Route To The Wimbledon Title: Novak Djokovic

Sunday 19th, July 2015 / 10:08 Written by
Route To The Wimbledon Title: Novak Djokovic

Djokovic came into Wimbledon 2015 on the back of defeat in the Roland Garros final, the only major title missing from his career Grand Slam. It should have been easy once he had beaten Rafael Nadal, dubbed the “King of Clay”, yet Stan Wawrinka had splashed cold water on that dream. No doubt this only made Djokovic even hungrier for his ninth major title, his third at Wimbledon, but there was speculation it may shake his confidence too. Such speculation was unfounded, with Djokovic sealing his place in the history books with this year’s title, bringing him one step ahead of the likes of Agassi, Llendl and Connors, dropping only three sets on the way.

First Round: def. Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Kohlschreiber, ranked number 33 in the world, was the highest ranked opponent Djokovic could possibly have drawn in the first round, just outside of the cut off for 32 seeded places. Kohlschreiber had pushed Federer hard on the grass of Halle just three weeks prior, and there was a gentle buzz of anticipation surrounding the match. Few thought Kohschreiber would win, but many hoped for a tight competition. Sadly, they were disappointed. The match was almost formulaic, Djokovic breaking the Kohlschreiber serve with perfect timing at 5-4, every single set, winning the match with a beautiful scoreline. Kohlschreiber never quite found the form he had had against Federer, and the highlight of the match turned out to be a young blue tit which had somehow found its way onto Centre Court. The bird flitted around the edges of the court all match, sometimes venturing onto court and stopping play for a moment, being chased away only to come straight back again. Feathered disruptions aside, the world number one could not have hoped for a smoother start.

Second Round: def. Jarkko Nieminen, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

Djokovic’s opponent for this match was drawn to be either Nieminen or former world number one Lleyton Hewitt, both of whom were playing their last ever Wimbledon. The first round match of the pair went five sets, unsurprising when Hewitt is involved, perhaps tiring the experienced Nieminen out in advance of his second round meeting with Djokovic. Nieminen began hitting well, breaking Djokovic in his opening service game, but midway through the first set Djokovic had righted the course, breaking back to bring the match back on serve. As with Kohlschreiber, Djokovic once again broke his opponent’s serve at 5-4 to seal the set, performing well at more pressurised moments. Djokovic’s form only improved throughout the second set, leaving Nieminen behind through no fault of his own, and the third set was a similar story. Djokovic was just too good.

Third Round: def. Bernard Tomic, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

A round later than many would have hoped, Djokovic finally encountered his first Australian of the tournament, which brought along with him the Aussie Fanatics. The Fanatics, for those unfamiliar, are a passionate group of Australian sports fans who travel worldwide to support their fellow compatriots with more fervour, and volume, than the average spectator. Djokovic, relatively unpopular by simple virtue of coming after the Nadal-Federer rivalry, sometimes ruining their party somewhat, does not enjoy having a crowd partisan against him. The Fanatics were in fine form, showcasing a number of chants they had invented for the Wimbledon week, but even they could not swing the match in Tomic’s favour. Tomic went down a break in his second service game, and isn’t exactly a player known for stunning comebacks. The match concluded in just over one and a half hours, the longest ‘blink’ from Djokovic coming when he paused to sign a prosthetic leg on his way out of Centre Court.

Fourth Round: def. Kevin Anderson; 6-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5.

The tall, fast serving Kevin Anderson was always going to be a challenge on fast grass courts, but few anticipated him presenting quite this much of an obstacle. The match began well for both players, Djokovic serving well and Anderson regularly sending down serves of around 120mph to match him. Anderson had two break point opportunities in the first set, the first signs of trouble to come, but any opportunities for either player were quickly shut down by strong first serves. The tiebreak had seemed inevitable since early on in the set, and when Djokovic went up a minibreak immediately, many thought this would be the pattern of the match. It was not to be, however, with Djokovic losing the minibreak almost instantly and then double faulting at the first sign of pressure to give Anderson a set point on his own serve. Anderson’s serve did not fail him, as he served his seventh ace to seal the set.

