Of all the decisions that can shape a playing career, Novak Djokovic will never be as grateful as the one that led to his 14th main draw appearance at Wimbledon.
Just a few short weeks ago, reeling from the bitter disappointment of a loss to world No.71 Marco Cecchinato in the Roland-Garros quarter-finals, Djokovic questioned whether he’d even compete in the 2018 grass court season.
“When I took few days off and regrouped, I wanted to get back on the court and keep on going,” said the Serb, soon after completing a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(9), 3-6, 10-8 victory over world No.1 Rafael Nadal that could well prove career changing.
“Obviously it was a right choice. I had a great week in Queen’s. Just managed to get five matches under my belt, have a great build-up and preparation to Wimbledon.
“Now I’m in the finals. I’m really, really pleased. I was very emotional after the match, as well, because it’s been a long 15 months for me, you know, trying to overcome different obstacles. So, to be where I am at the moment is quite, quite satisfying.”
Returned to a first Grand Slam final since the 2016 US Open, where he lost to Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic made the most important step in his recovery from the elbow injury that forced his withdrawal from the 2017 Wimbledon quarter-finals and required surgery earlier this season.
A 27th victory against Nadal required all the Serb’s resilience. Played over five hours and 15 minutes – the second-longest men’s semi-final in Wimbledon history, following the six-hour, 36-minute epic of Kevin Anderson and John Isner – it will be remembered as among the highest-quality encounters among the record 52 they’ve contested.
For Djokovic, it was a test of both his ability and composure. “A couple times I lost my cool, then I lost my serve, then a set,” he admitted. “Nadal is who he is because he knows how to use those momentums. When he sees the opportunity, he seizes it, he really takes it.
“That’s why this match was extraordinary from every point of view. Incredibly proud to overcome it.”
Indeed, while showcasing all of Djokovic’s extraordinary skill and athleticism, it was also a reminder of the mentality that’s helped the Serb become a 12-time Grand Slam champion.
Admitting “there were moments of doubt, of frustration, disappointment, where you’re questioning whether you want to keep it going in this way” as he worked to regain form and confidence following injury, Djokovic also explained his fierce desire to return to the highest level.
“But did I truly believe that I can get back on the level? Yes, I mean, it’s hard for me to play tennis and not believe that I can be the best in what I do,” he added. “I’ve been fortunate to achieve so much in my career that every time I go to the tournament, I have highest of ambitions.
That’s always kind of a mindset.”
And it showed, as Djokovic outclassed the relentless Spaniard. “He’s probably the greatest fighter ever to play this game. He battles every single point like it’s his last. That’s something that is so impressive with Rafa. That’s what makes him so difficult to beat on any surface,” Djokovic related.
“If you want to be able to compete on such a high level, eventually get a win against him in the big tournaments, then you have to give it all you’ve got.”
Djokovic appreciates the epic efforts that could also be required against Kevin Anderson – especially given that his own semi-final was carried into a second day after the extraordinary length of time it took the South African to achieve victory.
“I don’t know if I’ll be the clear favourite in that one. I think we’re quite even. He’s playing I think his second Grand Slam final. He played the US Open final last year,” said Djokovic of Anderson, who defeated Roger Federer in a five-set quarter-final at Wimbledon.
“He’s definitely playing the tennis of his life. He’s coming off from two epic marathon five-set wins. I don’t think he has much to lose really tomorrow. He’s going to come out with big serves and big tennis.”
But Djokovic, too, will bring the experience of his fourth Wimbledon final and his 22nd at Grand Slam level. From the most difficult period of his storied career there’s also the most important step in his hard-fought comeback, along with a fierce determination to build on it.
Source: Vivienne Christie|| Wimbledon