LONDON – Chasing. It seems that Novak Djokovic has been doing it since he was an inexperienced teenager, fighting forever for the elusive rewards in the golden age of men's tennis: the respect of his teammates and the affection of an audience that seemed to have eyes only for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
He has chased those two men through the valleys and valleys of the Grand Slam, a member of the Big Three, but always one or two precious steps behind.
After Sunday at Wimbledon, Djokovic does not pursue anymore.
He closed a victory that defined his career that gives him the same status as the twin titans of the time, Federer and Nadal. Djokovic did it by winning his 16th Grand Slam title, scoring two match points and beating Federer in a historic five-set final: 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6 , 13 -12 (3).
It was the first Wimbledon final that will decide a tiebreaker to 12, all in the final set. Even without that distinction, it will be compared to the party generally recognized as the best match of all time, the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal, won by Nadal 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6 -7 (8), 9-7.
"This is easier maybe, somehow, because we did not have the rain delays, we did not have the night and all those things," Federer said later, comparing the two finals. "But sure, epic final, so close, so many times, yes, of course, there are similarities, I'm the loser on both occasions, so that's the only similarity I see."
Djokovic's opinion: "It was probably the most demanding match of my life." The most physically demanding match was against Nadal in the Australian final. [in 2012] – That lasted almost six hours. But mentally, this was a different level because … everything. "
The "all" in this four-hour, 57-minute match included those two match points, the historic tie-breaker (who figured the men's final would decide the first year he was employed?) And even the crowd, which consisted mainly of in Federer partisans At the end of the game, the "Come on, Roger, come on!" the song came down from the top of the center court like gravel on a ramp, drowning the cries of "Go Novak!"
Djokovic had a remedy for that. "It's hard not to be conscious [of the crowd]", He said." You have that kind of electrical atmosphere, that kind of noise, especially in some decisive moments where we are pretty even. You just try to ignore it. I like to transmute it in a way: When the crowd sings "Roger", I hear "Novak". It sounds silly, but I try to convince myself that it's like that. "
In short, that's how Djokovic's life has been in the era of Federer-Nadal.
But now, Djokovic has really reached and even surpassed those two players in almost every aspect that counts. Djokovic leads Nadal in the most prolific head-to-head matchup of the entire Open 28-26 era. Lead Federer in the third most disputed rivalry 26-22. The only area in which Djokovic still follows is the most publicized of all: the Grand Slam title total, still led by Federer's 20. Djokovic, like Fed and Rafa, has won on all surfaces of Slam.
Before the game began, ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe said that if Federer won Sunday's game, he would probably think his Grand Slam title record is safe, but that if Djokovic did it, he would think that the record of Federer is within reach.
Djokovic, 32, is a year younger than Nadal. It only has two important titles behind Nadal and four less than Federer. Given the age of Federer (37), the history of Nadal's injury and Djokovic's extreme dedication to fitness and holistic health, it is easy to imagine that the world No. 1 will surpass Federer's mark.
"It seems that I am getting closer, but they are also winning slams," said Djokovic about the search for the record. "We are complementing each other, if I can do it or not, I do not know." [But] I'm not really considering age as a restriction of any kind, at least for me. "
Djokovic made sure to tell the crowd of Center Court during the presentation of the Sunday trophy that was inspired by Federer's performance to seek greater longevity, which was a great compliment to his rival, a shot fired in the bow or a combination of both. "What I said on the court, I really meant it," Djokovic said later. "It only depends on how long I'm going to play, if I'm going to have the chance to be a historic No. 1 or slams."
This victory was Djokovic's fifth at Wimbledon, which leaves him three behind Federer. That is a detail that helps explain why Federer is still the best Wimbledon model. But if Federer is, and probably always will be, The man in Wimbledon, Djokovic replaced him as the man to beat. His record at Wimbledon has been remarkable in recent years. He has won more matches in the All-England Club (72) than in any other major career. His biggest breakthrough came in 2011, three years after winning his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
"I managed to find a balance between private and professional life [in 2011]"He said earlier this week." That allowed me to perform to the fullest. 2011 was one of the best, if not the best, season I've had. It has changed things for me. After that, I began to trust more in the matches and decisive points. It took me to the mentality of a champion. I started to believe that I could beat those two guys [Federer and Nadal] Because they were so dominant. They were removing all the slams. "
Djokovic dominated Nadal in the 2011 Wimbledon final and has compiled a 50-3 record at Wimbledon. Even Federer, with his eight titles, is still 46-7 during that period. The process has elevated Wimbledon to Djokovic's eyes. His feelings for Wimbledon help explain why it was here, last summer, that Djokovic resumed the chase after two turbulent years filled with doubts, injuries and existential concerns.
"Every time I step on the court, I reflect on what happened the previous year," said Djokovic after his first win of the fortnight. "Last year, I left the top 20 in the world, I was still struggling to recover from an injury and surgery to find the level of tennis I wanted, it was a huge and enormous importance to win this trophy, after this tournament, the last year, I started playing my best tennis, that took me to No. 1. [Wimbledon] It has a special place in my heart for many different reasons. "
The epic final on Sunday, and the way it will look in the coming years, will link this tournament even more firmly to Djokovic's affections. Wimbledon could become the tournament in which Djokovic beats Nadal and Federer in G.O.A.T. debate. Wimbledon still has the most cache, and Djokovic has mastered every dimension of what it takes to win. The favor often shown to his rivals, the semifinal of Federer-Nadal was the most anticipated match of this tournament, could have helped Djokovic.
Djokovic points to that great album, without a doubt. He survived the equivalent of a tennis player's middle-aged crisis and rebounded by winning three of the last four races. Federer was asked if he thought it "exciting" to be in a race with some rivals hoping to break his record.
"Well, it used to be really big business," he said, diverting his effort to break the previous record of 14 held by Pete Sampras. "Eventually, you draw, then you break, that was great, it's been different since then, I take the motivation from different places, not so much trying to keep going, because I broke the record, if someone else does, well, that's great for them. You can not protect everything anyway. "
Novak Djokovic does not need to pursue more. Now he is running from neck to neck and at a pace that suggests that he has many kicks left for the final stretch.