14 July 2019: The chronicle of a Wimbledon final

14 July 2019: The chronicle of a Wimbledon final

Roger Federer (left) and 2019 champion Novak Djokovic after the final. Picture credit: AFP

When Federer hit a wild forehand at 6-3 of the deciding, fifth-set tiebreak, the crowd erupted in joy. Partly because of jubilation for the winner, Novak Djokovic conquered the grass domain with much valor and courage, and partly out of disappointment. For, Wimbledon has always loved Roger Federer, and the Swiss maestro, in return, loved with ardent fervour and passion. As the setting sun caressed the Centre Court, the claps of admiration reverberated around the stadium.

Dazed minds scampered to save the match in the annals of memory, a match that will haunt the sports lovers and neutrals alike, for the centuries to come. Years later, if a historian decides to write about the crucial battles of tennis that shaped the course of the game, he or she will come across a match that happened on July 14, 2019. 

When the two titans clashed with each other. 

Roger Federer has been the undisputed king of Wimbledon. He had conquered the fort eight times in his career, showcased his artistic brilliance on the soft vibrant meadows of London. When he defeated Rafael Nadal in the semifinal of the 2019 edition, the world waited in anticipation for his return. The ruler, who sat on the throne in 2017 for the last time, before a usurper challenged his supremacy and heralded a new era. Two years later, he was on the cusp of glory as he had been for so many times in his career. But this time, the same usurper stood on the opposite side of the court, ready to assert his domination once again. 

The unstoppable force of Roger Federer met with the immovable grit of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the defending champion. An extraordinary tale was on the cards. 

As the 37-year-old Federer trudged towards the baseline to serve for the first game of the match, he looked serenely calm and composed. Adjusting his hairband and tucking the locks of hair behind his ear, he looked at Djokovic who was fidgeting a little, trying to come in terms with the pressure of a final. If the early daylight is of any indication, Federer was destined to win the first set. He was in sublime touch, gracefully covering the lengths of the court like a ballerina. Djokovic, on the other hand, was not playing his best tennis, but the mettle of a champion lies in the determination. 

Defying everyone's expectations, Novak clinched it 7-6. He outsmarted, outplayed Federer in the tie-break (7-5). Thereon, the match swayed like a pendulum, with fate blessing one side only to confound him later with treachery. Federer bounced back in the second set and ripped apart Novak 6-1. The Centre Court, the pundits, even Boris Becker at the commentary box predicted an onslaught from the Swiss maestro. 

Novak Djokovic won the third set 7-6. Once again Federer faltered in the tie break, once again Novak roared with a gutsy, spirited display as he owned the third set tiebreak 7-4. 

The signs were clear. It was going to be a battle between skill and determination. Where one player would bring out all his fine-tuned weapons from an extraordinary repertoire, the other would thwart every attack like a wall formed to protect the last line of the garrison. 

In the fourth set, the wall was breached. Federer rallied hard and like a shrewd tactician, attacked Novak's weaknesses and maneuvered the flow of the game as per his wishes. Like a sitarist in command of his strings, Federer decided to take charge of the match. He bewitched Novak to restore parity, as the scoreboard read, 

Roger Federer -      6 (5), 6, 6 (4), 6
Novak Djokovic-     7 (7), 1, 7 (7), 4
 
It was down to the fifth set, that would decide the destiny of the championship. And it turned out to be a battle of ages. 

The fifth set was on 2-1 in the advantage of Djokovic, when Federer served. He played erratic cross-court shots, that gave his opponent three break points. But Federer saved them all and stole the game. 

3-2, Federer serving to restore parity. Djokovic took a lead of 0-30, then 15-40. A breathtaking backhand earned him the lead of 4-2.  But Federer, against all odds, broke back to make it 3-4, sealing the game with a spectacular forehand winner and then held his own serve with a series of aces. 

4-4, one could hear even the ragged breathing of the two players in the silence of the court. 

The two tiring gladiators then held their serves till the scoreline reached 7-7. A moment that will be etched in history for the undying courage of one player and the inability to close the match by another. 

At 7-7, Djokovic served. He stuttered, and Federer opened up a break point which he converted with a cross-court winner. 

Federer would serve for the title, in a bid to become the oldest player to win a Grand Slam, surpassing Ken Rosewall, who won the Australian Open in 1972. 
He fired two aces, one of his most trusted weapons, to gain two championship points. The door to eternal glory opened for him, as he prepared to serve for the match, and the coveted Grand Slam. 

It was Federer's time to falter. Djokovic, the man who rose through the ranks to make his mark in an era dominated by two behemoths of the sport (and to have a better head to head record against both), crawled back to break Federer's serve. A feat so rare, that Boris Becker exclaimed in the commentary box, "This is news!" 

Federer vs Djokovic, fifth set, 8-8. 

In the fifth set, a tie-break can be only used when the scores reach 12-12. The aging 37-year-old Federer displayed a fitness that belied his age, while the 32-year-old Djokovic bore the hallmark of an athlete forged for these kinds of situations. Both the players clung on to their serves, refusing to give up even an inch without a fight. 

12-12, only tie-break could separate them. 

Djokovic was in his favourite territory once again. In no time, he raced to a 4-1 lead, seizing on Roger's unforced errors. The latter fought back to make in 4-3, but Novak had unlocked his regal touch. Like a predator determined to nab its prey, he bamboozled Federer to stretch his lead to 6-3. 

Federer served to stay in the match. He hurled a wide serve to the left of Novak, and the Serbian returned with a double-handed cross-court backhand. Federer rocketed his forehand wide up in the air, and with that shot, his dreams vanished. Djokovic looked at the box where his parents were exalted, and he flashed a sheepish grin. He knew this is a victory that he will cherish for the rest of his life. A victory that will further cement his place among the legends of the game. 

As he collected his fifth Wimbledon trophy for his 16th Grand Slam triumph, Federer cut a solitary, dejected figure. He tried to push back age with all his might, but time always finds a way to crawl into our secured spheres to leave its decaying impressions. 

The Centre Court cheered for Djokovic. In a battle between silken touches and steely resolve, the latter won. 

July 14, 2019, London: When the prestigious Wimbledon trophy was embraced by resolve and persistence.