The Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Final this morning was a beauty. It has been incredible how these same four guys have dominated tennis for a full nine years now. Rarely does a match between any of them fail to live up to expectations. Think about all the amazing five-set matches we’ve seen between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Djokovic and Federer and Andy Murray and Federer. Any given rivalry that you choose will go down in history as one of the best ever. Some would say having the same four guys win everything gets boring after a while, but I say we’re lucky every single time we get to see these guys play. Today’s final, in which Djokovic ground out a five-set victory over Federer, was just about as entertaining as ever.
I went into the match not necessarily rooting for one player or the other. As I said this morning, I have always been a Djokovic fan – since long before he rose to superstardom. But I didn’t think I’d be able to root against Federer at this stage in his career. However, once Djokovic took the two sets to one lead, I shifted over to rooting completely for the Serbian. He has gone through so many disappointments in the last two years on the big stage, and not all of them have been deserved. Such a great champion, somebody who works as tirelessly as anyone else, shouldn’t keep being let down. He needed this championship a lot more than Federer did.
Roger looked like he has a lot more to give going forward, even as he approaches age 33, so my worry that I would never see him play another big final quickly dissolved. But Djokovic could have seen his career take a nosedive had he lost another close match in a major final. So watching Djokovic dig deep to pull out the break to win the match in the fifth was really nice to see. I hated having to see Federer lose, but when I watched him post-match, I was reminded of why he is the best. Win or lose, he takes it in stride, with the utmost class, and then he moves on to the next one. Federer has earned the right to know that he’ll always have another match, even when it seems his window might be closing. He is the perfect athlete in nearly every sense.
But Djokovic handled the post-match ceremonies as well as Federer did today. Holding tears back the entire time, a visibly emotional Djokovic said all the right things about Federer. He hardly talked about the match today, unable to stop speaking about his impending family and the meaning of Wimbledon itself. This is clearly a man who has his priorities right when he steps off the court. He has been gracious in defeat over the past two years, and today, he was gracious in victory. He will never be as objectively classy as Federer, but Djokovic deserves some credit there as well.
After the match, when I was on Twitter and Facebook, I noticed, like always when Djokovic wins, that many people call him classless. They say he’s arrogant, obnoxious and unlikable. To them, I say open your eyes. The Djokovic of old, the one who nearly fought with Andy Roddick one night at the U.S. Open in 2008, angering many fans New York City, has grown tremendously as an individual in recent years. He may be fiercely competitive, but he will be the first player on tour to engage with his fans, always taking time to take pictures and answer questions. He smiles in public, happy to be alive. And after that night in New York in 2008, he has learned from his mistake and has reached out to other players, forming real friendships. Now, he is the first one to congratulate his opponent. He compliments his opponents, and he genuinely means it.
Don’t hate the Djokovic of now because of what young Novak did in the past. He has changed, and you need to examine your opinion of him as a result. I realize that everybody loves Federer, and I do too. I just think that Djokovic deserves a little more respect from American tennis fans as an individual. You don’t have to like him, but don’t call him classless.