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Becker gets Djokovic back over the final hurdle

Mark Hodgkinson
July 6, 2014
Employing Boris Becker, left, as coach has reaped dividends for WImbledon champion Novak Djokovic © Getty Images
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Here on a pulsating Centre Court - in the stadium where Boris Becker hijacked Wimbledon as a 17-year-old, in the space where he launched himself as a tennis player - was a demotion to be celebrated.

Bouncing up and down in Novak Djokovic's guests box, it was clear that Becker didn't mind being pushed down the leaderboard of serial grand slam champions. Why, he was nothing less than ecstatic after this wildly unpredictable, wildly entertaining five-setter, with his employer showing plenty of nerve and character as he cut down Roger Federer's comeback in the early-evening sunshine.

Djokovic's decision to engage Becker had its ultimate reward as he scored his seventh grand slam victory, lifting him above his own coach and also the man in Federer's corner, Stefan Edberg, who gathered six majors each. So this wasn't the romantic conclusion to the fortnight that the great majority of the Centre Court crowd had wanted; most had come hoping to see Federer become the first man to win eight Wimbledon singles titles, and also to take his grand slam collection to 18.

That didn't happen, but it's not as if the 15,000 spectators were starved of history, with Djokovic's second Wimbledon success - as in 2011, he crouched down and ate some of the grass - putting him level with John McEnroe and Mats Wilander on seven majors.

For the second straight summer - last year it was Ivan Lendl with Andy Murray - a super-coach was instrumental in a Centre Court victory. It was to help him win matches of this nature, and of this magnitude, that Djokovic had turned to Becker, "a true legend", before this season began.

Novak Djokovic continued his tradition of eating the Wimbledon grass after winning the tournament © Getty Images
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Had Djokovic lost, he would have had just one victory from his last seven grand slam finals. This could and should have been over in four sets - he had served for the title in the fourth set, and had also held a championship point - and others would have folded after that. Especially as Federer had a point to break Djokovic's serve to lead 4-3 in the final set. Djokovic stood firm, and soon broke for the victory when Federer fired a backhand into the net. Still digesting the day's events, and the grass, an emotional Djokovic dedicated the victory to his future wife and to their unborn child.

You wouldn't have imagined that modern tennis has many druids. But in the hours leading up to the final, there were a fair number of people - and Tim Henman was among them - who almost seemed to be suggesting that a Federer victory was somehow pre-ordained.

This was all based around the number eight - it's lucky in Chinese culture, but supposedly also for Switzerland's citizen of the world. Born on the eighth day of the eighth month of 1981, Federer - whose management company is called Team 8 - wasn't just attempting to become the first man to win eight Wimbledon singles titles, and also 18 slams, but also trying to take his tally of career titles to 80. A bit of fun, of course, but those numbers shouldn't have been taken too seriously; you might as well start predicting Wimbledon finals by reading Tarot cards on a bridge table in the Clubhouse.

Style, elegance and perfect hair only take you so far on the Centre Court grass

So the superstitious imagined this was going to be Federer's day. He also had romance, and the crowd, on his side. But that had no relevance to what was the first grand slam final for almost five years not to feature Rafa Nadal or Murray.

What was relevant was a rivalry from the 1980s. A glance up at the players' entourages was a reminder of this match's sub-plot; for the first time in almost a quarter of a century, Becker and Edberg were on opposing sides in a Wimbledon final. Those two contested three consecutive Wimbledon finals, with Edberg the champion in 1988 and 1990, and Becker winning the title in 1989. For the first time since they became coaches, these two former greats were both courtside for a match between Federer and Djokovic.

Once again, a Centre Court crowd had confirmation of how there's no harder game in tennis than when you're serving for a Wimbledon title. We saw that a year ago when Murray had to stave off Djokovic's break points. And this summer, it was Djokovic's turn to go through it.

Unlike Murray, Djokovic couldn't hold serve when he really needed to, with Federer breaking. It was in the next game, with Federer serving at 4-5, that Djokovic had his match point. But Federer held firm, hitting an ace that, as Hawk-Eye demonstrated, had touched the back of the line. From 2-5 down in that set, Federer ended up reeling off five games for the set.

Had Federer, a 32-year-old father of four, gone on to become the oldest Wimbledon champion of modern times, it's possible that this would have been regarded as the greatest final of all time, above even the 2008 title-match when Nadal beat the Swiss in five sets. It wasn't to be.

Perhaps Federer will never win another Wimbledon title. But some would have readjusted their view of Federer after this performance. Style, elegance and perfect hair only take you so far on the Centre Court grass; you don't win multiple Wimbledon titles without having some fight and hustle about you. And this was Federer street-fighting on the lawns as never before. This was Federer morphing into Jimmy Connors. But even that wasn't enough.

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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