Belfast Telegraph

Wimbledon: Super Novak shoots right to top

By Steven Beacom

Novak Djokovic was standing in the middle of Centre Court, hugging the Wimbledon trophy, looking almost bewildered by what had just gone before.

His dream had come true. Ever since he watched the tournament on television as a child in war-torn Serbia, he wanted this.

After starting to play as a four year-old, he left home at 12 to train at a German tennis academy to realise his ambition.

Now the moment had arrived and he seemed perplexed by it all. After achieving the goal you have worked hard for all your life, I guess it takes a little while to sink in.

As family, friends and a large entourage celebrated wildly, Djokovic, who becomes the new world number one today, kissed his prize.

Next he looked to the heavens — fitting because he played tennis from the gods yesterday to beat defending champion Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-1 1-6 6-3.

Then bizarrely he ate the grass. “I felt like an animal. It came spontaneously. I didn't plan to do it. I didn't know what to do for my excitement and joy. The grass tasted quite well. It was well kept,” he later explained, unable to keep a straight face.

After the customary lap of honour he was gone, off to receive hugs from proud mum, dad, younger brothers, girlfriend and his coaches and to “rewind back to my childhood and remember what we'd gone through to reach this stage.”

That's when the dream started to become a little bit more real.

As the Djokovic clan celebrated in the locker room, outside there was appreciation of a truly fantastic performance, but with a tinge of disappointment too.

The 15,000 on Centre Centre, the 6,000 on Henman Hill and the millions watching on television around the world had hoped to be in the middle of a five set classic two-and-a-half hours into the match between the best players on the planet.

Instead it was over.

The contest was supposed to be more mouthwatering than Wimbledon's strawberries and cream, but it was not the breathtaking affair we had anticipated. You need both players at their peak at the same time for that and it never happened.

The 24-year-old Serbian, in the form of his life, did to Nadal what the Spaniard has done to everyone else in the world for several years. He battered him into submission.

Mentally and physically he proved stronger.

For most of the match he dominated the longer exchanges, winning rallies he had no right to because of his incredible speed around the court. No cheap points for Rafa here.

The left hander had plenty to think about, not least their four previous meetings this year, all of which Djokovic won.

Those victories gave the Australian Open champion huge self belief entering the final and it was there for all to see when at 5-4 up and 30-0 down on Nadal's serve in the first set, he upped the ante. His piercing ground shots were even quicker and deeper than before forcing Nadal into uncharacteristic errors, the definitive one coming at set point when his forehand went wide.

Cue lots of fist pumping from the Serb followed by more of the same from his supporters in the players box.

He was on a roll and had an aura of invincibility about him as he ripped through the second set, serving brilliantly, breaking twice and playing sublime tennis. He won 6-1 and there was a genuine belief — and fear — amongst the crowd, most cheering for Nadal, that it was already game, set and match.

Nadal was dazed. He had not lost in 20 matches at Wimbledon, yet here he was being thumped.

Lesser beings would have wilted and surrendered. Not the man from Majorca. He lifted his spirits and his game and with Djokovic losing focus, Nadal took advantage.

Suddenly his feared forehand began to work. Winners were going down the line and cross-court and to the joy of his adoring public, he broke the previously impenetrable Djokovic serve, not once, but twice to claim set number three in emphatic style — 6-1.

The comeback was on. Djokovic though, despite a shaky first service game in the fourth, held on. That was vital because Nadal's momentum was stopped in its tracks. Although they broke each other once in the games that followed, one sensed that the Serbian's strength of mind had returned while his opponent's wavered.

The Nadal forehand fell apart gifting Djokovic a break to lead 5-3 and when serving for the title he was confident and clinical.

When match point arrived, Djokovic seized his chance with more powerful hitting as Nadal's final shot of the tournament drifted out. The trophy was won. The dream had come true. Djokovic was the champion. And a worthy one at that.

Belfast Telegraph


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