Anderson carried his momentum through to the second set, where he broke quickly, seemingly acting as a wake up call for Djokovic, who quickly found the form to break back. Again, both men served solidly to find their way into a tiebreak, the only break point opportunity coming as a set point for Anderson when Djokovic was serving to stay in the set. This didn’t seem to phase Djokovic, however, as he quickly went up 0-4 within the tiebreak itself. Few would have called Anderson to win the second set in the way he had the first at this point, but he returned well to bring the tiebreak back on serve, then sealed the set on his first set point. For Djokovic to win this, he would have to go five sets.

If losing his serve in the second set had served as a gentle wake up call, then losing the set itself was a strident alarm. Djokovic broke in Anderson’s opening service game of the third set, regaining confidence after being threatened on his own serve. Djokovic broke again as Anderson served to stay in the set, winning in 6-1, his high level of play boding poorly for Anderson. As in the third set, Djokovic broke early in the fourth and simply kept holding to victory, levelling the match at two sets all. The match was then suspended for lack of light, players to return the next day for a one set shoot out.

Anderson and Djokovic restarted their match prior to the Ladies Quarterfinals on Court 1, coming out on court once only to be rained off again. Nerves must have been jangling amid the Wimbledon schedulers; this set could go on indefinitely, and rain was certainly not helping the schedule. Thankfully it was only a quick shower, and the players were swiftly out on court again. Neither seemed to have any trouble regaining the form of the day before, serving well to bring the match to 5-5 without a hint of a break point. Thankfully for the matches yet to come, Anderson faltered slightly under the pressure, surrendering one break point that proved to be all Djokovic needed to secure the break, and ultimately his comeback victory.

Quarter Final: def. Marin Cilic, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Prior to the Anderson match, Djokovic would not have been especially worried about this encounter. While Cilic was the surprising US Open champion of 2014, he had never won a single match against Djokovic in their previous 12 meetings. He had, however, taken Djokovic to a tough five setter at this point of the tournament last year, and with five tiring sets possibly still weighing on Djokovic’s body from the last round, caution seemed prudent. Djokovic came out firing, serving better than he had even against Anderson, and going up a break quickly in the first set. When he came to serve for the set, Djokovic had lost just 3 points for Cilic on serve, and while it took Djokovic four chances and a trip to deuce to get there, the set was his. The next two sets were a similar story, Djokovic breaking seemingly at will and holding with ease. Djokovic lost just 18 points on serve and never faced a break point, no doubt thankful to have such a solid match under his belt before the semi final.

Semi Final: def. Richard Gasquet 7-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Richard Gasquet had played a wonderful tournament simply to get to the semifinals, his third ever only semifinal appearance at a Grand Slam. He had defeated young talents Girgor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios, and played a beautiful quarterfinal to defeat 2015 Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka 11-9 in the fifth set. If there was a hangover from that long five setter, however, it seemed only to be in terms of confidence. Gasquet played beautifully from the very beginning of the match, broken in the first set but instantly breaking back. He was undeniably the better player in the first set, yet when it got to the tiebreak, his form seemed to slip slightly, winning only two points in the tiebreak before Djokovic took the set.

Djokovic broke in the opening game of the second set and never looked back. In their twelve previous meetings, Gasquet had only won one match, and the first set tiebreak and next two sets showed why. Gasquet played beautiful, inspired tennis on occasions, yet failed to take his chances. A great deal of that was down to Djokovic’s own good form, but his main concern during the match came in the form of a shoulder injury for which he called the trainer out twice. Djokovic made it through to his fourth Wimbledon final in five years, having only dropped two sets, one more than his final opponent Roger Federer.

Final: def. Roger Federer; 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3.

