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Not history yet: Federer & Djokovic can hit new highs

Mark Hodgkinson
July 5, 2014
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will meet for just the second time in a Grand Slam final on Sunday © PA Photos
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Call it Roger Federer's grass-court counter-revolution. There's been much talk this Wimbledon of the arrival of the young tennis punks, of the fresh, the new, the irreverent and the unashamedly ambitious.

And yet we are potentially now just three sets away from seeing the title go to the grandee of the lawn tennis establishment, to someone who has been a member of the All England Club since 2003, which was the year he won this golden trophy for the first time.

The fortnight could conclude with a 32-year-old father of four, whose wife gave birth to a second set of twins just a couple of months ago, winning what would be a record eighth singles title on Centre Court. Victory would also take Federer's overall collection of grand slams to an extraordinary 18.

With Federer to play Novak Djokovic, the top seed and the 2011 champion, this year's final will see a revival of the Wimbledon rivalry between Stefan Edberg, now working with the Swiss, and Boris Becker, who is in the Serb's corner (Edberg and Becker contested three consecutive finals on Centre Court from 1988-90). That's a fun dimension, but you hardly need to involve the super-coaches to sell this final.

For the first time in two years - this hasn't happened since he defeated Andy Murray for the 2012 Wimbledon, which put him level with Pete Sampras on seven Centre Court titles - Federer will feature in a slam final. Federer could not have played any better to make it through to the second Sunday. So far this tournament, Federer has dropped his serve just once - he had to stave off just one breakpoint in his semi-final against Canada's Milos Raonic, one of the young bucks, who was making his first appearance in the last four of a slam.

Sunday's final will not only see Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer renew their rivalry - but also respective coaches Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg © PA Photos
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Earlier, Djokovic had fended off Grigor Dimitrov, another semi-final debutant, in four sets - the Bulgarian had points to take the match into a fifth set, but couldn't convert them. So that was Dimitrov removed from the draw; then Federer saw to Raonic.

This summer's revolution ended on Federer's strings. The young ones will have their time, maybe next year, and certainly for many summers after that, which is why this feels like Federer's last great opportunity to go to the Champions' Dinner. This July, we have a final between two members of the Big Four who have been waiting a while to add to their tally of majors.

With all the attention on Federer's numbers, there's probably not enough focus on the fact that Djokovic could soon pass Becker and Edberg in the list of serial winners, and put himself level with a couple more legends.

For a year and a half, Djokovic has been stuck on six slams, the same number that Becker and Edberg each won. Victory would put him level with John McEnroe and Mats Wilander on seven majors. Djokovic's last slam came at the 2013 Australian Open.

In between that success and this Wimbledon, he made three finals - against Murray here on Centre Court last year, opposite Rafa Nadal at last season's US Open, and against Nadal again at this year's French Open - but he lost all three. What effect can Becker have on Djokovic ahead of this match?

You suspect that one of the keys to the final is going to be Djokovic's return of serve. Many regard Djokovic as the finest returner in the game - Wilander recently told ESPN as much, pointing out that Djokovic has more options than anyone else - and those skills are going to be tested against Federer.

Before going out to play his semi-final, Federer watched some of Djokovic's performance, so would have seen that his opponent didn't play his best tennis against Dimitrov. Federer is capable of playing some ultra-aggressive tennis, and few, if any, defend better than Djokovic. It's going to be fascinating to see how this plays out.

While this will be the 35th meeting between the two - Federer has won 18 of their previous encounters and Djokovic has 16 victories - it will only be the second occasion that they have met in a grand slam final. The only previous major final was at the 2007 US Open, which was the first time that Djokovic had gone that deep into one of the sport's four biggest tournaments.

So Rafa Nadal lost in the fourth round to Nick Kyrgios, a teenage Australian wild card, and Andy Murray, last summer's champion, played a meek quarter-final defeat against Dimitrov. So the tennis youth have arrived. But look at who has come through the draw. Here's a man - Federer - who could become the first father of four to win a grand slam. And maybe that will come as some relief to Djokovic to know that tennis dads can still reach grand slam finals, that fatherhood doesn't drain you of the energy you need for the court - later this year, his fiancée will give birth to their first child.

Novak Djokovic's return of serve could be key in Sunday's final © PA Photos
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Mark Hodgkinson is the author of 'Lendl: The Man Who Made Andy Murray'. Hodgkinson is writing daily pieces for ESPN during Wimbledon.

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