Welcome back to the top, Nole.
On Sunday, Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in a five-set thriller to win his second Wimbledon title, his seventh major overall. With this victory, the Serb also took the No. 1 ranking back from Rafael Nadal.
Perhaps most importantly, Djokovic overcame the uncertainties in his own head to tough out this win 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 in three hours and 56 minutes.
That was key because coming into this match, he had lost his last three major finals and hadn't won a Slam since the 2013 Australian Open. He was still a great player, making finals and winning smaller titles, but at the most important times in the biggest matches, he was caving.
For a while on Sunday, it looked like that pattern would continue.
Time and time again during this final, Djokovic found himself surrendering leads to an in-form and feisty Federer and failing to convert on crucial points. He was up two sets to one and had a 5-2 lead in the fourth, but he couldn't hold on to it. He lost five consecutive games and failed to convert one championship point on Federer's serve.
But no matter how bleak things looked, this time Djokovic refused to fold.
As Chris Chase of USA Today's For the Win wrote, it felt like Djokovic's future was on the line with this match:
Sunday was a pivotal moment in Djokovic’s tennis life. If a few points had swung in that final set and Federer had gone on to win, Djokovic would have lost his last four major finals and six of his past seven. Why can’t Djokovic close?
He was twice up a break in the fourth set, including at 5-2. He just had to hold serve to win the championship. Why does Djokovic choke away the big moments?
Djokovic created a monster for himself with his impeccable 2011 season. He entered that year's Australian Open with only one Slam to his name, but he finished the year with a Wimbledon title, U.S. Open crown, another Australian Open win and the No. 1 ranking.
He began that year on a tear, winning his first 41 matches and finishing with a record of 70-6. His only loss at a major came to Federer in the French Open semifinals.
Since then, Djokovic has remained toward the top of the game and added a third and fourth Australian Open title, but he hasn't been able to recapture his 2011 magic. Andy Murray beat him in two Slam finals, Nadal beat him in three and, more often than not, he looked lost and frustrated on the tennis court against his biggest rivals.
Djokovic is incredibly sensitive, and as these high-profile losses began to pile up, it was easy to see the toll this was taking on him. Per ASAP Sports, he talked about these disappointments after his semifinal victory over Grigor Dimitrov:
I mean, losing three out of four last Grand Slam finals, it cannot be satisfying. Of course. I don't want to sound like I'm not appreciating to play finals of Grand Slam. It's already a huge result. We cannot take that for granted.
But, again, I know that I can win the title. I should have won few matches that I lost in finals of Grand Slams in last couple years.
But it's an experience. It's a learning process. It's understanding, identifying where the problem is, you know, pushing for it, working on it. It's mental in the end of the day. You have to be able to be in the top of your game, mentally fresh and motivated, calm and composed.
At the beginning of this year, Djokovic added Boris Becker to his team, trying to get the mental edge that would help him break back through. The move didn't pay off quickly—he lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to Stan Wawrinka and fell in the French Open final to Nadal.
His route during this fortnight was not straightforward, either. He overcomplicated matches that should have ended in three sets when he lost early leads in his second-round match against Radek Stepanek, his quarterfinal against Marin Cilic and his semifinal against Dimitrov.
Djokovic isn't in the best form of his career, and he wasn't as focused and ruthless this fortnight as he sometimes is. But he did dug deep within himself and did what champions do: He figured out a way to win anyway.
He told ESPN that after the fourth set, he went to the bathroom and gave himself a stern talking to. This was it. A fifth set against seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer on Centre Court. He could either let another major slip through his fingers, or he could go out there and reclaim his greatness.
Approximately 45 minutes later, his demons were demolished.
When Djokovic finally converted championship point, he lifted his arms to the heavens, swiftly jogged to the net to embrace Federer and then dropped to his knees to taste the sweet grass. This was the title he dreamed of winning when he was a kid. Now he has won it twice.
He then ran to his box to embrace his emotional team, including a flushed and excited Becker. Their controversial partnership had paid off.
"Very important, very emotional win," Djokovic confirmed on the ESPN set after the match. "I realized, you know, what I've been through mentally to get through to this point."
Life is about to change for the top-ranked Serb. In the upcoming months, Djokovic is going to marry his longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic, and she is going to give birth to their first child. Who knows what the future will bring, on and off the court.
But for now, Djokovic has once again staked his claim at the top of the tennis world. This time, he didn't need to play his best to prove that he is the best.
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