Novak Djokovic waited. He waited for Nick Kyrgios to lose focus and lose his way. Waited to find the proper read on his foe’s big serves. Waited until his own level rose to the occasion.
Djokovic is not bothered by a deficit — in a game, a set, a match. He does not mind problem-solving. And at Wimbledon, for quite some time now, he does not get defeated.
Djokovic used his steady brilliance to beat the ace-delivering, trick-shot-hitting, constantly chattering Kyrgios 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3) on Sunday for a fourth consecutive championship at the All England Club and seventh overall.
“Every single time, it gets more and more meaningful and special,” the top-seeded Djokovic said. “It always has been, and will be, the most special tournament in my heart. The one that motivated me and inspired me to start playing tennis in a small little mountain resort in Serbia.”
He extended his unbeaten run at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament to 28 matches and raised his career haul to 21 major trophies, breaking a tie with Roger Federer and moving just one behind Rafael Nadal’s 22 for the most in the history of men’s tennis.
Among men, only Federer, with eight, has won more titles at Wimbledon than Djokovic. In the professional era, only Federer was older (by less than a year) than the 35-year-old Djokovic when winning at the All England Club.
WATCH | Djokovic claims 7th Wimbledon, 21st career Grand Slam title:
This comeback on a sun-filled afternoon followed those in the quarter-finals, when Djokovic erased a two-set deficit against No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner, and in the semifinals, when No. 9 Cam Norrie grabbed the opening set. In last year’s title match at Wimbledon, Djokovic dropped the opening set.
Kyrgios was terrific at the start Sunday, almost perfect in the first set, with 11 aces before he made a second unforced error. Could it last, though?
In the second set, with Djokovic serving at 5-3, Kyrgios got to love-40 — a trio of break points. But Kyrgios played a couple of casual returns, and Djokovic eventually held.
When that set ended, Kyrgios waved dismissively toward his box, sat down and dropped his racket to the turf, then groused, to no one in particular: “It was love-40! Can it get any bigger or what?! Is that big enough for you?!”
And then, in the third set, with Kyrgios serving at 4-all, 40-love, he again let a seemingly sealed game get away, with Djokovic breaking there.
Kyrgios’ chase to make history falls short
The 40th-ranked Kyrgios was trying to become the first unseeded men’s champion at Wimbledon since Goran Ivanisevic in 2001. Ivanisevic is now Djokovic’s coach and was in the Centre Court guest box for the match.
Kyrgios, the 27-year-old Australian, had never had been past the quarter-finals in 29 previous Grand Slam appearances — and the last time he made it even that far was 7 1/2 years ago.
Still, his talent is unmistakable. But over the years, Kyrgios has drawn more notice for his preference for style over substance on court, his tempestuousness that has earned him ejections and suspensions and his taste for the nightlife.
On Sunday, Kyrgios tried shots between his legs, hit some with his back to the net, pounded serves at up to 218 km/h and produced 30 aces. He used an underarm serve, then faked one later.
Perhaps, in some ways, it would have been fitting for such a unique player to emerge as the champion at such a unique Wimbledon.
Missing players, surprises at tournament
All players representing Russia or Belarus were banned by the All England Club because of the war in Ukraine; among the men kept out of the field was No. 1-ranked Daniil Medvedev. In response, the WTA and ATP professional tennis tours took the unprecedented step of revoking all ranking points from Wimbledon.
There’s more: Federer missed the tournament for the first time since the late 1990s because he is still recovering from a series of operations on his right knee. The No. 2 man in the rankings, Alexander Zverev, sat out after tearing ankle ligaments at the French Open. Three of the top 20 seeded men, pulled out of Wimbledon after it began because they tested positive for COVID-19.
Djokovic and Kyrgios have not always gotten along.
Kyrgios was quite critical of Djokovic publicly until he became one of the earliest voices backing the Serbian during the legal saga that played out before the Australian Open in January, culminating in Djokovic being deported from that country because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 (which also might prevent him from participating in the U.S. Open in August).
That apparently helped create a detente of sorts; Kyrgios used the term “bromance” to describe their relationship status. They kidded around via social media on Saturday, trading messages about heading for drinks or dinner, with the winner footing the bill.
“He’s a bit of a god, I’m not going to lie,” Kyrgios said during the trophy ceremony. “I thought I played well. You’ve won the championship I don’t even know how many times.”