Toting a Grand Slam trophy was nothing new for Novak Djokovic when he hoisted the 2014 Wimbledon prize Sunday at the All England Club—after all, it was his seventh overall and second at Wimbledon.
But there's no doubting that this one simply felt like more for the sensational Serbian. After well over a year of waiting between Grand Slam titles, this one couldn't come soon enough and couldn't have happened in a more vital way.
Bleacher Report UK summed up Djokovic's victory:
Novak Djokovic has defeated Roger Federer to win Wimbledon! It’s his seventh Grand Slam title. pic.twitter.com/TShDGoP22U— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) July 6, 2014
Djokovic didn't just have to go through anybody to capture his second Wimbledon title. No, instead it was Roger Federer—owner of 17 Grand Slam titles and arguably the greatest player of all time.
He was put to the test early, losing the first set by tiebreak only to rally back to win sets No. 2 and 3. An early rally in the fourth put him just one game away from the title, and he even got to a match-point opportunity.
Then came the rally that few thought Federer still had in him. The Swiss standout fired ace after ace, and at times his placement was untouchable—even for the stretchy, athletic Djokovic.
But Djokovic stood tall. Even after dropping the fourth set, repeatedly limping after tough landings and even taking a medical timeout early in the fifth, he stayed in it and continued winning his service games only to break Federer to win 6-4 for the title.
Had Djokovic gone on to lose the match Sunday, it very well could have been a defeat that crushed his career. Entering the final, the 27-year-old had lost five of his last six Grand Slam finals—three to Rafael Nadal and two to Andy Murray.
Despite only winning one major since mid-2012 entering Wimbledon, Djokovic has steadily remained as arguably the top tennis player in the world. Nadal's clay-court prowess will catapult him for a time, and Murray can be streaky, but the Djoker has been the top talent consistently.
He used to have majors to back that up. His first came in 2008, but undoubtedly his most impressive stretch came in 2011 when he spectacularly won three of the four Grand Slams and made the semifinal in the other.
He followed that up with Australian Open victories in 2012 and 2013, but after failing again and again in the Grand Slam finals, they started to add up. Djokovic has had chance after chance in recent seasons to add majors, but he has come up short while knocking on the door.
Sunday's victory might be the end to all that. He wasn't playing his best tennis and was being put up against one of the best to ever play at his natural court. Djokovic was ailing and downtrodden, but he found a way to win it.
That's the mentality he is going to need in order to compete with Nadal—who very well might win the French Open for the next decade—and Murray, younger and similarly skilled. Of course, Federer also proved at Wimbledon that he's not going anywhere.
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But Djokovic proved again by making a deep run in a Grand Slam that he's still the best. As early upsets become more and more common, Djokovic just continues to make finals and semifinals. In fact, his quarterfinal defeat at the 2014 Australian Open was his worst finish in a Grand Slam since 2010.
A model of consistency and similarly dangerous on every surface, there's no way around the fact that Djokovic is in the mix of the best current players. And when he can put his best foot forward in the latter rounds of Grand Slams, he's all but certain to lift the trophy.
Other than Nadal on clay, there isn't a current player better than Djokovic. His regular appearances in Grand Slam finals will only continue after his huge Wimbledon win, and it just might be what he needed to get over that hump of losing when he gets to the final.