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Novak Djokovic sweeps Kevin Anderson for 4th Wimbledon title

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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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Novak Djokovic tops Rafael Nadal in another Wimbledon marathon semifinal

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Is Novak Djokovic back? Certainly looked like it Friday night and Saturday afternoon at Wimbledon.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion outlasted top-ranked Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8 to reach Sunday’s final at the All England Club, where the Serb plays South African Kevin Anderson.

“It’s hard to pick the words,” said Djokovic, the 12th seed who reached his first Grand Slam final since the 2016 U.S. Open. “I mean, I’m just going through things that flash back the last 15 months and everything I’ve been through to get here, to get to the final and to win against the best player in the world. … I’m just overwhelmed.

“These kind of matches you live for, you work for.”

Djokovic and Nadal, two men with a combined 29 Grand Slam singles titles, played the first three sets Friday — after Anderson and John Isner‘s 6-hour, 36-minute epic — before Wimbledon’s 11 p.m. curfew suspended the match overnight.

The Centre Court roof remained closed for Saturday’s resumption because at least one of the players (Djokovic, presumably) preferred it.

They were on court for 5 hours, 14 minutes total, which would have been the longest Wimbledon semifinal in history before Friday.

“Very special,” said Djokovic, who improved to 27-25 against Nadal in the most prolific men’s rivalry in the 50-year Open Era. “It really could have gone either way, I think. … It was very clear that very few things separated the two players. Basically, until the last shot I didn’t know that I was going to win.”

Djokovic made his first Grand Slam final since the end of a two-year stretch where the Serb was the world’s top player. He once held all four Grand Slam titles, something neither Roger Federer nor Nadal has done.

Djokovic’s struggles the last two years accompanied off-court life 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 has won two tournaments in the last two years and none in the last 12 months, his longest drought since his first of 68 ATP titles at age 19 in 2006.

But on Friday and Saturday, Djokovic packaged mental strength, physical endurance, shot-making talent and big-stage guts like we haven’t seen in two years.

Now Djokovic, the lowest-ranked man in a Wimbledon final since Mark Philippoussis in 2003, is favored against the eighth seed Anderson to win his fourth Wimbledon. Djokovic has won their last five matches, including at Wimbledon in 2015.

Anderson, the oldest first-time Wimbledon finalist in the 50-year Open Era, eyes his first Grand Slam title after playing a combined 10 hours, 50 minutes between the quarterfinals (upsetting Roger Federer 13-11 in the fifth) and semifinals.

“Hopefully we can first of all play, both of us,” Djokovic said in exhaustion. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride for him in the last couple of rounds, but he had a day off, which means a lot. I wish I could have one. … It’s an incredible achievement for me after what I’ve been through. I’m trying to digest that.”

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Roger Federer upset in Wimbledon marathon

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Roger Federer had the opportunities. None bigger than match point in the third set. Two hours later, Federer had squandered a two-set lead, shocked in a Wimbledon quarterfinals marathon by No. 8 seed Kevin Anderson.

“I had my chances and blew them,” said Federer, who lost a Wimbledon match in which he had a match point for the first time. “It was just one of those days where you hope to get by somehow. I almost could have. So it’s disappointing.”

Federer lost from two sets up for just the fifth time in his career — and third at a Grand Slam — falling 6-2, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 4-6, 13-11 to the 6-foot-8 South African on Wednesday. It’s Federer’s earliest exit from Wimbledon since 2013.

“Not quite sure what to say right now,” Anderson, 32 and a former University of Illinois standout. “Beating Roger Federer here at Wimbledon will be one that I remember, especially in such a close match. I just kept on telling myself, ‘I have to keep believing.’ I kept saying that today was going to be my day, because you really need that mindset taking the court against somebody like Roger. If you go out there with doubts or unsure what’s going to happen, like I maybe did a little bit in that first set, it’s not going to go your way.”

Anderson plays 33-year-old, 6-foot-10-inch American John Isner in Friday’s semifinals. Isner ousted 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3 to make his first Grand Slam semifinal in his 41st try.

“Pure elation right now,” said Isner, who has called Wimbledon his “house of horrors” since beating Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in that 2010 ultra marathon, never getting past the third round until now.

The other semifinal pits Rafael Nadal against Novak Djokovic, who own a combined five Wimbledon titles. Nadal, the No. 2 seed, outlasted No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a 4-hour, 48-minute epic (same time as his 2008 Wimbledon epic win over Federer). Djokovic got past No. 24 Kei Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

The top seed Federer, an eight-time Wimbledon champion, appeared to have his match all but won after two hours. He had a match point on Anderson’s serve in the third set.

But the 2017 U.S. Open finalist rose to the occasion, then snapped Federer’s record-tying streak of 34 straight Wimbledon sets won.

“At that point, I wasn’t thinking about losing,” Federer said. “I’m up two sets to one, it’s all good.”

But Anderson had found his game, going unbroken on serve through the last three sets en route to his first Wimbledon semifinal.

Anderson, after losing all of his previous eight sets against Federer, dispatched the 20-time Grand Slam champion in 4 hours, 14 minutes. It’s Anderson’s biggest win outside of reaching his one and only Grand Slam final in New York last year.

“After that [first set] I never really felt exactly 100 percent,” Federer said. “One of those average days you have to try and win the match, and I couldn’t get it done today.”

It marked Federer’s second-longest Grand Slam match by games after his 16-14, fifth-set win over Andy Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final.

This loss was all the more shocking given Federer’s resurgence since the start of 2017, rising from No. 17 in the world (his lowest rank since 2001) to become the oldest No. 1 in history at age 36 while winning three Grand Slam titles (his first since 2012).

Before Wednesday, Federer’s last dropped set at the All England Club came in his 2016 semifinal loss to Canadian Milos Raonic, who later Wednesday lost a four-set quarterfinal to American John Isner 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3.

Next up for Anderson is the 6-foot-10 Isner, into his first Grand Slam semifinal in his 41st try. For Federer, he said it could take “a while” to get over this defeat or “half an hour.”

“Maybe the losses hurt more [at Wimbledon],” he said. “I don’t want to sit here and explain my loss. That’s the worst feeling you can have as a tennis player.”

He may also dwell on this fact: If Nadal wins Wimbledon, he will be within two Grand Slam titles of Federer’s record (20 to 18) for the first time since 2004, when Federer had two and Nadal had none. And Nadal is nearly five years younger than Federer.

As if Federer needed any more motivation to reclaim his Wimbledon crown next year.

“I wouldn’t call it unfinished business,” he said. “I feel like I did some good business in the past here already. So I’m all right. Just disappointed.”

Wimbledon continues Thursday with the women’s semifinals: Serena Williams vs. German Julia Görges and two-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber vs. 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

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