The Wimbledon 2014 men's final was a battle for the ages between an ageless wonder and a fiery competitor in his prime years.
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer engaged in a five-set thriller that saw the former edge out his opponent 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 for his ninth Grand Slam title and first since winning the Australian Open in January 2013.
The sublime Serbian took on Federer with the same courage he's shown in all of his previous major finals. Both players hit blistering ground strokes, sustained epic rallies and crafted beautiful shots that nicked the lines and stayed in by no more than a few blades of grass.
The eyeball test and the match numbers tell a story of a final that truly could not have been much closer. Federer gained the upper hand by winning the grueling first set, but Djokovic wasted no time proving he had the wherewithal to grind out tough points:
There was still very little to separate the two players, although Djokovic threw his body around and paid the price a bit early on. Via Live Tennis:
Still, he seemed emboldened by his own play and was able to take the second and third sets. Djokovic's serve was steady, if unspectacular, while Federer racked up 29 total aces through sheer precision and guile. Neither player made any truly abysmal mistakes in this match; Federer had 29 unforced errors to Djokovic's 27.
The sharp play led to some stunning rallies during the match:
If there was any way to determine just how Djokovic came up with a victory, it might be in the return game. He won 133 return points on first serve as compared to Federer's 108.
Djokovic was able to withstand the pressure even without the opportunity to break his opponent's serve for long stretches. He also came up with some timely winners at key moments:
Just when it looked like Djokovic would pull away in the fourth set, Federer got into a sublime groove. Down 2-5 in the set, Federer began to slowly but surely lay waste to his opponent's advantage with a dominant service game.
He brought the set back to 4-5 but then needed some help from the technology with championship point on the line. The line judge initially called Federer's first serve on 30-40 out, but the Swiss maestro thought otherwise and won his challenge.
Live Tennis provides a visual display of the moment:
Federer eventually put together his fifth-straight game to force a fifth set. It appeared the earlier tumbles and adrenaline-draining challenge on championship point might have caught up to Djokovic.
Federer is always so calm and quiet on the court, while Djokovic's passion is written all over his face. You can practically see his eyes glow as he musters up the courage and strength to fight on, which proved vital in winning the fifth set.
"Of course, after dropping a fourth set, it wasn't easy to regroup and compose myself and find that necessary energy to win the fifth," Djokovic said, via the Associated Press (h/t FoxNews.com). "I don't know how I managed to do it."
Indeed he found a way to secure victory in the fifth set, as two untimely errors from Federer were his undoing in the last set of the match.
Federer was caught shedding a single tear in defeat, via Bleacher Report UK:
Djokovic proved to be an extremely gracious winner. Wimbledon relayed some of his post-match comments:
There was talk over whether or not this would be Federer's greatest and perhaps last chance to win an 18th Grand Slam title. USA Today's Chris Chase dispelled the notion (among others) that Federer was too old to be competitive beyond Wimbledon 2014:
Federer, at 32, looked more fresh at the end of Sunday’s five-setter than the 27-year-old Djokovic. It was Djokovic who had to see the trainer twice during the match, not Federer. He lost that last set, of course, but it wasn’t because of conditioning.
The match statistics back up Chase's claims: Federer was with his opponent all the way, as per Wimbledon:
If Federer can hang at 32 years old with a player like Djokovic in a five-set Wimbledon final, who is to say he won't find another opportunity later on down the line? After all, his departing words to the crowd were "see you next year," as per The New York Times' Harvey Araton.
Federer is the consummate professional and might have even greater success against the young upstarts like Milos Raonic (whom he defeated in the Wimbledon semifinals), Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori. Few players in the world have the uncanny ability to hit beautiful shots in pressure situations like Federer.
As for Djokovic, his ninth Wimbledon final at the age of 27 leaves him with an outside shot of chasing down Federer's total. It would take a dream run over the next four or five years, but Djokovic's fierce nature and ability to play well on all courts gives him a chance.
All match stats courtesy of Wimbledon.com.