04:01 PM GMT July 14, 2019
Novak Djokovic saved two championship points to beat Roger Federer 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(4), 4-6, 13-12(3) in a historic and classic Wimbledon final on Sunday.
The Serbian was down two championship points in the fifth set as the eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer served at 8-7, 40/15. But Djokovic saved them both when Federer missed a forehand wide and Djokovic nailed a forehand pass.
Then the Serbian, as he had done twice earlier in the match, locked down in the tie-break to celebrate his fifth Wimbledon title and keep Federer from becoming the oldest Grand Slam champion in the Open Era at 37 years, 340 days.
Djokovic beat Federer for the third time in a Wimbledon final (2014-15) and for the fifth consecutive time overall in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series (26-22). The Serbian also climbed ever closer to Federer's all-time Grand Slam title record of 20 with his 16th major championship title and has now won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches and four of the past five major championships.
It was a historic final for Djokovic and Wimbledon. For the third time Djokovic saved two match points to beat Federer at a Grand Slam (also 2010 US Open semi-finals and 2011 US Open semi-finals).
The last time a Wimbledon men's champion saved match points in the final was 71 years ago, in 1948, when American Robert Falkenburg beat John Bromwich of Australia 7-5, 0-6, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, after being three match points down. And before Sunday, only a doubles match this fortnight had needed the newly-implemented 12-point tie-break at 12-12 in the fifth set. The final, at four hours, 57 minutes, was also the longest in tournament history (since 1877).
“In these kinds of matches, you work for, you live for, they give sense and they give value to every minute you spend on the court training and working to get yourself in this position and play the match with one of your greatest rivals of all-time,” Djokovic said.
“I'm just obviously thrilled and overjoyed with emotions to be sitting here in front of you as a winner. It was one shot away from losing the match, as well. This match had everything. It could have gone easily his way.”
Earlier in the fifth, it looked as if Djokovic would run away with the final set when he broke for 4-2. But Federer broke back in the latest momentum switch in one of the best Grand Slam finals in recent memory.
Djokovic was steely in the opening tie-break. Inexplicably, however, he lost his way in the second set. Federer broke three times and evened the match by taking the set in 25 minutes when Djokovic double faulted to be broken to love.
The defending champion looked low on energy and Federer was surging. At 1-2, though, Djokovic regained his feet, engaging Federer in lengthy rallies, the type the Swiss had avoided so well in the first two sets.
Federer was coming forward at every opportunity and forcing the play, oftentimes hitting the note just right – not too aggressive, but not too safe. He won 78 per cent (51/65) of his net points for the match and finished with 94 winners to only 62 unforced errors. Djokovic, meanwhile, hit 54 winners to 52 unforced errors.
“[Djokovic] gives away very little unforced errors. You got to push him to do those. If you can't, then you have to play aggressive yourself. I did that. I thought I had a good mix,” Federer said.
But the third-set tie-break mirrored the first, with Federer getting off to a poor start. This time, Djokovic, leading 5/1, stayed on top to move to within a set of the title, all without seeing a break point on Federer's serve.
The Swiss was winning more of the big points, too, just not in the tie-breaks. For the match, Federer converted seven of his 13 break points (54%), while Djokovic was three for eight (38%).
Djokovic finally saw a break point and broke when Federer tried to serve out the fourth set at 5-2 – two hours, 50 minutes into the final – but Federer eventually served it out to force a fifth, where tensions between the all-time greats were evident.
Djokovic ripped a backhand pass for the 4-2 lead. But when Federer broke right back, the packed Centre Court, pro-Federer all match, chanted, “Ro-ger! Ro-ger!”
Federer then broke for the 8-7 lead and failed to convert the two match points at 40/15 as fans raised their index fingers, signaling the one point that separated Federer from his 21st Grand Slam title and his first since the 2018 Australian Open.
It was a historic tie-break, but the end result, Djokovic retrieving everything and forcing Federer to play at his best, was the same result as the Serbian won the third tie-break of the match and his 16th Grand Slam title, two away from Rafael Nadal and four from Federer.