World number one Novak Djokovic saved two match points to clinch a fifth Wimbledon title and 16th major on Sunday, shattering Federer’s bid to become the oldest Grand Slam champion in the longest final ever contested at the tournament.
Despite being outplayed by the 37-year-old Swiss for large parts of the knife-edge encounter, the top seed emerged victorious 7-6 (7/5), 1-6, 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 13-12 (7/3).
At four hours and 57 minutes, it was the longest Wimbledon final and the first to be settled by a final set tiebreak.
After Sunday’s epic triumph, Djokovic revealed he was able to turn the overwhelmingly pro-Federer, 14,000-strong Centre Court crowd in his favour by training his mind.
Here’s the full text of Djokovic’s post-match press conference after the Wimbledon final:
You’re an emotional player. You controlled your emotions throughout, save for one moment of frustration, code violation. Did you prepare that for this specific final? How did you feel throughout? It was a subdued celebration. Tell me about it.
Well, it was a huge relief in the end, honestly. In these kind of matches, you work for, you live for, they give sense and they give value to every minute you spend on the court training and working to get yourself in this position and play the match with one of your greatest rivals of all time. I mean, that was one thing that I promised myself coming on to the court today, that I need to stay calm and composed, because I knew that the atmosphere will be as it was.
Obviously Roger is playing well. I mean, I kind of predicted the scenarios in my head already, visualized what’s going to happen. It was probably the most demanding, mentally most demanding, match I was ever part of. I had the most physically demanding match against Nadal in the finals of Australia that went almost six hours. But mentally this was different level, because of everything.
I’m just obviously thrilled and overjoyed with emotions to be sitting here in front of you as a winner. It was one shot away from losing the match, as well. This match had everything. It could have gone easily his way. He was serving extremely well, I thought, the entire match. I had a lot of difficulties to read his serve.
Well, it was kind of a flashback of US Open when I saved the two match points against him, as well. But, look, you know, in these kind of moments, I just try to never lose self-belief, just stay calm, just focus on trying to get the ball back, return, which wasn’t serving me very well today. But in the most important moments, all three tiebreaks I guess, if I can say so, I found my best game.
You had your fair share of crazy matches in Grand Slams, coming back. This one from outside looked like it took you something extra special to get through mentally. Can you try to describe what it was, the tiebreaks, match point saved, the crowd against you.
First of all, playing against Roger on any surface, but on grass, in a finals, it’s a lot of constant pressure because he stays close to the line. Regardless of who he’s playing against, whether the serve is coming 150 miles an hour or as mine, 120, he’s there. He blocks the shots very well. He anticipates very well. He’s so talented. He’s got a perfect game for this surface.
So I knew that I needed to bring in some variety in play. I needed to be sharp when the opportunity is there, when I have a shorter ball, to go for it. At times I did. At times, I didn’t. Especially in the second-serve returns, I was not doing well at all. I thought I had many opportunities, and I just didn’t hit the ball, I didn’t capitalize on those opportunities.
But, you know, in a way it’s normal also to expect that there are more nerves in play. Playing finals of Wimbledon against Roger, so... I thought most of the match I was on the back foot actually. I was defending. He was dictating the play. I just tried to fight and find a way when it mattered the most, which is what happened.
Where does the courage come from? How do you prepare yourself to have that mental toughness in a fifth set after four hours? You talked about visualizing what would happen before the match.
Well, I can only speak on my own behalf. Obviously we spoke about power of visualization and preparing yourself for possible scenarios. I obviously try to play the match in my mind before I go on the court. I probably could not play this kind of scenario (smiling). I always try to imagine myself as a winner. I think there is a power to that. Also there has to be, next to the willpower, strength that comes not just from your physical self, but from your mental and emotional self. For me, at least, it’s a constant battle within, more than what happens outside.
It’s really not the situations that you experience that are affecting you, but how you internally experience those situations, how you accept them, how you live through them. I just told myself before the match, you know, I’m going to try to switch off as much as I can from what is happening around us, and just be there, be present.
I thought I could have played better. I just explained why. But at the same time one thing that probably allowed me to come back and save match points and win this match was the mental stability in those moments. I guess that all of these things combined result in a courageous effort. There’s not a specific formula to find courage, at least from my perspective. You can go all out and just close your eyes and just hit the ball as hard as you can, you can call that courage.
But I wouldn’t necessarily call it in courage in some particular situations. You need to be constantly playing well throughout five hours if you want to win a match like this. I guess there is an endurance part. But I think there is always this self-belief. You have to keep reminding yourself that you’re there for a reason and that you are better than the other guy. As hard as the moment is that you are in, the more you have to remind yourself, the more you have to talk to yourself. That’s at least in my case.
In this match, you’re playing not only Roger Federer but the crowd.
They are decidedly for Roger. Even though you have all the inner strength, how aware are you of the crowd as the match is unfolding?
I mean, it’s hard to not be aware. You have that kind of electric atmosphere, that kind of noise, especially in some decisive moments where we’re quite even. It’s one way or another. The crowd gets into it. Of course, if you have the majority of the crowd on your side, it helps, it gives you motivation, it gives you strength, it gives you energy. When you don’t, then you have to find it within, I guess.
And that was the case here?
Can you take that energy and block it out or repurpose it and channel it? Is it fun in a way?
That’s a good question because at times you just try to ignore it, which is quite hard. I like to transmutate it in a way: When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger’ I hear ‘Novak’ (smiling). It sounds silly, but it is like that. I try to convince myself that it’s like that.
Is that a mental training?
Of course. Of course. It’s similar ‘Roger’ and ‘Novak’ (laughter).
You’ve been catching Roger and Rafa for years now. You’re getting closer and closer. Do you ever think what it’s going to be like if you pass them, how weird that might be?
It seems like I’m getting closer, but also they’re winning slams. We’re kind of complementing each other. We’re making each other grow and evolve and still be in this game. I think, I mean, those two guys, probably one of the biggest reasons I still compete at this level. The fact that they made history of this sport motivates me as well, inspires me to try to do what they have done, what they’ve achieved, and even more.
Whether I’m going to be able to do it or not, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind for me at least. What I said on the court, I really meant it: Roger really inspires me with his effort at his age.
It just depends how long I’m going to play, whether I’m going to have a chance to make historic No. 1 or slams. It depends not only on myself, it depends on circumstances in life. I’m not just a tennis player, I’m a father and a husband. You have to balance things out. Obviously you need to have the right circumstances, the right support for things to play out in the right way.
What did the grass taste like?
Better than ever (smiling). It tasted amazing. I’m still digesting it.
Versus Federer you don’t seem to be happy to save just one match point. US Open 2010, two match points. US Open 2011, two match points. Today two match points again. Since you predict always the scenarios, do you see yourself being 37 years old and hear people saying, Let’s go, Novak?
I hope so. As I said, if things are well balanced and if I have ability to keep on playing, if I of course firstly still enjoy it, because I don’t have any obligation to play. I really don’t have any commitment to play tennis. I play it because I really love it and I have support of the closest people in my life. As long as that’s so, hopefully in five years’ time I can be hearing the same chants.
(with AFP inputs)