Before anything, I want to go on record and say that the second-set tie-breaker of the 2015 Wimbledon men’s final between Djokovic and Federer was perhaps the best sixteen minutes of tennis I’ve ever watched. If you don’t believe me, drop everything you’re doing right now and watch the YouTube highlights kindly provided by Wimbledon itself.
Here are a few conclusions that I’ve personally drawn after watching that clip about fifty-seven times:
- Anyone who shouted out ‘go Roger’ or ‘come on Novak’ before their serves needs to think about what they were really doing. You’re not contributing anything to their game. In fact, ten pounds says that Novak and Roger are actually thinking, ‘please, can I just serve without you reminding me what my name is’.
- Why do players still have to wear white? Why isn’t there more discussion about this? I admit that the white and green aesthetic is refreshing, but surely requiring players to wear all white for every game should draw at least some debate on what tradition means and which traditions are worth keeping.
- Roger Federer’s Nike headband has to be the second most iconic sport accessories in human history, right before Allen Iverson’s shooting sleeve, and close behind Wayne Rooney’s unfortunate scalp.
- I’m 99.9% sure that Roger Federer is as close to a tennis artist as we’ll ever see. The man doesn’t just hit winning shots – he hits them with such breath-taking elegance that it made me think that this must be what it was like to watch Mozart play the piano or to observe Gordon Ramsay cook a Beef Wellington. At almost 34, Federer still plays with a degree of grace that is unmatched and more importantly is still as competitive as anyone out there on tour right now. Djokovic sprinted out to a 6-3 lead, before Federer fought back to tie it; then each time that he was down, Federer struck back with a ferocious forehand or an unfairly accurate volley. And this was against the number-one ranked player in the world at the peak of his powers.
- Speaking of said number-one ranked player, Djokovic is no chump either. The man is clearly very, very good at tennis. Whilst Federer was dazzling folks with his gracious swings and delightful runs to the net, Djokovic remained as composed as ever, hitting each shot with an unparalleled level of control. If Federer’s approach is artistic, then Djokovic’s approach is scientific – every angle is calculated, and nothing is left unexploited. Oh, you’re standing ten centimetres too far to the right? Here, try to return this forehand, I dare you. Yes, he did lose the tie-breaker and consequently the set, but Djokovic nonetheless demonstrated why many consider him to be the best player in the world today.
Ultimately, the final was decided by the contrast in styles – Djokovic’s consistency proved to be too much for Federer’s flare. After shouting at himself and angrily chewing some gluten-free protein bars, Djokovic proceeded to casually win 94% of his first-serve points and committed only two unforced errors in the third set. It wasn’t just impressive, it was downright outrageous. How in the world do you play against that kind of consistent quality?
Djokovic may never be as loved as Federer from a fan’s perspective. As it stands right now, Federer has an edge on Djokovic in terms of titles, pizzazz and fan favour – if you watched the clip, then you can’t help but notice that a lot more people were cheering for Federer than for Djokovic. And in all honesty, this is somewhat understandable – tennis, like many other sports, isn’t all about winning, and often its main appeal is the style and grace by which the player conducts himself on the court. In this regard, Federer exists to be admired, whereas Djokovic normally plays a more villainous role. This is depicted not only through his controlled but vicious playing style, but also through his rather aggressive antics during the game, which typically included ripping a few Uniqlo shirts and hurling abuse in five different languages at himself and everyone within the five-mile radius.
However, despite the fact that there are currently two active players (Federer and Nadal) with greater lifetime achievements than he is ever likely to achieve, Djokovic is nonetheless the best player in the world right now, and Wimbledon 2015 only added to his growing legacy. He may not be as appealing an athlete as Federer nor as overwhelmingly passionate as Nadal. He may lose control of his emotions from time to time that may draw more disdain than love from the fans. But if Djokovic continues to win with his ruthless precision and unwavering competitiveness, then does any of this really matter?
The machine can catch fire, but the machine will keep running, and at this point nothing seems to be able to prevent Djokovic’s domination.