Novak Djokovic

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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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Coco Gauff, 15, wins again at Wimbledon

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Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old who beat Venus Williams in her Wimbledon debut, advanced to the third round on Wednesday.

Gauff swept Slovak Magdaléna Rybáriková 6-3, 6-3.

“You can kind of fake it till you make it,” she said. “But I’m not faking it, at least right now.”

Gauff, already the youngest player in the Open Era to reach the Wimbledon main draw through qualifying, is now the youngest to make round three since Jennifer Capriati in 1991.

She next gets Slovenian Polona Hercog, who upset 17th seed Madison Keys in the second round. Gauff said she stayed up until 12:30 a.m. after her win over the 39-year-old Williams on Monday.

“I could lie and say I felt normal,” Gauff said, noting that celebrities messaged her on social media, including actresses Navia Robinson and Storm Reid. “It was honestly so hard just with social media and everything trying to focus on my next match because people are still posting about Venus.

Earlier Wednesday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic breezed past American Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to make the third round for an 11th straight year.

Despite the straightforward score, however, the defending champ was short of perfection as he moves toward a fifth title at the All England Club. His serve was broken twice, once in each of the first two sets.

“There were some moments in the match where maybe I could have done better,” the Serb said. “Dropped a couple of times my serve.”

Djokovic will next face Hubert Hurkacz on Friday, and then could face 18-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime on Monday if they both reach the fourth round.

Reilly Opelka, a 6-foot-11 American, took out three-time major champ Stan Wawrinka 7-5, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 8-6.

Opelka, who had 23 aces to reach his first Slam third round, next gets 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic of Canada.

“At first I had a lot of success serving and volleying, so I kept with that,” Opelka said. “And then as he kind of picked up on what I was doing and started reading my serve a little bit, it was more difficult for me to win points at the net. So I had to play, played a lot of tennis on the baseline today.”

Serena WilliamsRoger Federer and Rafael Nadal are the headliners in second-round action Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

WIMBLEDON: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal face toughest tests of Wimbledon stars; preview

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Neither Serena Williams nor Rafael Nadal has played a tournament match since the French Open three weeks ago. And of tennis’ giants, it’s Williams and Nadal who received the most difficult draws at Wimbledon.

Williams, taking her sixth crack at tying Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, could face defending champion Angelique Kerber or and an unseeded Maria Sharapova in the fourth round. If she makes the quarterfinals, top-ranked Ashleigh Barty or 2017 Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza could await.

Williams debated daily in May whether to skip the French Open after withdrawing from her previous three events with health problems, namely a left knee injury. She played in Paris anyway, not at 100 percent, and was bounced in the third round for her earliest Grand Slam exit in five years.

The 37-year-old mom, who made the 2018 Wimbledon final after a life-threatening childbirth 10 months earlier, said she’s had “a good week and a half” of prep.

“I just haven’t had enough match play, quite frankly,” said Williams, a seven-time Wimbledon winner. “I haven’t had the best time and preparation that I normally would have.”

WIMBLEDON: Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Nadal is seemingly healthier, having trained on grass in his native Mallorca since lifting his 12th French Open title on June 9. His opportunity at Wimbledon: move within one Grand Slam title of Roger Federer‘s male record 20. But Nadal has gotten past the fourth round at the All England Club just once in the last seven years, reaching the semifinals in 2018.

Just to get to a potential semifinal with Federer, Nadal might have to go through Nick Kyrgios in the second round, two-time Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the third round, 2017 Wimbledon runner-up Marin Cilic in the fourth round and two-time French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem in the quarters. Kyrgios, Shapovalov, Cilic and Thiem have all beaten Nadal in the last two years.

But Nadal is concerned about his first-round opponent, 258th-ranked Yūichi Sugita, who advanced through qualifying this week and beat Lukas Rosol, who shocked Nadal in the second round of 2012 Wimbledon.

“Tuesday going to be my first match,” on grass this year, Nadal acknowledged. “Going to be a tough one, a tough start against a player who already played three matches here. So is a challenge.”

Eight-time Wimbledon winner Federer and defending champ Novak Djokovic are the favorites.

Federer grabbed his 102nd career tour title at a grass-court tune-up event in Halle, Germany, a week ago. He was drawn into a quarter with No. 8 Kei Nishikori and No. 9 John Isner, neither of whom has taken a set off the Swiss on grass. He’s coming off playing a full clay-court season — swept by Nadal in the French Open semifinals — for the first time since 2015.

“I’m happy I was able to adjust again on the grass,” said the 37-year-old Federer, who became the oldest modern-era Wimbledon men’s champion with his last title two years ago. “I came through Halle, the clay court season, French Open, without any injuries, feeling good. I guess I would be ready for longer rallies.”

Djokovic, like Nadal, has not played since Roland Garros. But Wimbledon was the scene last year of his return to the top of the sport after falling out of the top 20. He was the lowest-ranked man to win at the All England Club since 2001, and it catapulted him to titles at the U.S. Open and Australian Open.

“That’s what kind of gave me that push and also a huge relief,” Djokovic said of his fourth Wimbledon title. His road to a fifth could include No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals and Kevin Anderson, whom he swept in last year’s final, in the semis.

But as with Williams and Nadal, it’s tougher to gauge prospects before Wimbledon than perhaps any other Slam without the grass-court experience this season. Williams last played a grass tune-up event in 2011, but she’s also won Wimbledon three times since then.

“I know how to play tennis,” she said, smiling.

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