Novak Djokovic, after the injuries, the coaching changes, the undisclosed private issues, the ranking drop, is a Grand Slam champion for a 13th time, and for the first time since he was the world’s best player more than two years ago.
The Serb swept a surely exhausted Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3) for his fourth Wimbledon title. In the 50-year Open Era, the only men with more are Roger Federer (eight), Pete Sampras (seven) and Bjorn Borg (five).
He celebrated as he did after his previous Wimbledon titles, tasting the Centre Court grass.
“I had a double portion this year to treat myself,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic, seeded 12th and ranked 21st, became the lowest-ranked man to win Wimbledon since Goran Ivanisevic‘s run to the 2001 title as a wild card.
“I had many moments of doubt,” he said. “I didn’t know, really, if I could come back to the level to compete.”
Djokovic’s resurgence has not been as improbable as the serve-and-volley Croat, but still impressive.
Sunday marked his first Grand Slam final since the end of a stretch where the Serb was in his own class. He once held all four Grand Slam titles, something neither Roger Federer nor Nadal has done.
Then came the struggles, accompanied and for a large part caused by off-court changes.
He cited “private issues” in summer 2016, split from coach Boris Becker that fall, was coached by Andre Agassi for less than a year, missed the 2017 U.S. Open for an elbow injury, then underwent surgery to fix it in January.
He came to Wimbledon having won two tournaments in the last two years and none in the last 12 months, his longest drought since his first of 69 ATP titles at age 19 in 2006.
“I had to really trust the process, and I’ve said this before, I had to trust in myself,” he said. “There’s no better place in the world to make a comeback.”
The Djokovic of old lit up a closed-roof Centre Court in the semifinals, a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8 win over Nadal. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have now won the last seven Grand Slam titles and 46 of the last 54 dating to the 2005 French Open. It had many declaring that Novak was back.
“I’m very close, if not better,” the 31-year-old said Sunday.
Upon winning the title, Djokovic’s first words in an on-court interview were not about overcoming adversity.
“It feels amazing because, for the first time in my life, I have someone screaming daddy, daddy,” Djokovic said, pointing to 3-year-old son Stefan, who was clapping while being held by Djokovic’s wife, Jelena. Stefan wasn’t allowed into Djokovic’s box until after the match due to a Wimbledon rule for children younger than 5.
Anderson showed the effects of spending 10 hours, 50 minutes playing between the quarterfinals (upsetting Federer 13-11 in the fifth) and semifinals (26-24 in the fifth over John Isner).
The eighth seed had six unforced errors in the first two games and was broken three times in his first five service games. In the 6-hour, 36-minute semifinal, he was broken twice in 99 total service games. He also received treatment on his right arm, near the elbow, after the first set.
In all, Anderson was 0-for-7 on break points, while Djokovic converted all four of his break chances on the 6-foot-8 South African’s serve.
Anderson, the oldest first-time Wimbledon finalist in the Open Era at age 32, was seeking his first Grand Slam title after losing to Nadal in the 2017 U.S. Open final.
“The first two sets Novak beat up on me pretty bad,” Anderson said. “I’m definitely not feeling as fresh now as I was coming into the week.”
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