My Wimbledon 2019 Story
I remember it like it was yesterday, I had just gotten home from church after secretly keeping a close eye on the match all morning. I was merely watching the score ebb and flow, not yet realizing how special the 2019 Wimbledon final was. As soon as I got home, I immediately turned on the TV to watch the match for myself. It was magical! I watched as Djokovic won the third set in a tough tiebreaker, only to be trumped by a determined Federer in the fourth. Then, the epic fifth set began with its twists and turns, including Djokovic, breaking Federer to take a commanding lead, only to immediately give it back.
I was upset, not because of how the match was going, but because I knew I had to leave soon for practice. As I drove to my hometown courts, I followed the match on my phone only to see each player hold their services for the next couple of games. Then, after a long, hard workout, I rushed back home and turned on the recording to see what had happened. My eyes were glued to the TV as both men played world-class tennis through the twenty-fourth game of the fifth set and into the first-ever fifth set tiebreak in Wimbledon history. As the last shot went sailing into the air, I didn’t want to see it end, but I was grateful to have witnessed this epic duel. I knew this wasn’t just any special match, but possibly the greatest of all time.
A Crash Course To Wimbledon
It’s not uncommon to see the names Federer or Djokovic in the finals of a slam. Even so, how did these two end up on a crash course for one of the greatest matches in tennis history? Well, let’s start with Federer. To start 2019, Federer lost to the future star that is Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round of the Australian Open. Consequently, in classic Federer fashion, he used this as fuel to reach the finals of his next three tournaments, winning two of them (one avenging his loss to Tsitsipas). Then, after a rough season on clay, he managed to reach the semifinals of the French Open, only to lose to the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal. Following Roland Garros, Federer only competed in one tournament on grass before Wimbledon, where he won his tenth title in Halle.
A week later, in the opening round of Wimbledon, it took Federer four sets to defeat Lloyd Harris (I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of him) after dropping the opening set. In the next two rounds, Federer won in straight sets, but each match included a tiebreak. One of which was against Jay Clarke, the 169th ranked player at the time. In the round of 16 and quarterfinals, Federer beat worthy opponents, Matteo Berrettini and Kei Nishikori, while only dropping one set. Then, just like the French Open semifinals, he faced the King of Clay, but this time it was on Federer’s favorite surface. Although it was a great match, you wouldn’t see that in the score because Federer won 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
So, now you know how Federer ended up in the finals, but how did Djokovic end up here? Well, this one is a bit of a no-brainer because Djokovic was rolling. He started the year off by embarrassing Nadal in the finals of the Australian Open. Then, after struggling in the summer swing, he made it to the finals of two tournaments on clay and managed to win one of them.
Following a devastating, five-set semifinals loss to Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros, Djokovic decided to not play in any grass-court matches leading up to Wimbledon. Once at Wimbledon, Djokovic cruised through the first four rounds while only dropping one set, which he lost in a tiebreak. Then, he routed David Goffin and Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarter and semi-finals respectively to set up his clash with Federer.
A Clash of Titans
From the first serve, both players were locked in. In fact, they were so locked in that neither player was broken throughout the first set, leading to a tiebreak. During this set, Federer and Djokovic combined for an astounding nine aces and twenty-one forehand and backhand winners. For comparison, in the opening set of the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal (often considered the greatest match of all time), they combined for five aces and sixteen groundstroke winners. Even though both players deserved to win this set, only one could, and Djokovic proved why he was the number one seed by winning the tiebreak 7-5.
Many people, including the announcers, thought that losing the first set was it for Federer. Well, they couldn’t have been any more wrong. Losing the first set must have lit a fire under Federer because he came out in the second determined to win. He opened the set with an unimaginable sequence: break, hold, break, hold. Federer soon found himself up 4-0 and closed out the set after a Djokovic double fault in the seventh game. Comparing this set statistically to the aforementioned 2008 Wimbledon final is tough because it was so short. Still, from a sheer dominance standpoint, This set by Federer is one of the greatest performances in Grand Slam history.
