by Randy Walker
Novak Djokovic quieted critics and made a triumph return to the elite of professional tennis by winning his fourth Wimbledon title Sunday with a slightly dramatic 6-2, 6-2, 7-6(3) win over the mostly listless and exhausted Kevin Anderson of South Africa.
Djokovic’s 13th major title comes two years after his last major title – his historic win at the 2016 French Open which culminated him becoming only the third man in the history of tennis to hold all four majors simultaneously, joining Grand Slam winners Rod Laver and Don Budge.
However, since his triumph in Paris, Djokovic experienced a dramatic fall from the top, perhaps an expected human experience of needing of an exhale after years of pressure and drive to succeed and realize his goal of winning the French Open and win all four major titles.
“Then life came at him,” said Tom Rinaldi of ESPN of Djokovic’s fall from his pinnacle following the 2016 French Open.
“There were admitted challenges in his family life,” said Rinaldi of Djokovic. Also affecting him were injuries, a loss of motivation, a mix-up in his coaching team, separating himself with his coaches Boris Becker and Marian Vajda, an experiment with Andre Agassi as his coach and motivator.
“There were moment where I was doubtful of my return,” said Djokovic to ESPN.
His fall from the top reminded some observers of Mats Wilander of Sweden, who suddenly dropped off the top of the men’s game after he finally won the U.S. Open in 1988 to achieve the world No. 1 ranking and conclude his year by winning three of the four major singles titles.
While Djokovic was always seen as the player who would never give up and grind out amazing victories, like being match point down twice to Roger Federer at the U.S. Open, or in five hours, 53 minutes in the 2012 Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal, he then seemingly gave up competing in some matches, like against Dominic Theim in the quarterfinals of the 2017 French Open as the defending champion falling meekly 7-6, 6-3, 6-0, while also losing matches that he, as an all-time great, should not lose, such as to wild card Denis Istomin in the second round of the 2017 Australian Open and, most recently to Marco Cecchinato in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros last month. It was after that loss to Cecchinato that Djokovic even questioned if he had the will to even play at Wimbledon.
“I don’t know if I’m going to play on grass,” he said to reporters after the loss. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I just came from the court. Sorry, guys, I can’t give you that answer. I cannot give you any answer.”
Djokovic found form in reaching the final of the pre-Wimbledon warm-up event at Queens, losing to Marin Cilic after having a match point. He quietly and deliberately reached the semifinals at the All England Club where he performed a master-class return to form in his 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 10-8. win over world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, played under the Wimbledon roof – and lights – due to the length of the titanic 26-24 fifth-set marathon between Anderson and John Isner in the first semifinal.
His win over Anderson was not in doubt until the latter stages of the third set. After winning the first two sets handily – Anderson having his serve broken in the opening game on a double-fault on break point – Djokovic had to endure five set points from Anderson before prevailing by closing out the third-set in a tiebreaker.
Djokovic, ranked No. 21, becomes the lowest ranked men’s champion at Wimbledon behind Goran Ivanisevic, who won the 2001 title with a ranking of No. 125. He also breaks the stranglehold that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have had on Grand Slam tennis, becoming the first player other than the Swiss and the Spaniard to win a men’s major since Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 US Open.
“Man, I went through some difficult moments,” Djokovic said to Rinaldi following the final of his long road back. “We all have ups and downs…Let life arrange things around you….This is a great confirmation that I am on the good road.”