Coming into this Wimbledon Final, we all knew this was the biggest match of Novak Djokovic's life—playing in a Wimbledon final for the first time ever against a familiar opponent, the defending champion and the current world number one.
But more than all those tags, really the biggest thing was that he played against Rafael Nadal, who is mentally the toughest man to beat in the sport. Not many people have beaten Rafa Nadal in a Grand Slam Final, except Roger Federer, which again was early in Nadal's career and before Nadal had Federer's number.
Coming into this match, we knew based on his performances this year that Novak clearly had the game to beat Rafa. The question was: did he have the mental fortitude, would he be able to clear his head and get rid of the mental troubles he has had in years past? After all, beating Rafa in a five set match, least of all in a Wimbledon final, is a completely different cup of tea than all Masters combined.
Also, would he not have the nerves when it came to the key moments in such a big match, including serving for the championship? Novak was not only able to do all of the above, he did it in style. That is why this victory is so sweet and the biggest win of Novak's career by far. Make no mistake, this was a beat-down.
Today's match again shows how mental this sport is. Clearly Novak is in Rafa's head and credit goes to Rafa for being candid about it after the match and admitting that the losses against Novak have started to affect him mentally. When a player with Rafa's mental strength can get affected, it goes to show the mental aspect of this sport.
In some ways, this win avenges the defeat Novak tasted in that incredible match in Madrid two years ago against Rafa, that knocked the stuffing out of Novak and really was the primary reason in my mind for his indifferent form after that. It is unlikely that this defeat will similarly rankle Rafa Nadal though.
Since his virtual "reincarnation" last year, Novak's return of serve has been at an altogether different level and reflects in his return stats and receiving points won, where he has been unparalleled. Then he fixed his serve and made that a weapon which, when built around his all court game, really left no gaps at all. Novak already possessed the best backhand in the game and now his forehand should also be regarded as the best in the game.
Essentially you are looking at a player with no weaknesses in his game. When you combine that with a clear mind and a belief that he can win every match he plays, you are looking at a complete player.
This Wimbledon win is huge for Novak's career because it is the ultimate prize in the sport and it has come at a pivotal moment in his career. Whatever he does in his life, he will always be Wimbledon Champion - No one can take that away from him.
With the way this year has been for him, with the streak and all, really this Wimbledon win couldn't have been better timed. Mentally, this removes all fears from his persona and gives him the belief that he can now win against anyone. Not only has he conquered the best, he has really tamed them. They now realize that, when at their best, their best is not good enough to beat Novak.
I had said it before that Novak needed two slams for this to be termed a successful season for him. With two in his kitty already, it is scary to think what Novak can do in the hard court season which is traditionally his strong point anyways. With the pressure off of him, regardless of whether he wins in New York or not, Novak is without question the favorite to add a fourth slam to his collection.
Rafa Nadal is probably thanking Federer immensely for having stopped Novak in the French Open Semis. With his mental discomfiture against Novak, it is scary to think how the Roland Garros final would have played out had Novak been able to get past Roger.
For Rafa Nadal, it is time for a reality check. For me, I still consider Rafa's serve his biggest weakness. It is just incredible how he has been so successful winning ten grand slams without having a serve that is dominant against the top players. In fact, the serving he displayed at the US Open last year—and especially against Novak in the final—is something he is going to need consistently.
It is likely that the game has changed and the power tennis has gone to another level. Toni Nadal has done an incredible job and brought Rafa to an amazing level of success including a career slam. But if Rafa wants to innovate and take his game to another level, maybe it is time for him to say goodbye to his favorite uncle as his coach.
For Novak Djokovic though, it is time to start encashing the check. As long as you keep your head intact, it is time for you to start picking up those grand slams, buddy.