All sport is operatic, but tennis is somehow special in the appearance of an unvarnished mano a mano contest, where two players are separated only by their skill and wits, with no dodgy umpiring or uninspired teammates to unfairly swing the match. That may be something of an illusion, but when the sport throws up a final such as the one between eventual champion Novak Djokovic and arguably the greatest player to ever pick up a racket, Roger Federer, at its most iconic stage in Wimbledon, the myths seem persuasive. Djokovic prevailed over Federer in five sets — the first to go down so close to the wire since Federer beat Andy Roddick in 2009 — in a tense match that swung one way and then the next, both men operating under a certain sense of desperation and pressure.
If Federer sought to silence the critics who get louder with his every defeat, wondering if his 32-year-old legs are too tired for the modern game, Djokovic had his own demons to slay. If he had lost, it would have been his sixth defeat in seven slam finals, calling into question his mental strength and fortitude for the big occasion. So it was an imperfect contest, of course, but in an indicator of its quality, it produced three times as many winners as unforced errors.
As it happened, it was Federer’s storybook ending that was not to be, at least not yet, despite the vocal will of Centre Court’s spectators. But if this wasn’t the crowning achievement of a glorious career — had he won, Federer would have been the oldest Wimbledon champion in the Open Era — Federer rolled back the years to remind us of his capacity to enthrall us with the majesty of his game. And for Djokovic, it was a relief to discover he could produce the goods at a high-stakes Grand Slam final to win the most coveted trophy in tennis against perhaps its most popular player.
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