The 2015 edition of The Championships at Wimbledon had a retro feel going into the final weekend. Serena Williams was one match away from clinching a second Serena Slam a scant 12 years after she first accomplished the feat. Roger Federer was going for a record 8th Wimbledon title a dozen years after his first triumph on the legendary grass courts. In 2003, Federer’s win over Mark Philippoussis marked the beginning of his dominance over the ATP – it was his first Slam title. Now, less than a month away from his 34th birthday, Federer was trying to add to his unmatched 17 Major count.
But wait, there’s more. In both the ladies’ doubles final on Saturday and the mixed doubles final on Sunday, the crowds at SW19 were able to see Martina Hingis, one year older than both Serena Williams and Roger Federer, partner to win both titles. Hingis’ triumph in the ladies’ doubles came an incredible 13 years after her last title in that same discipline, and 16 years after her last singles title.
Once Serena and Hingis took care of business on Saturday, the stage was set for another golden chapter in Federer’s iconic career. After all, he had looked absolutely impeccable in his semifinal win over Andy Murray. The hometown favorite and one of the three great returners of serve of this era, Murray was helpless against a truly remarkable serving performance from the seven-time champion.
Federer’s rival in the final, defending champion Novak Djokovic, had looked solid throughout the fortnight, with the lone exception being the surprise five-setter against South Africa’s Kevin Anderson in the round of 16. Djokovic had to overcome a two-sets-to-love deficit, and even had to fight off a break point in the deciding set. After surviving Anderson, Djokovic went back to his old ways, dispatching last year’s US Open winner, Marin Cilic, and Frenchman Richard Gasquet with little drama, setting himself up to defend the title earned last year against Federer in a classic five-setter. Still, as the final Sunday approached, many wondered how Djokovic would perform in his 17th Grand Slam final, just weeks removed from a heartbreaking loss to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open title match.
Turns out Djokovic not only ended the retro theme on Sunday – he did so convincingly. The World No. 1 lifted the Wimbledon trophy for the third time in his career after a 7-6 (1), 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-3 win over Federer, in what was the pair’s 40th meeting. But even if the last two sets were relatively straightforward, the first two were a tight, tense tug-of-war between the two all-time greats.
You could argue Federer was the better player through the first 12 games of the first set. He had held a break lead early, and got a look at two set points on Djokovic’s serve at 5-6. However, Djokovic erased the break lead immediately after surrendering it, and wiped out the set points with some clutch serving. The World No. 1 then upped the ante in the tiebreaker, racing to a thumping 7-1 scoreline after a remarkable defensive get in the opening point of the breaker.
The second set was slightly similar, though it was Djokovic who let opportunities go. The Serb had a set point on Federer’s serve at 5-4, and then not one, not two, not three, but six more in the eventual tiebreaker. Federer, encouraged by a sympathetic crowd on Centre Court, came up with some vintage magic to escape and level the match at one set all.
In the changeover between sets, Djokovic tried to tear his shirt apart, and seemed to go on a rather intense rant, most certainly induced by the lost chances to go up two sets to none. Whatever the case, his outburst helped: Break points at the start of the pivotal third set would prove to be the last time Federer generated a break chance, and after surviving the threat, Novak swiftly imposed his will on the match. Before a short rain delay in the middle of the third set interrupted proceedings, Djokovic had gained a break lead he would not surrender. And not long after clinching a two-sets-to-one lead, he was holding the pineapple-crowned golden cup once again.
The question surrounding Djokovic has frequently been about his standing within tennis’ Federer-Nadal universe. For years he was the third wheel, the very talented Washington General whose role seemed to be to threaten – but ultimately surrender to – the Fedal Globetrotters. Djokovic’s 2011 turned that paradigm on its head, as he roared from No. 3 in the rankings to the very top, on the heels of one of the great single seasons in men’s tennis history. The years that followed, however, haven’t come close to capturing the magic of that 2011 season – even if they were remarkable in their own right. It seemed 2011 was an aberration, a nine-month break from the mean.
Turns out Djokovic is turning 2015 into 2011. Like four years ago, he has lifted the Australian Open and Wimbledon trophies. Like four years ago, his heart was broken on the red clay in Paris. Like four years ago, he won an outstanding four Masters 1000 titles out of the five held before the French Open, something no one else has ever done.
But while 2011 was the first time Djokovic’s achievements began to rival those of Nadal and Federer, 2015 finds Novak in a very different place. His resume now holds plenty of other accolades that rightfully belong next to both Roger and Rafa’s.
Djokovic is extremely likely to finish the season ranked No. 1 in the world for a fourth time. That would be one better than Nadal, and just one behind Federer. Djokovic has already spent more weeks at the top of the rankings than Nadal. Novak now holds the record for most Australian Open titles in the Open Era with five, having surpassed Federer and Andre Agassi’s four earlier this year. In terms of Masters 1000 play, Djokovic already leapfrogged Roger Federer by winning his 24 title of that caliber, which puts him just 3 away from Nadal’s record of 27. Djokovic holds a longer winning streak than either Federer or Nadal, and crucially, his head-to-head record against both has become quite close: against Feds he’s now tied at 20 wins apiece, whereas he trails Nadal by just two wins. To have beaten arguably the two greatest players in men’s tennis history a combined 41 times (and five times in Slam finals) is surely something for the epitaph.
And given that Djokovic is six years younger than Federer and a year younger than Nadal, the future looks extremely promising.
Aiding the forecast is the apparent lack of challengers from the younger generations: The group of men approaching their mid-twenties right now (Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov and others) has made only one Slam final combined (Nishikori lost the US Open final to Marin Cilic last year), and has won a grand total of zero Masters 1000 titles. Nick Kyrgios, the temperamental leader of the 20-and-under group, looks promising, but at an age when Djokovic and Nadal had already won multiple Masters 1000 titles and even Slams, he’s only reached (and lost) one tour-level final.
But regardless of what happens in the coming years, it’s clear we are still enjoying an unparalleled time in men’s tennis. The Holy Trinity of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic now count an insane 40 Slam titles between them, and we’ve now seen them battle each other a ridiculous 117 times. Some might feel like we’re reaching the last few chapters of this glorious era, but Sunday felt like yet another chapter of story that’s not close to ending – particularly where Novak Djokovic is concerned.
With all of that being said, this year’s edition of Wimbledon will likely be remembered for something not related to Federer, Nadal or even title-winner Djokovic. After all, we were witnesses on Saturday to an achievement not likely to be seen again: a second Serena Slam.
Wimbledon holds a black-tie Champions’ dinner on Sunday night, and it used to be a tradition to have the gentlemen’s winner dance with the ladies’ victor. Djokovic mentioned after his win that he’d like to bring the tradition back, and he got his way. In the end, the moment produced a fitting image: the most dominant men’s player paying appropriate tribute to the woman who’s likely to end up as the greatest her sport has ever seen. Like this fortnight, it was timeless.