London: So much for the brave new world of men's tennis. Sunday's Wimbledon final will be Roger Federer versus Novak Djokovic, instalment No.35. The seven-time champion against the winner from 2011. In a long rivalry that Federer leads 18-16, the Swiss has won the only previous encounter on grass.
“It was a four-set win for him in semis of (2012) Wimbledon, so it's a good chance for me to try to win against him on his favourite surface, on his favourite court,'' said Djokovic. "This is where he has the most success in his career, winning many titles. He's been looking very good throughout the whole tournament, very dominant with his matches. I'm sure that he wants to win this title as much as I do.’’
Wimbledon: Federer to face Djokovic
Roger Federer advances to the finals after defeating Milos Raonic in straight sets, facing off against old rival Novak Djokovic.
Federer has reached his ninth final and he has a lot to thank Nick Kyrgios for. Instead of the projected match-up against his nemesis Rafael Nadal, Friday's semi-final opponent was Milos Raonic, the Canadian he has now beaten five consecutive times. The latest was fairly routine, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, the tone set when Federer broke the enormous Raonic serve in the opening game.
Earlier, Djokovic overcame 11th seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (8-7) to reach his third Wimbledon final in four years. Both players slipped and slid through a match that took more than four hours, while Federer needed just over half that time in what was a far tidier, more clinical, display.
Djokovic, 27, has lost all three of his grand slam finals since winning his sixth major title at last year’s Australian Open, most recently to Nadal at last month’s French Open. “There is plenty of motivation from my side to win this grand slam final after losing last three out of four,’’ Djokovic said. “Of course, I want to try to get the title. It would mean a lot mentally for me … I should have won a few matches that I lost in finals of grand slams [the] in last couple of years.’’
Federer has never lost a semi-final in attempts at Wimbledon, and Raonic - who had beaten Kyrgios, who in turn had beaten Nadal - was not the man for that job. The eighth seed needed to use his great weapon to serve Federer into submission, but could not manage what net-rushing Sergiy Stahkovsky pulled off in the second round last year.
The almost-33-year-old player is thus within one match of a record eighth Wimbledon title and 18th major overall, which would extend the gap Nadal continued to close at Roland Garros, two years after Federer claimed No.17 on the All England Club grass.
Federer, who would be the oldest men's champion in the Open era, says he is back where he hoped to be, in every respect, freed of his back issues from 2013, his coaching team augmented by grasscourt great Stefan Edberg. “I must say this year has been very solid. Now this tournament as well has been very good,’’ Federer said. “Clearly my matches have been pretty quick. Clearly a semi like this is a perfect result before a big match in the final.
“I have a lot of energy in the tank. From that standpoint I clearly am very excited for the finals because that's how you want to feel before a finals, totally energised and eager to play.
Djokovic had a far more difficult time against the Bulgarian he hailed as a “future star”, but one who will enter the top 10 for the first time after his debut grand slam semi-final, no longer burdened by the moniker “Baby Fed”.
“Straight away with Grigor, because of the technique, that’s who he was compared (to),’’ said Dimitrov’s Australian coach, Roger Rasheed. “And that was great when you were a young kid, but you’ve got to get rid of it, and you can get rid of it by removing it off the ATP guides, which I did, that was fine, but you’ve actually got to get rid of it by playing some tennis and making your own pathway, which Grigor’s always wanted to do.’’
Rasheed, claims the 23-year-old player is still just “25 per cent into his development, in my mind, in general’’, but he is already a formidable talent and player, who had three set points to take the top seed into a fifth set - albeit only one on his own serve.
He threw himself desperately around the dry, slippery court, even though the master of the desperation dive, Boris Becker, is coaching Djokovic these days. Dimitrov also used his backhand slice effectively, and showed incredible grit and resolve.
But a double-fault and then ill-advised drop shot on consecutive points in a poor third set tiebreak were costly, and having recovered from a three-double-fault debacle to fall behind a break in the fourth, fought back to level, and then lead the tiebreak 6-3 as he attempted to force a deciding set.
But Djokovic was not going anywhere, having not lost at a major to a player ranked outside the top 10 in four years. After being gifted a first match point with an eighth Dimitrov double-fault, only to make an unsuccessful serve-and-volley attempt, he got his second chance, and took it with an off-forehand passing shot winner that flicked the tape en route.
"Of course I'm frustrated,'' said Dimitrov, whose moment will surely come. "I mean, I came out on the court to win. OK, I think I had a pretty slow start, but at some point I think I got my act together and I was really playing a good tennis. You never know what would have happened if I had taken that fourth set. I think at the same time I had my momentum. It's just he came on top today, so all the credit to him.
"I would say at the moment I'm really playing a good and steady tennis. Of course, there are a few ups and downs some of the matches, but I'm focused on raising my level every time. As soon as it comes to a clutch matches like those ones against Andy, Novak, whoever else I have to play, this is where I want to get into that next gear and bring all my goods. But I think the rest is just a matter of time.''
Djokovic described his opponent as "a future star, he deserves respect, it was a tough match overall. The fourth set could have gone either way. I started well, was up a set and a break, points for double break. But like I did against (Marin) Cilic (in the quarter-finals, I allowed him to get back in the match. Overall I’m really glad to reach another Wimbledon final."
“Dimitrov has quality shots, especially his running forehand, and great touch. He plays equally well when he's aggressive and when he’s defensive. That’s part of his game that he has improved immensely in the past six to eight months. It was a good win for me. I’m really glad to be part of another entertaining match. Now I’m looking forward to the championship match.”
There was a friendly embrace at the net, and then Djokovic raised his arms and bellowed, then beat his chest and crossed himself, for there was courage involved, but also a little luck. At the end of a warm and breezy semi-final day, it was clear that while change may be coming to men’s tennis, the old guard remains defiantly in place for now.