Wimbledon: Federer entering last chance saloon as Djokovic bids to become greatest of all

By Sports Desk June 27, 2021

Novak Djokovic spent the week before Wimbledon enjoying a challenge for a most unlikely title in Mallorca.

The Serbian reached his first men's doubles final for 11 years when he and Carlos Gomez-Herrera knocked out the third seeds on Thursday. Were it not for an injury to the Spaniard forcing them to withdraw, you would not have put it past Djokovic, a man with 83 singles titles, to have lifted what would have been just a second doubles trophy in his career.

"I don't think we expected to reach the finals," Djokovic admitted after an unexpected, liberating week. "Everything clicked quite amazingly."

That Djokovic could prepare to defend his Wimbledon title by experimenting in the doubles in the Spanish sun should serve as a warning to the rest of the draw. He has not played a Tour-level singles match since that exhausting, extraordinary win at the French Open where he inflicted on Rafael Nadal just the third Roland Garros defeat of his career before recovering from two sets down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. That treacherous transition from clay to grass is no problem at all, such is Djokovic's belief in his own powers.

And why not? He has been close to untouchable in 2021: 27 wins and as many titles as defeats, his three trophy wins including the first two grand slams of the year. He has 19 now, just one behind all-time record holders Nadal – who withdrew from Wimbledon and the Olympics after a gruelling clay season – and Roger Federer, who has played only eight matches since the 2020 Australian Open following two knee operations. Djokovic has won four of the past six championships at SW19 and is bidding to become the first man to win three in a row since Federer managed four from 2004 to 2007.

For Federer, 2021 has been about building for these next two months, for another fortnight in London and a final shot at Olympic singles gold. He pulled out of Roland Garros after a draining four-set win over Dominik Koepfer to preserve his body for the grass season, but his bid for an 11th title in Halle ended in a dispiriting second-round loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime.

 

Federer would not admit it publicly, nor perhaps even to himself, but Wimbledon 2021 represents his best remaining chance at winning a major, not least with Nadal and fourth seed Dominic Thiem having pulled out. He should have taken the title the last time the event was played two years ago, when Djokovic survived two match points to win the longest final in history in four hours and 57 minutes. Now 39, having to pick and choose his matches to prolong his career, that unpalatable moment when Federer puts down his racquet for good is starting to loom large on the horizon.

It leaves things beautifully poised at the top of the men's game. Djokovic has always been hindered in conversations around the 'big three'. The 34-year-old has never won the hearts of the wider tennis public in quite the same way as Roger and Rafa, in spite of his best – and occasionally misguided – efforts.

Yet the fact remains we are entering a critical point in this particular GOAT debate. Djokovic leads the head-to-head record against Federer (27-23) and Nadal (30-28). He is the only man in the Open Era to win all four grand slams twice. Nobody has won more Masters 1000 titles (36, level with Nadal), and nobody else has won all nine of those events. He has been world number one for 326 weeks – also a record. And all of his major titles bar one have come in the past 10 years, a time in which Nadal has won 11 and Federer four. This has truly been his decade – at least, if you ignore the doubles.

Should Djokovic win a sixth Wimbledon title, and should he follow that with major number 21 at the US Open, there will be little objective reason not to crown him the greatest men's player ever to play the sport. He knows that.

Perhaps Federer does, too. The lingering regret of losing three finals here to Djokovic, the lure of lifting this trophy for a ninth time, the prospect of halting the Serbian's conquest of the game –perhaps that will inspire the Swiss to what would surely be the greatest triumph of his career. Perhaps, just once more, everything will click.

Related items

  • Rafael Nadal eases past Flavio Cobolli on return to action in Barcelona Rafael Nadal eases past Flavio Cobolli on return to action in Barcelona

    Rafael Nadal made a triumphant return to the match court with victory over Flavio Cobolli in the first round of the Barcelona Open.

