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Novak Djokovic outlasts Roger Federer in epic Wimbledon final

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WIMBLEDON, England — For nearly five tight, tense and terrific hours, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer traded the lead, playing on and on and on until an unprecedented fifth-set tiebreaker was required to settle their memorable Wimbledon final.

In the end, it was Djokovic who emerged victorious, coming back to edge Federer 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) and become the first man in 71 years to take home the trophy from the All England Club after needing to erase championship points.

“Unfortunately in these kinds of matches, one of the players has to lose,” Djokovic said. “It’s quite unreal.”

After facing two match points at 8-7 in the last set, he wound up claiming his fifth Wimbledon title and second in a row.

This triumph also earned Djokovic his 16th Grand Slam trophy overall, moving him closer to the only men ahead of him in tennis history: Federer owns 20, Rafael Nadal has 18.

“I just feel like it’s such an incredible opportunity missed,” said Federer, who actually accumulated 14 more total points, 218-204. “I can’t believe it.”

He has ruled grass courts since the early 2000s; he has won Wimbledon eight times dating to 2003, and this was his record 12th appearance in the title match. But Djokovic is now 3-0 against Federer in finals at the place and 4-0 against him in five-setters anywhere.

This one was unlike any other, though.

That’s because, while it was reminiscent of Federer’s 16-14 fifth-set victory over Andy Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final, that score is no longer possible: The All England Club altered its rule this year to do away with never-ending matches and institute a tiebreaker at 12-all in a deciding set.

At one point during the final set Sunday, Djokovic asked chair umpire Damian Steiner whether the change called for the tiebreaker at 10-10. Later, when Djokovic held for an 11-10 lead, it was Steiner who got confused, beginning to call out the score as 11-9, before catching himself.

“I respect whatever the rule is,” Federer said when asked what he thinks of the altered setup. “So really, it is what it is, you know?”

Federer and Djokovic pushed each other to the limit in what became as much a test of focus and stamina as it was about skill. It is the longest final in the history of a tournament that dates to the 1870s, eclipsing by nine minutes Nadal’s five-set win over Federer in 2008.

Like that one, this is destined to be discussed for years.

“I’ll try to forget,” joked Federer, who is less than a month shy of his 38th birthday and would have been the oldest man to win a Grand Slam title in the professional era.

“It was a great match. It was long. It had everything. I had my chances. So did he. I thought we played some great tennis. In a way, I’m very happy with my performance, as well,” Federer said during the trophy ceremony. “But Novak, it’s great. Congratulations, man. That was crazy. Well done.”

First, it was Federer who kept falling behind, then coming back. He twice trailed by a set even though he came quite close to winning the match in three: Federer was two points from grabbing the opening set on seven occasions but couldn’t do it; he was one point from seizing the third, but again came up short.

Then, Federer was down a break early in the crucible of the fifth. And then, after seemingly gaining the upper hand, standing a single point from winning while serving for the victory at 8-7, 40-15, he faltered.

He sent a forehand wide on the first championship point, and Djokovic produced a cross-court forehand winner on the next. Soon enough, the 32-year-old Djokovic had broken back and on they would play for another 45 minutes.

“Definitely tough to have those chances,” Federer said.

Djokovic has done this to him before.

In the semifinals of the 2010 and 2011 U.S. Opens, Djokovic erased two match points each time before coming back to win.

Looking at the bigger picture, there’s also this takeaway from Sunday: Nadal’s status as Federer’s principal nemesis has been well-documented and much-examined over the years — which is a small part of why Friday’s semifinal victory for Federer was fraught with meaning. But it’s now high time to discuss Djokovic’s edge over Federer.

Djokovic has won their past five meetings and holds a 26-22 advantage overall head-to-head, including 10-6 at Grand Slam tournaments and 3-1 at Wimbledon.

By the reverberating sound of things around the old arena Sunday, a vast majority of the spectators were pulling for the popular Federer. Made it seem as though he might be British, not Swiss.

While one person cried out, “We love you both!” — a fitting sentiment, given the high quality and unceasing shifts in momentum — the “Come on, Roger!” count far outnumbered the shouts for his Serbian foe.

Yes, they roared for Federer’s ace on the very first point and when he sent the final to a fifth set. They even applauded when he kicked a ball to a ball boy or when he brought his racket around his back to make meaningless contact after Djokovic served a let.

And then there were the “Awwwws.” So many “Awwwws” — pained sighs of despair accompanying a missed backhand here, a double-fault there, by their guy.

It wasn’t until the fourth set that Federer faced so much as one break point, no small accomplishment against Djokovic, considered by many to be the greatest returner of his, or perhaps any, generation. Still, even though Federer did get broken in that set, he won it to send this match to a fifth.

What already was fun to watch became completely riveting.

That’s not to say the tennis was perfect, because both men showed signs of fatigue and perhaps nerves. Federer’s mediocre approach shot provided Djokovic an opening for a backhand pass that earned a break and a 4-2 lead.

Djokovic’s double-fault in the next game helped Federer break back, and the ensuing changeover was filled with a fugue of fans’ voices chanting the first names of both.

As the newfangled tiebreaker carried the last set alone past the two-hour mark, it was Djokovic who was better. When Federer shanked a forehand off his racket frame, it was over, allowing Djokovic to renew his personal tradition of plucking some blades of Centre Court grass and chewing on them.

“Constant pressure,” Djokovic said. “I had to fight and find my game to stay in the match.”

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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