Federer had spoiled the British party by defeating Andy Murray in the semifinal, delivering an outstanding match that felt like a return of ‘vintage Federer’. Murray did little wrong during the match, Federer simply denied him any chances. Each final Federer makes at this point in his career feels like his last chance, his last shot to win that record breaking 8th Wimbledon title and 18th Grand Slam, and the crowd were naturally rooting for him to recreate the performance that had served him so well in the semifinal. Djokovic was aiming for his third Wimbledon title and his ninth Grand Slam to advance beyond the shared record of Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, and three-time Wimbledon champ Fred Perry, and had defeated Federer in the final in 2014. It had all the makings of a wonderful match.

The first set fulfilled on its promise, Federer serving around 80% of first serves in, as he had against Murray, denying Djokovic any chance to break his serve. Federer took the first break of the match after six games of top quality tennis, but couldn’t consolidate. Federer’s first serve percentage dropped slightly from this point on, Djokovic managing to break the Federer serve for only the second time in the entire tournament to level the set once again. Despite his serve dropping from superhuman levels, the set still seemed destined for Federer as he saw two set point chances as Djokovic attempted to force a tiebreak. Djokovic saved both, winning the game on an ace, and it only seemed right for such a set to be decided on a tiebreak. Federer had seemed the better player for the majority of the set, but come the tiebreak he seemed to fade, much as Gasquet had in Djokovic’s semifinal. Federer won only one point in the first set tiebreak, Djokovic stepping up when the pressure was truly on.

The second set continued the good form of the first, competitive games delivering both players chances they ultimately could not capitalise on. By the time a tiebreak was reached, both players seem almost impatient, especially Federer, who must have felt that he had to win the set to remain in the match. The tiebreak began as equal as the set, until a series of Djokovic winners and Federer errors delivered Djokovic the advantage. Djokovic had 3 set points at 6-3, one on his own serve, yet the set was not over. Federer saved all three through brave play, only to concede another break point instantly. Again, Federer saved it, and it felt as if every point was being won on a winner, no room for errors this deep into a tiebreak. Three more set points are saved by winners as heart rates rise among spectators, and if any one of them could find a single calm breath at this point, they were doing significantly better than me. Djokovic blinks first, his shot finding the net to give Federer his first break point on his own serve. Federer doesn’t waste the opportunity, taking the tiebreak 12-10.

Federer’s momentum continues into the start of the third set, where he has a chance to break, but Djokovic saves break point for the sixth time. This save seems to settle Djokovic into his game again, and he breaks Federer in his second service game, momentum seemingly swinging his way. The match is halted a few games later as the rain comes, players retreating into the dry with their coaches. The break seems likely to help Federer, pausing the momentum Djokovic has gained and giving him a chance to consult with his coaching team. Indeed, Federer seems to have altered his style slightly when the players return to court, approaching the net more frequently, a tactic Djokovic seemed to have scared him off with a series of excellent passing shots earlier in the match.

No matter, Djokovic had the chance to consult with his coaching team too, solidifying his already successful game plan. The hypothesised Federer advantage failed to materialise, no amount of talking or thinking bringing back the consistency of his first serve, or weakening Djokovic’s dominant performance. Djokovic serves the set out without facing another break point, breaks midway through the fourth set, and it’s all too easy from there. Djokovic doesn’t hang around, breaks one more time as Federer serves to stay in the match, and victory, a third Wimbledon title, is his.

Djokovic resurrects his strange tradition of eating the Centre Court grass, later complimenting the grounds staff on its excellent taste and no doubt winning a few more fans through his slightly strange charm. The match levels the Federer-Djokovic head to head record at 20-20, Djokovic now leading 10-5 in finals. A small Stan Wawrinka sized blip aside, Djokovic’s dominance on this particular era is assured once more.

Photo (c) Carine06 under CC2.0 via Flicker

Vicky Davis
Vicky is studying Biology at university, and grew up in a household obsessed with a wide variety of sports. One of her very first memories is of watching Formula 1, and this love only has grown and spread to encompass further disciplines of motorsport. Now a passionate WEC and Formula E fan, Vicky is thrilled to be attending her first live race in 2015. With further interests in tennis, rugby, and professional cycling, it's a wonder there's ever time for coursework!

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