Sunday, July 15, 2018

Djokovic defeats Anderson for fourth Wimbledon title

Novak Djokovic poses with the Serbian flag after winning the 2015
BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Fittingly, the sun shone during the men's singles final today at Wimbledon.
   After a dark two years, bright days have returned for Novak Djokovic.
   Gone are the elbow problems and resulting doubts, loss of confidence and frustration.
   Back are the burning desire, phenomenal movement, incredible balance, lightning-fast reflexes on his return of serve, and punishing groundstrokes.
   Djokovic downed Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3) today for his fourth Wimbledon singles crown and first major title since completing a career Grand Slam in the 2016 French Open. He improved to 4-1 in Wimbledon finals, losing in 2013 when Andy Murray became the first British champion in 77 years.
   "It's sacred," Djokovic, who saved four set points in the third set, told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi of his latest title. "The Centre Court, this trophy, is truly special. I've had the honor and privilege to compete in the Wimbledon final today for the fifth time. Every time I get to compete, it's truly special and different.
   "Today, obviously, my son (3-year-old Stefan) was in the stands together with my wife, and that was a very special moment. He wasn't a part of the match because we have to respect the rules here -- he's under 5 years old. But he was there to witness the trophy ceremony. I didn't want to talk about it, but that was definitely one of the biggest motivations I had the last couple of months.  I still can't wait for him to actually be there for one match. I think it might happen in U.S. Open."
   With his 13th Grand Slam singles title, the 31-year-old Djokovic broke a tie with Roy Emerson and moved within one of his idol, Pete Sampras, in third place. Roger Federer has won 20 and Rafael Nadal 17.
   The 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Anderson, meanwhile, fell to 0-2 in major finals, losing all six sets. Of course, he has had the misfortune of facing Nadal in last year's U.S. Open and Djokovic.
   Anderson has played several times in Northern California, but Djokovic never has. Anderson won the 2006 NCAA doubles title at Stanford and reached the singles final of a $15,000 Futures tournament in the Sacramento suburb of Loomis in 2007. In 2012, he advanced to the singles quarterfinals of the SAP Open in San Jose and played part-time for the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis. The SAP Open and Capitals folded after the 2013 season.
   Djokovic failed to reach a Grand Slam semifinal last year after advancing to three major finals in 2016 (also winning the Australian Open). He fired his longtime coach (Marian Vajda), fitness specialist and physiotherapist in April 2017, and rumors swirled that he was having marital troubles. Djokovic and his wife Jelena, who were high school sweethearts in Serbia, also have a 1-year-old daughter, Tara.
   ESPN analyst John McEnroe last year went so far as to compare Djokovic to Tiger Woods. Replied Djokovic: "He has the right to say the things he wants to say. I don't necessarily need to agree with that."
   At Wimbledon in 2017, Djokovic retired from his quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych with an elbow injury that he said had been bothering him for a year and a half. Djokovic sat out the rest of the season and returned for the Australian Open in January. After losing to South Korea's Hyeon Chung, then 21, in three close sets in the fourth round at Melbourne, Djokovic underwent surgery and missed six more weeks.
   Djokovic changed his service motion to reduce stress on his elbow, switched rackets and brought back Vajda. Djokovic failed to win a match at Indian Wells and Miami in his first two tournaments back but reached the semifinals of the Italian Open, losing to Nadal, and quarterfinals of the French Open, falling to unheralded Italian Marco Cecchinato.
   After the loss in Paris, a distraught Djokovic said he didn't know if he would play the grass-court season. But he took a wild card at Queen's Club in London and held a match point against Marin Cilic in the final before losing. 
   "After everything I've been through the last couple of years -- the injury; the moments of doubt and disappointment and frustration; not playing at (my accustomed) level; getting out of top 20; and having surgery -- I must admit there were several times when I thought I might not be able to get back to (this) level," Djokovic, who rose from No. 21 to No. 10 with the title, told Rinaldi. "I changed the racket and several different things -- I had to (revamp) the entire game -- and here I am today.
   "It's easy to talk now, but I'm truly grateful to God and to all the people that have been close to me -- my family, my friends, my team. It's been a roller coaster ride the last two years, but there's no better place to make a comeback."
   Djokovic's resurgence isn't surprising. After enduring Grand Slam title droughts, Federer and Nadal combined to win six straight majors until Djokovic ended the streak today.
   Both the 12th-seeded Djokovic and the eighth-seeded Anderson survived grueling semifinals. But Anderson's took a bigger toll, even though -- unlike Djokovic -- he had Saturday to rest.
   Anderson needed 6 hours, 36 minutes to vanquish 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set on Friday in the fourth-longest match in tennis history. That followed Anderson's 2-6, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4, 13-11 win over Federer, the top seed and defending champion, that lasted a mere 4 hours, 14 minutes on Wednesday. Anderson saved a match point in the third set.
   Djokovic's 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8 semifinal victory over Nadal in 5 hours, 15 minutes was suspended by curfew after three sets on Friday because of the length of the Anderson-Isner battle.
   In all, Anderson spent 21 hours on the court in six matches before the final.
   "I'm definitely not feeling as fresh now as I was coming into the week, but it's such an amazing tournament for all of us players," the 32-year-old South African, who committed 32 errors in the final to Djokovic's 13, told the BBC. "We dedicate our whole lives to trying to fight for a spot on this court. Over the last while, it's only been a few individuals who have made it out here, so that's what it took for me to get here. I would have given another 21 hours to have the opportunity to play out here. It really meant a lot to me."

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