Classic men’s Wimbledon final in store

Roger Federer seeking his eighth title against top seed Novak Djokovic

By Johnny Watterson

Neither being a father nor Father Time had any say on Centre Court. Roger Federer, one step closer to becoming the first man in history to win eight Wimbledon titles, joined Novak Djkovic in Sunday's final, where the two will meet for the first time.

Federer has played and beaten Mark Philippoussis, Andy Roddick, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray here but never the 27-year-old Serb, who has won once in 2011 against Nadal.

The two struggled to varying degrees against a new order trying to force their way into the top four players who have been largely sharing Grand Slams for the last number of years. But both Grigor Dimitrov, who fell to Djokovic in four sets and Milos Raonic, who couldn't unruffle Roger even with his arsenal of serves that gave him 147 aces coming into the semifinal.


Watched by Brian O’Driscoll in the Royal Box, a rugby player who knows only too well how the years can persecute a body, Federer made it look so efficiently straight forward against the Canadian in a timeless demonstration of returning servefor 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

In contrast the seasoned but remarkably limber Djokovic found himself howling at a clear blue sky on several occasions with Dimitrov forcing two of the sets to tiebreaks and in the deciding fourth set had three break points to send it to a fifth. Opportunity begged. He missed it and left the tournament frustrated but convinced he belongs.

Djokovic was switched on to Dimitrov and with that intelligent passive aggressive style of his kept errors down as Dimitrov’s unforced misses were an early feature. In the end they would tell against him.

Skipping around with almost excessive energy, falling, jumping up and falling again, the Bulgarian 23-year-old must have had the ground staff swooning as their grass and dry soil gave way under his churning feet and he tumbled around the court dropping the first set 6-4.

But it only made for extra drama and the crowd were with the younger player. Dimitrov, hitting more winners but missing more, found his distance in the second set, worked an opening and turned it for 3-6. The tiebreaks are where he failed. Clutch moments, especially in the fourth set, belonged to Djokovic and with it the match 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(7).

“Of course I’m frustrated,” said Dimitrov. “I mean, I came out on the court to win. Okay, I think I had a pretty slow start, but at some point I think I got my act together and I was really playing a good tennis.

“You never know what would have happened if I had taken that fourth set. I think at the same time I had my momentum. It’s just he came on top today. All the credit to him.”

While Federer’s poise and focus was returning the serve with Raonic’s ace count down from an average of 24 a match to 17 yesterday, his own delivery was as pristine as it has ever been.

Federer has dropped serve only once, although that close to perfect run has been questioned as he hasn’t had to face a crisis yet. But not by him. Body and game are in mint condition for a tilt at an 18th Grand Slam.

The Swiss champion had never lost a semi final here in eight previous matches and is now the oldest Grand Slam finalist since Andre Agassi played in the US Open as a 35-year-old. Ken Rosewall eclipses them as the oldest an to reach a Wimbledon final, when he played in 1974 aged 39 years 246 days.

Djokovic, though, was what he could from Dimitrov to stop Federer’s twilight run.

“Even though I dropped a set from being 3-1 up I managed to bounce back and recover and win the next two. I was three set points down in the last tiebreaker but managed to win it,” he said.

“These are particular moments of the match that I look into. Of course, I will analyze what I did wrong but I will try to take more from positives.”

Federer has ghosted through while Djokovic has wobbled and straightened himself. But he has spent three and a half hours longer on court and maybe battle hardened or war weary. Federer knows there is no safe place to play against his well rounded opponent but as ever looks to himself.

“My game is back to where I hoped it would be,” said Federer. “I worked hard to get back into shape and back into contention.

“My confidence is always up and down but it’s important to reach a level where you trust yourself in the big moments or in five sets. One match left and I have a lot of energy in the tank. That’s how I want to feel, energised and eager to play. The semi was a perfect result for me.”


Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times