In the third set, Djokovic regained his composure and the law of averages weighed heavy on Federer. Just like the first set, neither player was broken once, leading to another tiebreak. Once again, Djokovic dominated in tiebreak play, winning 7-4. At this point, anybody that previously thought the match was over went to get a snack because they knew this could go all day.
Through four games, the fourth set looked like it was going to be the third set to go to a tiebreak with both players holding their serves commandingly. Then, in the fifth through seventh games, Federer hit another crucial sequence: break, hold, break. This timely outburst gave him the momentum to outlast a break later in the set by Djokovic and take the set 6-4. This led to the deciding set, which is not only a treasure to see at Grand Slams, but also a requirement to be considered the greatest match of all time.
This time, both players held through five games before Djokovic broke Federer in the sixth game to go up 4-2. At the time, this seemed like the turning point of the match, and the beginning of the end. However, if the match had taught us anything at all, it was that both players were willing to die before they let the other win (well maybe not die, but you know what I mean). The next game was no exception, Federer immediately broke back, and both players held their serves for the next seven games.
In the fifteenth game of the fifth set, Federer broke Djokovic to go up 8-7 and put himself in a position to win his twenty-first Grand Slam title. He immediately jumped out to a 40-15 lead in the next game with a couple of aces and bought himself two championship points. But, once again the ending was delayed as Djokovic battled back to break Federer. Following that game, each player held their service games through the twenty-fourth game, ended by a Federer ace, to send us into the first-ever fifth set tiebreak. In the tiebreak, Federer and Djokovic combined for four winners, but in the end, Djokovic cruised to a 7-3 win. This was his fifth championship on the hollowed grasses of Wimbledon, and his sixteenth Grand Slam victory.
The Greatest Match of All Time
For a lot of people, the greatest match of all time is a personal matter. It has a lot to do with the emotions of the match, the grit of the two opponents, and whether or not their favorite player was involved. Granted, these things can have a lot to do with what will widely be considered the greatest match of all time. However, in this article, I want to look purely at the statistics
For this comparison, we will look at three of the most widely regarded “greatest matches of all time.” This includes the 2019 Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and the 2012 Australian Open Final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
***a brief note for statistical comparisons: each championship had a different number of games played throughout the match, which can affect total statistics, however, I found this negligible in determining which match was the greatest of all time***
Let’s start with winners, although they are not necessary to win a match, they play a big part in making a match great because of their breathtaking nature. Including aces, this category is led by the 2008 Wimbledon final, where Federer and Nadal combined for 148 total winners. In second place was the 2019 Wimbledon final with 140, and the 2012 Australian Open final had 110 winners. Next, we will look at unforced errors. As important as it is to be able to win a point with one huge shot, long, gritty rallies play a big role in making matches great. For this category, the 2008 Wimbledon final and the 2012 Australian Open final had the least amount of unforced errors with 127 apiece. The 2019 Wimbledon final had 142 unforced errors.
Finally, we will look at breakpoints saved to determine how exciting the matches were. Once again, the 2008 Wimbledon final proved its greatness with 81% of breakpoints being saved. The 2012 Australian Open final had 58% of breakpoints saved, and the 2019 Wimbledon final had 52% of breakpoints saved.
So, for those of you who prefer to use the “eye-test”, you may have gotten lost in the last couple of paragraphs. Basically, to sum it up, in all important statistical categories, the 2008 Wimbledon Final between Nadal and Federer is the greatest match of all time.
Prisoners of The Moment
In conclusion, maybe the 2019 Wimbledon final wasn’t the greatest match of all time. Although it may feel like it now, oftentimes we become “prisoners of the moment,” and see the newest thing as the best. If you’ve learned anything from this post, it is that the standard for the greatest tennis match of all time is a very high one that may never be surpassed. Even so, we are fortunate to have witnessed tennis of the highest order at Wimbledon in 2019.
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A Special Thanks
Along with my own time and research, some of the statistics used within this article were found on http://www.tennisabstract.com. Through the help of volunteer match statisticians, they provide match stats on nearly every tennis match. This article would not be possible without them and I would encourage any tennis enthusiast to check them out. Thank you!