This story first appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine
Fans all around the world were able to witness one of the truly great performances in all of sports earlier this summer, when two of tennis’ all-time greats—Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer—squared off in the finals of the 2019 Wimbledon Championships.
For five hours, Djokovic and Federer competed against one another on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in London, in a match that seemed to be even bigger than just the one trophy. With Federer sitting at 20 career Grand Slam titles, and Djokovic at 15, there were consequences that would tip the balance of the all-time great list.
Djokovic, who has been the best player in the world for the last 18 months, outlasted Federer in an epic fifth-set tie-breaker that had seemingly everything.
“This was mentally the most demanding because of the circumstances and Roger across the net was playing well,” said Djokovic when asked where that victory stacked up with ones throughout his career. “He was match points up and serving, and in those moments, you just try and stay there, try to stay present and find that strength and self-belief, and in the end I managed to pull it out. I’m very happy and proud of the achievement ... and exhausted as well, of course.”
Djokovic’s dominant run has been similar to the one he had back in 2016 and 2017 when he won all four Grand Slams in a row. With his triumph at Wimbledon, the Serb has now won four of the last five majors, a run that began at last year’s Wimbledon Championships, and has a significant stronghold on the top ranking spot on the ATP World Tour.
And with that, the 32-year-old arrives in the United States for the American hard-court swing with his eyes on yet another US Open title to close out his already dominant summer. A year ago in Flushing Meadows, he compiled a two-week tournament that culminated in him knocking off Kei Nishikori in the semifinals before defeating former champion Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 in the finals.
His US Open title and his win at Wimbledon that preceded that had come on the heels of one of the worst stretches of his career that ranged from 2017 to the beginning of 2018, including upset losses to Marco Cecchinato in the French Open and Hyeon Chung at the Australian Open in the first two Grand Slams of the year
With all the physical injuries he was dealing with (he had elbow surgery in early 2018), plus some on-court struggles, Djokovic was at a crossroads in his career at that moment. It was then when he and his wife, Jelena, hiked up the famous Mont Sainte-Victoire in southern France, a trip that completely changed his outlook. And he was very open about it.
“I psychologically felt huge pressure, and now I’m no longer thinking about the number of titles,” Djokovic recalls. “We sat down and we just looked at the world from that perspective. I breathed in the new inspiration, new motivation. I thought of tennis, thought of the emotion that tennis provokes in me. It was all positives. I just felt like I had a new breath for this sport. The rest is history in terms of results. I played finals of Queen’s, won Wimbledon, won Cincinnati and won US Open.”
“I guess we’ll be hiking some more very soon,” he added.
He must have continued hiking as 2018 turned into 2019, as Djokovic has not missed a beat. At the Australian Open, he went on an unstoppable streak in winning his record seventh Melbourne title after trouncing Rafael Nadal in straight sets for the tournament’s championship. And even after he lost to Dominic Thiem in the French Open semifinals, that was just a minor hiccup in his run of form.
What would transpire at the All England Lawn Club at Wimbledon is the stuff of legends, and the final match may conceivably go down as the greatest tennis match ever. Federer said that loss stayed with him for a while, and similarly to Djokovic, he went off-the-grid for a little bit afterwards to get himself refocused.
“You look back for a few days while you decompress what happened. There are flashbacks of the final, both the good moments and bad moments, when you go back to the practice court. Those usually go away after the first couple of sessions,” said Federer. ‘We went caravanning the day after my Wimbledon and enjoyed Switzerland. I relaxed for a bit and then started practicing.”
Novak Djokovic captured the third US Open title of his career a year ago in Queens. (Photo courtesy of USTA/Garrett Ellwood)
But as for Djokovic, he prepares for the rest of the US Open Series events before returning to Flushing Meadows in defense of his US Open title from a year ago and in search of his fourth triumph in New York overall. He is the clear-cut favorite to win the title, even Nadal’s uncle and former coach Toni admitted to that in a recent interview:
“Today, I see Djokovic as a favorite for the US Open because he’s won Wimbledon and the Australian Open,” the elder Nadal stated.
He will enter the tournament as the top-seeded player and the one who most people believe will hoist the trophy when the fortnight concludes in early September.
Djokovic’s new perspective and outlook has helped him in making calculated decisions and scheduling arrangements, and that’s the case as he gets ready for the US Open. He did not play at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. or the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
“I’m sorry to announce that I decided to pull out of Rogers Cup,” said Djokovic. “With the support of my team. I have decided to give my body longer rest and recovery time before coming back again to play.”
That pragmatic approach only means that the 16-time Grand Slam champion will arrive in New York with both a fresh body and mind, which does not bode well for the competition as he aims to further cement his legacy and quest to be the greatest player of all-time.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com.