It flies directly in the face of the next era knocking on the door, but Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will take Centre Court in London on Sunday for perhaps their last marquee dance.
In a season that has been ripe with new faces and plenty of upsets, the legendary rivals have appeared somewhat as a lighthouse on the misty shore for the old guard, wrapping up their two weeks in London in the semifinals with wins over leaders of the next generation.
For Federer, his 25th Grand Slam final and record No. 9 at Wimbledon—making him the oldest Grand Slam finalist since Andre Agassi at the 2005 U.S. Open—presents an opportunity both to vanquish an old foe and rewrite the history books with a record eighth triumph in London.
Djokovic's aspirations may not be as Hollywood-worthy, but a chance to regain the No. 1 spot in the world and hoist his first Grand Slam trophy since January 2013 is a noble pursuit.
As it should be, the final day at Wimbledon has the makings of a classic.
|Division||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Watch||Prediction|
|Men's Final||No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 4 Roger Federer||9 a.m.||ESPN||Federer, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6|
Note: Bracket will be updated as matchups become official. Full draw available at Wimbledon.com.
Men's Final Preview
On paper, this sure-to-be legendary matchup at one of the sport's key cornerstones looks rather easy to figure out.
Simply put, Djokovic has looked but a shell of his usually dominant self, slipping and sliding every which way on the grass, while Federer has looked like a version of himself from six years ago, having dispatched of any and all comers with relative ease.
For Djokovic, lapses against inferior competition—at this stage of their career, at least—has provided a bit of a warning sign. Against 25-year-old Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals, Djokovic took his foot off the pedal, which in turn allowed the match to hit the five-set mark (6-1, 3-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-2).
Things were even worse in the semifinal against 23-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, who entered after a triumph over Andy Murray. After winning the first set, the tournament's No. 1 seed did not win a game for more than 15 minutes, making for a dramatic 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 finish that should have been over much earlier.
In stark contrast, Federer has been in quite astounding form, notching a win over Stan Wawrinka (3-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4) in the quarterfinals and Milos Raonic (6-4, 6-4, 6-4) in the semifinals.
He also holds an 18-16 head-to-head advantage over Djokovic, has won two of their three encounters this season and was the victor in their lone grass-court duel, a semifinals match in London which Federer won before moving on to claim his seventh title.
As a player who has lost in five of his last six Grand Slam finals, Djokovic seems to have the deck stacked against him on Sunday.
But then again, that's why they play the matches. Simon Cambers of The Tennis Space brings up a rather potent counterargument:
Been thinking about the men's final. Federer has looked great but Djokovic will be his first real test. If he handles pressure, Novak wins— Simon Cambers (@scambers73) July 5, 2014
"I made some unforced errors and gave my opponent today a hope that he can win the match," Djokovic said, per John Branch of The New York Times. "That's something that I definitely cannot allow myself in the finals against Roger."
Unlike many who step on to the court with Federer, Djokovic at least appears cognizant of how he must improve in order to survive.
It's one thing to understand, but it's another to apply it under the spotlight. A spotlight that, for all intents and purposes, will be heavily pro-Federer, as London tends to be.
Not only must Djokovic fend off his recent dips in play but also his habitual on-court anger that wastes energy when things don't go his way.
But Sunday is certainly not some cakewalk for the Swiss superstar. While one can consider Wawrinka and Raonic serious tests, Federer has had a much-easier draw than anticipated with Rafael Nadal and Murray bowing out early.
As he clearly understands, even his current form must see a rise in efficiency to prevail, as illustrated by Sam Sheringham of BBC Sport:
It's really important for me to stay aggressive against him, and especially here at Wimbledon. Novak can hurt you down the line or cross-court on both sides. His forehand, his serve, his movement clearly is what stands out the most at the moment. He's really been able to improve that and make it rock solid.
The key to the match? Serves. While Federer has proved on this surface elite at diagnosing the opposition's intentions out of the serve—the way he handled Raonic, arguably the best server in the sport at the moment, was quite telling—Djokovic is the most complete player he has encountered.
In the same way Djokovic won't get away with any of his routine mistakes that have marred the past two weeks, Federer cannot afford to surrender control.
As it stands, Djokovic's battle with the slippery surface, erratic play, his emotions and a hostile crowd make for a combustible situation that Federer can exploit.
In an ode to what appears to be a fading era, expect nothing but a classic.