Novak Djokovic lay on his back on Centre Court, savouring a thought. As a seven-year-old, he used discarded metal and silvery tinplate to put together his version of the Gentleman’s Singles Trophy. Almost three decades later, having clinched his sixth Wimbledon crown, which gave him a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title, he had claimed his place at the summit of the sport.
The world No. 1 quelled the challenge of the crowd favourite Matteo Berrettini to come through 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in three hours and 24 minutes.
When asked what it means to win a 20th Grand Slam title that helped him draw level with his greatest rivals, Djokovic paid rich tribute to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. “It means none of us will stop playing. Rafa and Roger are the two most important players in my career and the reason why I’m the player I am today. They made me realise what I needed to improve, mentally, physically and tactically.”
Djokovic triumphs at Wimbledon to claim 20th Grand Slam title
“When I first broke into the Top-10, I lost most of the big matches against these guys. Something shifted at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011,” he said, adding, “The past 10 years have been an incredible journey and it’s not stopping here.”
Berrettini, whose left thigh was heavily strapped, sent down 16 aces and 57 winners in the final. It was the 48 unforced errors, 28 of which came on the forehand side, that cost him dearly.
“This is not the end, just the beginning of a great career hopefully,” the 25-year-old said. “It has been a great two weeks for me at Wimbledon, also at Queen’s. I couldn’t ask for more. Maybe just a little more.”
Djokovic, who returned everything, no matter how the Italian played it, jumped to a 5-2 in the opening set. But Berrettini stood his ground in the 12-minute eighth game that appeared to turn the tide in the younger man’s favour. Berrettini, 6 ft 5”, and armed with bruising power, then stamped out the tiebreak.
The top seed hit right back, going up 4-0 in the second set, but lost two games in succession before levelling set scores. The Serb then took a bathroom break and returned to the court in fresh gear.
Djokovic went up an early break in the third set and though Berrettini had two chances to break back in the sixth game, the 34-year-old was resolute. The champion, taking on his opponent and the crowd, then took the crucial two-sets-to-one lead after holding in the tenth game.
It was a subdued Djokovic in the early part of Sunday’s title clash. With the crowd overwhelmingly behind the Italian, the Serb locked into the contest. He wasn’t at his best, save for in patches, and his former coach Boris Becker, in the commentary box, urged him to exhale. “This, wanting to please everybody, is holding him back,” Becker said.
As if on cue, the top seed turned to the crowd in the sixth game of the fourth set. After digging himself out of a hole at 15-40 to hold, he told the fans to bring it on. Djokovic went ahead in the seventh game when the Italian, who was clearly tiring, double-faulted at 30-40. The 34-year-old then backed up the break before cracking the Berrettini delivery on his third Championship point.