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Novak Djokovic, "so composed," turns a tumultuous season around at Wimbledon
Six months ago, the Serbian was deported from Australia. Sunday, the 35-year-old won his 21st Grand Slam title after outclassing Nick Kyrgios over four sets.
Published Jul 11, 2022
WATCH: Djokovic stops by Tennis Channel Desk after lifting 21st major crown
“It’s weird, I felt like he didn’t do anything amazing today,” Nick Kyrgios said of Novak Djokovic after his 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3) loss to the Serbian in the Wimbledon final on Sunday. “But he was just so composed. That’s what I was thinking to myself. In big moments, it just felt like he was never rattled.”
If you didn’t watch the match, you might think that Kyrgios was damning Djokovic with faint praise. But his assessment was accurate. Djokovic wasn’t the player who came up with the afternoon’s memorable shots—the tweeners, the inch-perfect drop volleys, the no-look passes, the aces pounded down the T with powerful, metronomic precision. That was Kyrgios.
Djokovic, by contrast, was the player who was doing his best to deal with that onslaught, to get his racquet on as many of Kyrgios’ service missiles as possible; move his ground strokes from corner to corner without taking on too much risk; and anticipate which trick Kyrgios was going to pull out of his sleeve next. Djokovic was the one who was trying to block out the Australian’s muttering, barking and bellowing. While Kyrgios disrupted with his shot selection, distracted with his chatter, filled up Centre Court with his presence, nearly exploded or imploded on half a dozen occasions, and fired 30 aces, Djokovic put his baseball cap on and went about the unspectacular task of winning Wimbledon.
“I’m obviously thankful to him for praising my composure,” Djokovic said. “I knew that that probably was one of the key elements today in order to win against him. Not that he’s not composed, but he has never played in a Wimbledon finals.”
Anyone who plays Kyrgios faces a double-whammy, pressure-wise. Like a servebot, he makes you feel as if one wrong move on your own serve can cost you a set. But he adds another layer of intensity by ratcheting up the tension with his anger, which is constantly threatening to boil over, and can be aimed at anyone in the stadium at any time. On Sunday, that included his family and friends, the chair umpire, and a chatty woman in the crowd who Kyrgios said “looked she had about 700 drinks.” (The woman later claimed she had two.) Through all of that barely-contained mayhem, Djokovic dropped his serve only once, at 2-2 in the first set, and made just 10 non-serving errors over three hours.
“I think from the baseline, I didn’t miss much in [the last] three sets,” Djokovic said. “It was part of the strategy, obviously playing somebody who is so talented and flashy as Nick. It was frustrating at times today, just seeing balls pass by, having to deal with I guess more work on my service games because he was constantly on the line putting pressure.
"But I felt the ball really well from back of the court.”
He was just so composed. That’s what I was thinking to myself. In big moments, it just felt like he was never rattled. —Nick Kyrgios on Novak Djokovic
Djokovic pointed to two key games: When he came back from 0-40 down while serving at 5-3 in the second set, and when he broke Kyrgios from 40-0 down at 4-4 in the third set. In those moments, Kyrgios’ game, which was precise for most of the day, suddenly went haywire. At 3-5, he missed an easy backhand and forehand. At 4-4, he double faulted at deuce, and drilled another regulation backhand into the net.
“He played maybe a couple of loose points, double-fault, deuce, started talking to his box,” Djokovic said. “I felt maybe that’s the moment where I could break his serve, which happened.”
“It was a huge momentum shift I think because up to that point we were quite even.”
Instead of letting himself become unnerved by Kyrgios’ chatter, the way Stefanos Tsitsipas did in the third round, Djokovic and his team welcomed it.
“He knew on this stage, when Nick starts to talk, he’s going to be vulnerable,” Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanesvic, said. “You know, that happened. Happened in the third set when Nick was 40-love up, 4-all, suddenly Novak broke him and he was talking to his box.”
“You need to take every chance you get because you don’t have too many chances.”
Will Kyrgios, at 27, have another chance on a stage like this? This was a uniquely depleted Wimbledon. Top Tenners Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini, Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev were absent, and Rafael Nadal pulled out of their semifinal. Kyrgios faced one Top 25 opponent, Tsitsipas, before the final. And in the fourth-set tiebreaker against Djokovic, with a chance to push it to a decider, Kyrgios opened with a double fault and missed five more balls from the baseline
Still, he says losing on Sunday will leave him more driven than if he had won.
“I feel like if I had won that Grand Slam, I think I would have lacked a bit of motivation, to be honest. Coming back for other tournaments, like 250s and stuff, I would have really struggled,” he said. “But my level is right there.”
Kyrgios’s level is indeed there, but Djokovic showed for the first time in 2022 that his own abilities are undiminished at 35. He could write a book about how to maintain your composure under pressure based on this match alone.
Once again, Djokovic has put personal turmoil and a devastating setback behind him by moving forward and making the tennis court his refuge. Six months ago, he was deported from Australia. Today he’s the Wimbledon champion for a seventh time.