Friday, August 12, 2022

Djokovic shows Kyrgios what it takes for a Grand Slam success

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After the dust settled on his seventh Wimbledon title, Novak Djokovic remained just as composed in identifying the moments when the match began to turn. Djokovic had stabilized after handing the opening set to Nick Kyrgios like a machine analyzing his opponent’s serve and learning new behaviors, and after leveling the match he solidified his grip with a flawless display of hitting the baseline. However, the crucial breakthrough in the third was “presented” to him.

Kyrgios, still reeling from a missed opportunity to break Djokovic 40-0 at the end of the previous set, looked set to grab an important serve 4-4 in the decider. For a player who held 97 percent of his service games throughout the tournament after winning the opening point, a 40-0 lead should have been an unassailable lead. But irritation was building, a backhand into the net followed by a double fault and at Deuce, the sight of Kyrgios snarling to his box was like waving a red flag in front of the bull.

“He knew that Nick will be vulnerable on this stage if he starts talking,” revealed Djokovic’s coach and former Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic. “I felt like maybe that’s the moment I could break his serve, which happened,” Djokovic shrugged. “It was a huge momentum shift.”

Djokovic had found a remarkable level by then. The 35-year-old only made one unforced error in the entire third set and did not give away a single point on the forehand side. The bets he was taking on the Kyrgios serve increasingly went in his favor, the returns being cut and blocked deep into the court. Still, it was close with a weapon like Kyrgios’ serve. “Even,” Djokovic suggested. But he added: “We know he has his ups and downs in the game.”

Kyrgios was rightly proud of his run to the Wimbledon final and the confidence it will give him. He had put himself in a position to threaten Djokovic after winning a brilliant first set but seemed to develop a newfound respect for the 21-time Grand Slam champion that he didn’t go through similar emotional dips. “In big moments it just felt like he was never upset,” Kyrgios said. “I feel like that’s his greatest strength.”

However, there was a reluctance to learn from it. In one of several contradictions during his post-match press conference, Kyrgios then labeled a question that suggested he might try to emulate Djokovic by improving his own composure as a “dig”. “I think the other 126 players in the draw could improve their composure,” Kyrgios replied, but when he hit “rocky” stages in the match it was the Aussie who reacted by trying to close everything and everyone around him accuse.

Kyrgios apparently wasn’t prepared for choppy waters, even as he came into a match against one of the all-time greatest players and a series champion with a 27-game winning streak at Wimbledon. “In the best-of-five against these guys you feel like you won the first set, you still have to climb Mount Everest to do it,” said Kyrgios, yet the unraveling started early in the second set and on End first signs of trouble as Djokovic fell for love.

It remained an engrossing competition and while it can be hard to take your eyes off Kyrgios at times, amid the game’s inventiveness and spontaneity as well as the antics at the back of the court, the sight of Djokovic adapting to his opponent and collapsing the serve was just as convincing.

Djokovic has a knack for scoring important wins in SW19 and this seventh title could stand above the rest. His 2011 win, his first at the All England Club, was followed by his rise to world No. 1. In 2014, his second ended a streak of three consecutive Grand Slam final defeats, while his 2018 win was his first since his elbow injury and surgery that signals the beginning of his resurgence after two years without a title.

“Wimbledon historically has always come at such important points in my life and career,” Djokovic said, and this time it came after the turmoil in Australia earlier in the year, when the Serb was expelled from the country after a dispute over his Covid-19 vaccine exemption. “Mentally, emotionally, I wasn’t in a good place,” he admitted, but the mask of invincibility that had slipped is now firmly restored.

But while it may have signaled the start of another dominant run in years past, this time there is only uncertainty. Djokovic remains in limbo, hoping to hear “good news” from the United States and the country opening its borders to unvaccinated travelers. Australia also has the three-year ban that automatically follows deportation. If enforced, he will not be allowed to return to a Grand Slam until the French Open in May 2023.

“It is,” agreed Djokovic when reproached that he was now faced with a “strange situation” and after the sanctuary of Wimbledon the path from here once again seems complex.

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