Wait, there’s still one more match to play?
Following two epic and exhilirating semi-finals, with both carrying the drama of a championship clash, one match remains to decide who reigns at Wimbledon in 2018.
It has been a fortnight to remember for Kevin Anderson and Novak Djokovic. Both competitors survived thrilling, extended semi-final encounters to reach the title match at the All England Club, with the South African edging John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set and the Serbian getting the better of longtime rival Rafael Nadal 10-8 in the decider.
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While three-time champion Djokovic added yet another moment to his growing list of achievements on the prestigious Centre Court lawn, Anderson earned his first taste of drama on the hallowed ground. Just two days earlier, the big-hitting 32-year-old had earned the respect of the Wimbledon faithful with a stunning comeback victory over Roger Federer. Then, on Friday, a record-breaking performance would ensue, as he captured the longest semi-final in tournament history, at six hours and 35 minutes.
And Djokovic would claim his own moment in the spotlight. For the first time in Wimbledon history, both semi-finals progressed past 6-all in the fifth set, as the Belgrade native needed five hours and 17 minutes – and two days – to dismiss Nadal.
Mental, emotional and physical fatigue will no doubt play a factor in Sunday’s championship. But both players are well aware of what’s at stake: One match for Wimbledon glory.
“Kevin also had quite a few hours on the court in the last couple matches,” Djokovic said on Saturday. “But he had a day off, which is quite necessary at this stage. I wish I can have a day. But it is what it is. I’ll just have to accept the circumstances and try to recover as best as I can.”
“The legs are pretty jelly-like,” Anderson assessed after Friday’s win. “Ideally I’d like to get out and hit for maybe 30 minutes [on Saturday], just to try to keep the same sort of routines that we’ve been having. But I’ve never played a match this long, so it will be something. We’ll have to see how things go.”
Grand Slam Title Leaders (All-Time)
||Grand Slam Titles
When Djokovic kicked off his comeback after undergoing a procedure on his right elbow in January, few could have foreseen such a dramatic turn in fortunes. The Serbian was struggling to find his form and rhythm, as a three-match losing streak saw him fall out of the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings.
But a mere four months later, Djokovic is back. After plotting his ascent with a semi-final run at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Rome, last eight finish at Roland Garros and runner-up result at Queen’s Club, he removed all doubt with a dogged performance against Nadal to reach the Wimbledon final.
On Sunday, Djokovic will play for another slice of history as he attempts to become just the fourth player to lift the Wimbledon trophy on four or more occasions in the Open Era. Only Roger Federer (8), Pete Sampras (7) and Bjorn Borg (5) have enjoyed more success at SW19. The former World No. 1 is also targeting a 13th Grand Slam title overall, which would move him into solo fourth place on the all-time list.
Djokovic, who finds himself back on the Grand Slam final stage for the first time in nearly two years, is seeking his first trophy at any level since prevailing on the grass of Eastbourne in 2017.
The 31-year-old’s recent reunion with longtime coach Marian Vajda is already paying dividends. After registering routine wins over Tennys Sandgren and Horacio Zeballos to open the fortnight, he recorded impressive four-set victories over home hope Kyle Edmund and a surging Kei Nishikori, in addition to a three-set triumph over Karen Khachanov.
But on Sunday, Djokovic will face an equally in-form Anderson. Despite owning a 5-1 lead in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, he knows that the South African is playing the best tennis of his career.
Most Match Wins At Wimbledon (Open Era)
“Considering he’s playing only his second Grand Slam final, obviously he has a lot more to gain,” said Djokovic. “If I take my last couple years, I don’t have much to lose myself. I’m again in a Grand Slam final after a long time, after actually almost two years. Of course, we want this trophy. We want this match, both of us. Who is going to take it? I don’t know. It really depends.
“I don’t know if I’ll be the clear favourite in that one. I think we’re quite even. He’s definitely playing the tennis of his life. He’s coming off from two epic marathon five-set wins. I don’t think he has much to lose really tomorrow. He’s going to come out with big serves and big tennis. Hopefully I’ll be able to weather the storm.”
This is the first time in the Open Era that the Wimbledon men’s singles final will be contested by a pair of players aged 30 or over. Anderson has not defeated Djokovic since claiming their first meeting at the 2008 Miami Open presented by Itau. The Serbian has since prevailed on hard, clay and grass, including a pair of wins at the All England Club. He earned a straight-set win in the second round in 2011, before storming back from two sets down to prevail in the Round of 16 in 2015.
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Djokovic will break back into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings with a victory on Sunday, while Anderson is bidding to ascend to a career-high No. 4 with his maiden Grand Slam crown. The Johannesburg native is already ensured of cracking the Top 5 for the first time in his career.
Most Attempts Before Winning First Grand Slam Title (Open Era)
||First Grand Slam Title
||No. of Attempts
|| 2018 Wimbledon??
||2014 Australian Open
||1998 Australian Open
||2014 US Open
| Andy Murray
||2012 US Open
Runner-up at last year’s US Open (l. to Nadal), Anderson’s quest for a first major title also carries an element of national significance. The South African would become the first man from his country to win the Wimbledon title. He is also vying to become the second from the African continent to do so, along with Egyptian Jaroslav Drobny (1954).
In addition, 32-year-old Anderson is bidding to become the second-oldest first-time Grand Slam champion, behind only Andres Gimeno, who was 34 years old when he won at Roland Garros in 1972.
Records aside, Anderson will be buoyed by a string of impressive performances in 2018. He lifted his fourth ATP World Tour trophy at the inaugural New York Open, before reaching a 500-level final on the hard courts of Acapulco. Quarter-final results at the March Masters events of Indian Wells and Miami would follow, as well as a first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final on the clay of Madrid. He is bidding to become the fifth player to reach 30 tour-level match wins in 2018, joining Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin del Potro.
After surviving a pair of extended five-set marathons, what will Anderson and Djokovic provide for an encore in Sunday’s championship? If it’s anything like their semi-final performances, it should be a another pulsating affair on the Centre Court grass.