Wednesday, January 26

First among equals, Novak Djokovic enjoys his eternal summer | Novak Djokovic


SUBWAYMoments after Novak Djokovic clinched his sixth Wimbledon title, with a gripping and grandiose win over Italian gunman Matteo Berrettini, he hit the grass like an old friend before biting into a single leaf. It has become a family ritual. But, for the first time on center court, the Serbian was hailed with shouts once reserved for his great rival Roger Federer.

“Novak, you are the Goat!” several of his fans cried. And although statistics show that Djokovic has won 20 grand slams, putting him at the level of Federer and Rafael Nadal, he is surely now a primus peer: peer first.

How can anyone argue otherwise, given that the Serb has spent 328 weeks as the world No. 1, 18 more than Federer and 119 ahead of Nadal? And when do you have winning records against your two great rivals?

And while a sense of end-of-sicle looms over this fortnight of Wimbledon, with Serena Williams limping in the first round, Venus failing in the second and the future of Andy Murray and Roger Federer increasingly uncertain, Djokovic at 34 seems stretchy and fantastic. – as always.

“I’m probably the most complete I’ve ever been,” Djokovic said afterward, before issuing a sinister warning. “And it doesn’t stop here.”

He is now three-quarters of the way down to becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the Grand Slam of the calendar year. In this way, who would dare to bet against him?

Certainly his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, has no doubts. “For me, Novak is the best of all time and I firmly believe that he is going to win the US Open,” he said.

And if he does, I think the story is over. The boy is unbeatable. It’s like in the movies, you have to kill the guy 27 times, but he still gets up. “

Berrettini knew it too, at his expense. In four high-class sets, the 6-foot-5 Italian dropped 57 winners while his serve was so stinging that he repeatedly drew the attention of the crowd. However, it was still not enough. “I didn’t play my best game, but it’s thanks to Novak,” he later admitted. “The way he neutralized my weapons, my serve and my right. The way he covers the court is incredible.

Matteo berrettini
Matteo Berrettini hit 57 winners but couldn’t tame Novak Djokovic. Photograph: TPN / Getty Images

“He is the only player who makes me feel that way,” he added, with a voice of astonishment. “Your service is really accurate. I would say that in terms of tactics he is the best player, along with Roger. He’s studying your game and adapting during the game. “

Beforehand, most had expected the 25-year-old Berrettini to be the more nervous of the two players, given this was his first Grand Slam final. But, to everyone’s surprise, it was Djokovic who had the first wobbles.

In the opening game, the Serb double-faulted twice, hitting two second serves under 80 mph and had to save the break point, but Berrettini was unable to capitalize.

A familiar script seemed to be developing as Djokovic quickly went 5-2 up. But Berrettini was made of rigid material. Not only did he survive one set point, but he later rallied before winning the first set tie-break with a lightning strike of 138 mph.

Djokovic, the iron man of tennis, looked human. But Berrettini couldn’t twist the knife to draw more blood. It broke early in the second, and the revitalized Serbian was soon up 4-0.

As the match grew, the players created tennis of the highest level. A point, during which both men hit tweeners on the leg, will live long in memory.

After the Italian suffered a break at the beginning of the third set, his name became a rallying cry. “Mat-te-o!” they yelled. “Mat-te-o”. But unlike past finals against Federer and Murray, the Serb also had significant support.

“Nole-Nole!” They replied. The Serb licked, bringing the tennis racket to his ear to get yelled at even louder, and used that energy to do two sets against one.

And more importantly, Djokovic appeared to win all the key rallies. It was never more clearly illustrated when Berrettini, 3-2 up in the quarter and feeling like he could break, thought he had played a winning drop shot. But somehow Djokovic got there to make the point.

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As adrenaline rushed through him, he pointed to the sky, an emperor demanding that his genius be recognized. Center Court responded by giving him a standing ovation.

Someday, of course, the golden age of tennis will end. Younger and younger challengers will emerge. Father Time will have his opinion. But while many of the modern greats are in the fall of their careers, Djokovic is on his way into an eternal summer.


www.theguardian.com

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