After days of grueling, thrilling, relentless matches, with hold-your-breath serves and slap-your-forehead rallies, this championship took an anticlimactic turn.
Wimbledon went out with a whimper.
Novak Djokovic needed just three sets to dispatch Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3) to claim his fourth singles title at this storied tournament.
There were touching moments. Anderson was incredibly gracious in defeat, heaping praise on his Serbian opponent and choking up when thanking his family. Djokovic, who won his first Grand Slam title since the 2016 French Open, relished the moment with a tearful embrace of his young son, lovingly striking all of the sentimental chords.
Djokovic, who improved to 4-1 in Wimbledon finals, said he has been fixated on these achievements since he was a young boy.
“I made a lot of improvised Wimbledon trophies from different materials,” said Djokovic, 31, who collects about $3 million in prize money. “I really always dreamed of winning Wimbledon.
”When that happened back in 2011, when I became No. 1 of the world, in just a couple days all my dreams came true. It's really hard to compare this year's victory and trophy with any of the other three because they're all special. But if I can pick one, that would be probably the first one and this year's winning because my son was at the trophy ceremony, which made it extra special.”
It is the 13th Grand Slam title for Djokovic, putting him fourth on the all-time list behind Roger Federer (20), Rafael Nadal (17), and — Djokovic’s boyhood idol — Pete Sampras (14).
“To be just one step away from his record is quite incredible,” Djokovic said.
But the tennis itself Sunday was devoid of the high drama that led up to the finals.
A quick review: Anderson upset Federer in the quarterfinals, then outlasted John Isner in a back-and-forth marathon that lasted a Centre Court-record 6 hours and 36 minutes and had a 50-game fifth set.
Djokovic and Nadal had a semifinal odyssey of their own with a five-set battle that lasted 5:15 and stretched over two days.
So to see Sunday’s match breeze past in 2:19, with Anderson offering little resistance in the first two sets, was a letdown. The crowd, which included such celebrities as actors Hugh Grant, Emma Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch, cheered on the 6-foot-8 South African, if only in hopes of seeing more tennis.
“I sort of had high hopes and expectations that going out there I was going to be a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more free,” said Anderson, 32, who was bidding to become the first South African man to win a Wimbledon title. “That wasn't meant to be. The way the ball was coming off my racket, sort of the quality of my footwork, my ball striking wasn't where it needed to be to compete with somebody like Novak.”
As if he finally woke up, Anderson came alive in the third set and made it interesting. He cut down on his unforced errors, and started to get traction with his big serve, with seven aces compared to a total of three in the first two sets. He won six games with his serve, never facing a break point. Djokovic, who later said Anderson outplayed him in the set, fought off set point five times.
“In the first two sets, just the rhythm of my serve didn't feel great,” Anderson said. “It's my biggest weapon as a tennis player. In the third set, I found my rhythm. That's how I serve 95% of the time.
“I'm definitely not going to say that if I had started like that it would have been a different result. But at least I would have given myself a much better chance.”
Djokovic prevailed in the tiebreaker, though, and essentially unclicked the pause button on his spectacular career. The former world No. 1 player, who at one point held all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously, struggled with health problems — including an elbow that forced him to bow out of Wimbledon and shut down his season — as well as scrutiny of his private life.
“I've never faced a major injury in my career before,” said Djokovic, who hosted his elbow surgeon in his friends-and-family box. “I changed the racket. I also made some compensations in my game. I had to adjust. I had to get comfortable with that game. It took me a while.”
In May, Djokovic slipped to No. 22 in the rankings, the first time in 11 years he fell out of the top 20. He inched up to 21 for this tournament, but is still the lowest-ranked man to win a Wimbledon title since the No. 125 Goran Ivanisevic in 2001.
“I understand that people are questioning whether I can consistently play on this level,” he said. “Trust me, I am too. At the same time I can't look too far on the road because I have to embrace and cherish this kind of accomplishment.”
But for the moment he’s back, a champion in the place he calls the “sanctuary of tennis.” And it’s precisely where he wants to be.
It doesn’t take a racket scientist to see that.