    The 37-year-old was playing just his second tournament in 15 months after suffering another injury problem in his hip muscle at his comeback event in Brisbane in January.

    Nadal only committed to playing at the tournament he has won 12 times on Monday but there was not much rust on display as he eased to a 6-2 6-3 victory over 21-year-old Italian Cobolli in his first match on clay since he won his 14th French Open title in 2022.

    Nadal received a hero’s welcome as he strode out onto the court that bears his name and, although there were a few loose forehands in the early stages, the former world number one was too solid for Cobolli.

    Cobolli understandably looked nervous and contributed to the scoreline with far too many errors, but a big factor in that was the pressure being exerted from the other end of the court.

    A blip came when Nadal, who is set to retire at some point this season, played a poor game to drop serve for the first time in the third game of the second set but he had already broken Cobolli and quickly restored his advantage.

    There were some vintage forehands from Nadal in the final stages and he clinched victory when Cobolli netted a final backhand, thrusting his fist into the air.

    The home favourite faces a real test next, though, when he takes on in-form fourth seed Alex De Minaur.

    Meanwhile, second seed Andrey Rublev destroyed his racket at the end of a 6-4 7-6 (6) defeat by Brandon Nakashima that continued his poor run of form.

  • Andy Murray will not have surgery on ankle injury but return date unknown Andy Murray will not have surgery on ankle injury but return date unknown

    Andy Murray will not have surgery on an ankle injury and his rehabilitation is progressing enough for him to think about a return to practice again soon.

    The 36-year-old ruptured ligaments at last month’s Miami Open but he is now out of his protective boot.

    A spokesperson from Murray’s team said the former world number one’s “rehab is going well and he is hoping to start hitting again on court soon” but added that “he doesn’t have a date yet for returning to competition”.

    Murray was injured late on in his third-round defeat by Tomas Machac at the Miami Open on March 24.

     

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Andy Murray (@andymurray)

     

    After crying out in pain and falling to the floor, he was able to complete the match following on-court treatment but revealed in an Instagram post that he had seriously damaged two ligaments in his left ankle.

    The timing was cruel for the three-time grand slam champion, who had won back-to-back matches for the first time this year in Miami.

    Murray has said he is unlikely to play beyond this summer as retirement looms ever nearer.

    It is unclear if he will be fit for Wimbledon, which gets under way on July 1, while the Olympic Games in Paris – which the two-time gold medallist said he would like to play at – starts on July 26.

  • Dan Evans’ poor clay-court season continues with defeat to Brandon Nakashima Dan Evans’ poor clay-court season continues with defeat to Brandon Nakashima

    Dan Evans’ poor clay-court season continued with a third consecutive defeat as he went down in straight sets to Brandon Nakashima in Barcelona.

    Evans has endured a difficult 2024 as a whole, suffering a first-round exit at the Australian Open, and has now failed to make the quarter-finals in any of his nine tournaments this year.

    After early exits on clay in Marrakesh and Monte Carlo, British number three Evans lost 6-7 (5) 2-6 to Nakashima in the Barcelona Open first round.

    The contest lasted two hours and 10 minutes but after a closely-fought first set, where the pair exchanged two breaks each, American youngster Nakashima took control in the second to inflict another loss on world number 49 Evans.

    Jack Draper fared better in Munich as he beat Vit Kopriva in three sets to reach the last 16 of the BMW Open and claim his 50th ATP Tour victory in the process.

    Draper had lost narrowly to Hubert Hurkacz at the Monte-Carlo Masters last week, but bounced back to claim his first win of the season on clay.

     

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by LTA (@lta)

     

    Sixth seed Draper breezed through the opening set in 28 minutes before he let a 3-1 lead slip in the second as Kopriva of the Czech Republic forced a decider after he decisively broke his opponent in the 12th game of the set.

    After the British number two rediscovered his composure, Draper was able to claim two breaks at the start of the third set before he registered another in a 6-1 5-7 6-4 success.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.