my season and the rest of my career.
“Sincerely, this has been the best quality Grand Slam final that I ever been part of. I’ve had a longest final against Nadal in the Australian Open 2012. But quality-wise from the first to last point, this is definitely the best match.”
In the process, the 27-year-old Serbian star captured his seventh career Grand Slam title and second Wimbledon championship in four years and outlasted the greatest champion in the history of the sport in “Roger’s House.” The only other time the seven-time Wimbledon co-king Federer lost in a final on Centre was six years ago, when his nemesis Nadal outlasted the regal Swiss in arguably the greatest tennis match of all time.
With his first major title in 18 months, Djokovic joined John McEnroe and Mats Wilander in an eighth-place tie on the list for most Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era and denied Federer a record eighth championship.
Federer, who will turn 33 next month, played in his first Grand Slam final since nailing down a 17th major title at the AEC two years ago.
Djokovic’s decision to bring Boris Becker into his team in December appears to have been vindicated.
He was starting to turn into a hard-luck loser, having failed in his last three major finals, with two of the setbacks coming at the hands of Nadal, who prevented the Serb from completing a career Grand Slam by besting the Belgrade native in last month’s 1-versus-2 French Open final.
As a matter of fact, Djokovic headed to The Championships with a losing record (6-7) in major finals, including a loss against British favorite Andy Murray in last year’s Wimbledon finale, and with a loss this weekend, probably would have become better known for his big losses rather than his big wins.
But let’s not forget he did produce one of the greatest seasons in the history of sports in 2011 by corralling three of the four Grand Slam titles in a year he opened with a torrid 41-match winning streak and has now performed in 12 of the last 16 major finals.
And now that the Djoker has returned to the big winner’s circle once again, you can probably expect him to get on another great roll that could include a second U.S. Open title in early September. He closed out last season as the hottest player on the planet and he now has many expecting a repeat performance.
The rest of Djokovic’s 2014 campaign will be played on hardcourts, a surface considered to be his best. As a matter of fact, I would say he’s currently the best hardcourt player on the globe.
It’s also safe to say that he’s one of the greatest players in the history of the sport (something that was already safe to say even before this past weekend).
Djokovic’s consistency and precision have become the hallmarks of his game. He is one of the greatest returners in history and his superb defense means that he rarely gives away cheap points.
It should go without saying that Djokovic has already qualified for the year- end Tour Finals in London, where he’s the reigning two-time champ, having beaten Federer and Nadal, respectively, in the last two marquee finals.
Note: This year’s Wimbledon champs were Djokovic and Petra Kvitova. The two stars also combined for the titles there three years ago.