IT isn’t the worst statistic for Andy Murray to have in his armoury. The Scot is still the only man ever to have defeated Novak Djokovic in a Wimbledon final. Perhaps Roger Federer has sought out the footage of that sun-kissed day in 2013 these last 24 hours. Because having re-written the ending to his famous 2008 final with Rafa Nadal on Friday night, now the Swiss legend must set about re-righting the wrongs of 2014 and 2015.
Twice in back-to-back years here, the Swiss great found himself outgunned by his Serbian rival in the SW19 showpiece, a five-setter in 2014 then over four tight sets 12 months later.
The Federer-Djokovic rivalry has occurred 48 times in all, the Serb holding a slender 25-22 lead to date, with a record 16 of them in the Grand Slams. But such have been the ebbs and flows in the latter stages of both men’s careers that it is startling to note that they have met just twice since January 2016 and haven’t met at all since the indoor courts of Paris Masters last year, where Djokovic nicked it in a deciding-set tie-breaker.
Federer put himself through light practice yesterday following the euphoria of Friday night but were he to back that stirring victory up by dethroning Djokovic, he would be entitled to regard it as his crowning glory. Only one man has ever beaten both Nadal and Djokovic at the same Grand Slam – Federer’s countryman Stan Wawrinka way back at the 2014 Australian Open.
“It’s the same as going into a Rafa match,” said the Swiss. “I think the moment you’ve played somebody probably more than 15 times, you know, especially in recent years also a few times, there’s not that much more left out there. Especially you know where the players go when it really matters, how much can you still surprise somebody.
“At the end of the day it comes very much down to who’s better on the day, who’s in a better mental place, who’s got more energy left, who’s tougher when it really comes to the crunch. In tennis, there’s always somebody who’s going to be a little bit better because there’s no draws in our sport. It’s quite brutal sometimes.
“We’ve played each other so, so much. I don’t mind that, it’s more of a clear game plan. Especially we had a great match against each other in Paris quite recently. I hope we can back it up from there.”
Already the oldest man to win a major title, two years have elapsed since Federer last won a Grand Slam here. His opponent Marin Cilic that day complained of blisters and was unable to put up much of a battle, but the opposite is sure to be the case today. “I don’t think there’s much I need to do in terms of practice,” said Federer, who perhaps tellingly pinpointed Djokovic’s ability to defend on his backhand side. “This is like a school: the day of the test you’re not going to read, I don’t know, how many books that day. You don’t have the time anyhow.
“It’s quite clear the work was done way before,” he added. “That’s why I was able to produce a good result today. It’s been a rock-solid year, won in Halle. Stars are aligned right now. From that standpoint I can go into that match very confident.
“If I think of Novak, one thing that jumps out at me, is his jump back and to the left. He’s able to defend on that side, which has won him numerous matches and trophies. Nobody else really has it as consistent and good as he has, if you want to talk about Novak and one shot really.”
“We all know how good he is anywhere, but especially here,” says Djokovic, who won a 45-shot rally in his semi-final here which was the longest in the recorded history of this tournament. “This surface complements his game very much. He loves to play very fast. Takes away the time from his opponent. Just doesn’t give you any same looks. He just rushes you to everything. So for players maybe like Nadal or myself that like to have a little more time, it’s a constant pressure that you have to deal with.”