Tennis

Mind games inspire Novak Djokovic to fifth Wimbledon crown

World No. 1 says self-belief helped him overcome the support for Federer

"When the crowd is chanting 'Roger', I hear 'Novak'," freshly crowned Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic said with a smile yesterday morning (Singapore time).

A fairly implausible claim, perhaps, but the comment hinted at the phenomenal feats of mental strength and focus the Serb deployed in saving two match-points and soaking up 94 winners before beating Roger Federer, 37, in the longest singles final in the tournament's 133-year history.

"It sounds silly," he conceded, "but it is like that. I try to convince myself that it's like that. It's similar 'Roger' and 'Novak'," he added laughing.

The absurdity of the claim was comical, but the lengths to which Djokovic, 32, had to battle the almost blanket support for his adored Swiss opponent was no joke.

The Serb had fought his great rival, and most of the 15,000-Centre Court crowd, for almost five hours before securing a 7-6 (7/5), 1-6, 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 13-12 (7/3) win for a fifth Wimbledon crown.

"It was probably the most demanding, mentally most demanding, match I have ever been part of," he said.

"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 would be as it was."

ARTISTRY V INDUSTRY

Before the match, all the talk had been of records, statistics and places in history, but the final boiled down to something far more elementary - a battle of artistry versus industry.

Ultimately, Djokovic's unyielding intensity and athleticism prevailed in the face of Federer's beautiful, hypnotic, flowing strokes as the two gifted men toyed with their own forms of perfection on one of the world's greatest sporting stages.

While Federer's mercurial shot play brought constant gasps of admiration from the crowd, Djokovic's super power, while less obvious, prevailed.

The top seed and defending champion was mentally rock solid. His concentration was absolute. His focus unwavering.

He never hit the ball with the same panache as the second-seeded Swiss. He never had the crowd shaking their head in disbelief, but he was a wall.

"I just told myself before the match, 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," said the world No. 1.

"But 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."

Compared to Federer's flashing strokes, the Serb's obdurate defence is never likely to win a crowd over. But that is not to say there is not a form of brilliance in the Djokovic resilience.

NARROW THE GAP

It saw him claim a Bjorn Borg-equalling fifth Wimbledon crown, and allowed him to narrow the Grand Slam gap in the spread between the Big Three.

So ultimately, there was no escaping the statistics.

Djokovic now has 16 Major singles titles, Federer has 20, with Spain's Rafael Nadal - Federer's semi-final victim - squeezed between them on 18.

He said: "We're kind of complementing one another. We're making one another grow and evolve and still be in this game."

Federer, who had described his 2008 five-set twilight defeat by Nadal as "brutal", was left wondering what went wrong.

"Similar to '08 maybe. For now it hurts, and it should, like every loss does here at Wimbledon," he said.

"Sure, there are similarities (with the defeat in 2008). I'm the loser both times, so that's the only similarity I see." - REUTERS

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