As Novak Djokovic returned to the lawns of Wimbledon to begin a new campaign two weeks ago, he navigated the grounds with an extra bit of pressure on his shoulders. He was deported before the first grand slam tournament of the year, then he was outplayed in the second. It is still not certain where he will be allowed to play next. On the court, he was still toiling to regain the mental edge that has evaded him this year.
It has evidently returned. In one of the most keenly awaited grand slam finals for neutrals, Djokovic absorbed a faultless start from Nick Kyrgios before raising his own level and gradually smothering his opponent as he so often does, recovering from a set down to defeat Kyrgios 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3) and win his fourth consecutive Wimbledon title.
Wimbledon is his second most successful grand slam, yet Djokovic has now won a startling seven singles titles, equalling Pete Sampras’ count. He is joint second on the men’s all-time list behind Roger Federer, who has eight titles, and has broken the men’s second-place tie of 20 grand slam tournament wins with Federer, moving up to 21 and within one win of Rafael Nadal in the grand slam race that never ends.
Djokovic is also the fourth man in history, after Bjorn Borg, Sampras and Federer, to win four consecutive Wimbledon titles. “He is a bit of a god,” said Kyrgios. “I am not going to lie, I thought I played well.”
Throughout his career, Kyrgios has built a name for himself as a big match player who rises against the best, yet it was not clear if he would be as fearless with so much on the line. He absolutely was. Throughout a nerveless first set, Kyrgios served extremely well, he weaved his web of variety and even out-rallied Djokovic from the backhand corner. Djokovic, one of the best returners of all time, struggled badly to read the Australian’s serve and the set was decided on a poor service game as Djokovic double-faulted on break point.
But the champion kept his focus and gradually turned the match around. First he began to grind Kyrgios down in the longer exchanges, then he read Kyrgios’s serve more fluently. He played an unbelievable return game at 2-1, breaking Kyrgios’s serve to love after four otherworldly first serve returns. Under sustained pressure, as he served out the set at 5-3, Djokovic recovered from 0-40 and saved four break points, the last with a delicious drop shot, to hold.
Early in the match, Kyrgios effectively suppressed his temper, but as the third set unfolded his mood slowly unravelled. The challenger constantly ranted toward his box, then after a fan called out during his service he received an audible obscenity code violation during his argument with the umpire. Meanwhile, a ‘Where Is Peng Shuai?’ protestor was accosted by security.
As the chaos unfolded across the net, Djokovic remained composed and his level gradually rose to the stratosphere. He played incredibly throughout the third set, committing just two unforced errors to 14 winners. He had to be patient in the fourth set as Kyrgios served extremely well, but one of the many problems for his opponents these days is that he can serve just as efficiently as they can. As the tiebreak commenced, Djokovic soared as Kyrgios fell away. After a short interlude earlier this year, he resumed his pursuit of history.
Despite Kyrgios aiming criticism and insults at Djokovic in the past, the pair had curiously spent the night before their grand slam final publicly communicating with each other through Instagram stories, which ended with Kyrgios inviting Djokovic out for a drink. Their newfound congeniality continued afterwards as they lavished praise on each other during the trophy ceremony. “I never thought I would say many nice things about you considering the relationship,” said Djokovic. “Okay, officially it is a bromance.”
After hearing so many people suggest that he has the potential to achieve great things in the sport, Kyrgios finally tapped into some of his potential this week. Asked by Sue Barker, on her final day as the BBC’s Wimbledon broadcaster, if this result made him hungry to return, Kyrgios vigorously shook his head: “Absolutely not,” he said, as the crowd laughed. “I am so tired, honestly. Myself, my team we are so exhausted, we have played so much tennis. I definitely need a well-earned vacation after this one.”
After his holiday, Kyrgios must answer to far more serious matters. He has been summonsed to appear in court on 2 August in Canberra for a charge of assault against his ex-girlfriend, Chiara Passari, news that was revealed after his fourth round match earlier in the week.
With his presence at the US Open still uncertain due to his unvaccinated status, Djokovic’s future movements are less clear. But for now the focus is on another remarkable success. Unlike Sampras and Federer, whose grass court company he now keeps, Djokovic’s game style was not quite built for grass. But when he was a child, Wimbledon was the tournament he most wanted to win.
The way the Serbian has adapted his game to thrive on this surface over the years is one of the great successes in this sport. He is now unbeaten on Centre Court since 2013, across 39 matches. He is increasingly rare company with his achievements on this surface and, most of all, he is not finished.