Novak Djokovic has never been afraid to speak out his ambitions for the world to hear. That was true when he was a novice on the tour and to many his self-confidence was misplaced, and it has maintained deep into his 30s as he has chased down the singular goal of becoming the greatest player of his time, making no secret of what he thought he could achieve.
Over the past 13 and a half years since his marathon began with his first major title, so much of what Djokovic has meticulously planned for has and continues to be realised. On Sunday, he took one of the biggest steps of his career, recovering from a set down against a valiant Matteo Berrettini to win 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 and clinch his men’s record-equalling 20th grand slam title.
With his latest victory, Djokovic has now won the first three grand slam titles of this year and is one title away from completing the grand slam. Above all Djokovic has finally caught up with his great rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, rising to join them on a three-way tie of 20 grand slam titles. But Djokovic has risen to 20 with a bullet and he does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
This final also provided history in a different sense as Marija Cicak, a well-liked and consistent umpire from Croatia, became the first female umpire to take charge of a Wimbledon men’s singles final. Despite being only the sixth woman to umpire a men’s singles grand slam final overall, she is the third in the last five grand slam tournaments.
Throughout recent grass seasons, Berrettini’s marriage of devastating serving, his overwhelming, heavy forehand and delicate backhand slice had yielded 23 wins in his prior 25 matches including a run of 11 consecutive wins but a defining facet of Djokovic’s dominance is that while he has no weakness and his opponents have no safer part of the court to aim at, there is nobody better at finding an opponent’s weaker stroke.
Despite issues with his second serve, Djokovic established a 5-2 lead in the opening set as he harassed Berrettini’s backhand. But the Italian slowly found his way into the match, saving a set point, hammering forehands and disrupting Djokovic with his backhand slice. After rallying to reach a tiebreak, Berrettini closed the set out with a 138 mph ace down the middle.
While it was a supreme recovery from the Italian, maintaining his high level was another task altogether. He immediately struggled as Djokovic consolidated two breaks for a 4-0 lead in the second set, the world No 1 making small positive adjustments while Berrettini’s level fell off.
Although the Italian recovered his level by the end, Djokovic held firm. Djokovic took an early break in the third set after a loose service game from Berrettini, and then held on to take a two sets to one lead. But Berrettini kept on toiling, holding serve early in the fourth set before making his move at 3-2. He led 0-30 and then at 15-30 he buried a forehand in the corner, only for Djokovic to recover with a sublime defensive point.
He then flitted through four games in a row to win his 20th grand slam title. With this victory, Djokovic now owns six Wimbledon titles plus one runner-up appearance over the past 10 editions, a distinction that was unthinkable early in his career on the grass when it was his worst surface. But he had always viewed Wimbledon as the ultimate goal and, as in so much of his career, he simply did everything he could do in service of winning it.
As Djokovic held his trophy tightly, he reflected on that journey in order to ensure that he did not take the success for granted: “Seven-year-old boy in Serbia constructing a Wimbledon trophy from improvised materials I could find in my room,” he said. “And today standing with a sixth Wimbledon, it’s incredible. Amazing. “
A decade ago, as Djokovic rounded into the 2011 season that would define the trajectory of his career, he owned just one grand slam title while Federer held 16. The idea that any active player aside from Nadal was capable of rising to match that count was illogical to most. The manner in which he unapologetically asserted himself into the conversation, battling both of them en route to the majority of his titles, is an astounding achievement.
“It means none of us three will stop,” said Djokovic. “I think that’s what [No 20] means. I have to pay a great tribute to Rafa and Roger. They are legends of our sport and they are the two most important players that I ever faced in my career. They are the reason that I am where I am today.”
Once the brief celebrations are conducted, Djokovic will turn to the Olympics, which he says he is still undecided on competing at, then the pressure of the grand slam awaits at the US Open. Djokovic is 34 now, the second oldest Wimbledon champion in history, and yet there is so much more that he would like to achieve. Still, this is a moment. He should take his time to reflect on how far he has come and the greatness that he has managed to achieve, the type of which may never be seen again.