In an Open bursting with surprises, including the shocking coup d’etat that dethroned Serena Williams, and after last year's gate crashers Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori climbed the mount, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer reestablished order and rule in the tennis world.
After that unlikely interregnum, and fresh from laying waste to would-be contenders in their way, Djokovic and Federer snatched the keys back to the palace and confirmed their reign at the top of the game.
Their 42nd meeting was the clash of titans the adoring throngs wanted to see, even if they had to stand outside the gates for three hours in the rain. Not simply No. 1 vs. No. 2, but a head-of-state encounter between the best of now and the best ever.
It was Djokovic who, after a worthy, lofty battle, proclaimed his supremacy.
With 17 majors and 87 career titles, and more than five years at No. 1, Federer has long ruled the tennis world. But with his 10th Slam crown, Djokovic has conclusively established himself as the successor to the throne.
Djokovic has rapaciously claimed the spoils over the past half-decade. He won three of four majors in 2015, reaching the final of all, and has claimed four of the last six majors overall.
Djokovic has been a marvel of consistency, making the finals of all but one of the tournaments he has entered in 2015, beginning with the Australian Open in January. Since Djokovic’s standout year in 2011, the Serb has utterly dominated on hard courts, winning more titles on the surface (27) than he has lost matches total (25).
The clashes between Federer and Djokovic, the tightest in tennis, are often characterized as Artist vs. Machine. While there is an element of truth to that perception, it is far from the whole story.
They employ vastly different attacks, and win in vastly different ways. “I think it's just a straight shootout,” said Federer of the matchup with Djokovic.
The Swiss is a master of swift, surgical, precise attacks. Federer’s lightning-quick offense can stun opponents into submission.
Djokovic, on the other hand, plays smothering, all-encompassing, relentless tennis. His impenetrable defense outwits the best offensive maneuvers.
Over the years, a perception has lingered that the Serb’s greatest strength is that he has no real weaknesses. Some have characterized him as perfect, as ruthless, a man whose game adds up to maximum efficiency rather than undeniable artistry. But more than lacking an exploitable weakness, Djokovic is in fact all strengths. His two-handed backhand is unrivaled. His cross-court forehand can be lethal. His serve, once a liability, is now a dependable weapon. Djokovic’s conditioning, speed, flexibility and return of serve – perhaps the best in the history of the game – have redefined the game.
As predicted, Djokovic was suffocating on Sunday. And while Federer displayed flashes of brilliance and tenacity, he also showed signs of fallibility, particularly with his vaunted forehand and inability to break serve. Federer converted merely four of 23 break-point chances.
On the most crucial points, Djokovic was simply the stronger player.
Federer may still be the people’s king, judging from the overwhelming support for the Swiss.
But there’s little doubt who rules the universe.