WIMBLEDON, England – Novak Djokovic of Serbia clutched the most coveted award in his sport, the silver, two-handled trophy presented to the winner of the Wimbledon men’s singles title.
“The All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Championship of the World,” the inscription on it reads. The name of every winner is etched on the silver-gilded urn or, since 2009, on a detachable base added when the trophy ran out of room.
No name appears more than Roger Federer’s, which had been etched seven times. Djokovic nearly let it happen again Sunday by blowing a huge fourth-set lead before he captured a taut fifth set to snare the trophy for himself.
Shortly after his 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-4 victory for his second Wimbledon title, Djokovic carried the trophy through the hallways of the club. He was greeted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, known worldwide as William and Kate.
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“Thank you for staying all the way through it,” Djokovic said to the royal couple.
“It was amazing,” the duke said. “Incredible tennis.”
“Many congratulations,” the duchess added.
Pleasantries complete, the 27-year-old Djokovic took the trophy to a balcony and a massive throng cheered at the sight of the man and his prize. For the tournament’s top-seeded player, there was a mixture of elation and relief.
The victory was Djokovic’s seventh major title, drawing him even with John McEnroe and Mats Wilander in eighth place on the career list. More important, it upended Djokovic’s recent struggles in finals of Grand Slam events: He had lost three in a row and five of his past six.
Last year at Wimbledon, Djokovic lost in the final to Andy Murray of Britain. Djokovic proceeded to lose to Rafael Nadal of Spain at both last year’s U.S. Open and this spring’s French Open.
“The most special Grand Slam final I’ve played,” Djokovic said. “At the time in my career, for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several Grand Slam finals in a row. I started doubting, of course, a little bit. I needed this win a lot.”
No loss would have stung the way one here would have. Djokovic won two of the first three sets and seemingly was cruising through the fourth when a metronomic match turned into crowd-pleasing chaos.
The elegant Federer, of Switzerland, does not cede titles easily, especially at Wimbledon, where he was 7-1 in the final. There had been a mere one service break in the first three sets, but there were five in the fourth.
Federer, 32 and seeded fourth, rallied from a 5-2 deficit by winning five games in a row to send the match to an all-or-nothing decider.
Along the way, serving at 4-5 and trailing by 30-40, Federer staved off match point with an ace. The ball was originally called out, but Federer challenged before any victory celebration could begin for Djokovic. The video screens at Centre Court displayed an animated replay, and both players and fans learned simultaneously the match would continue.
“It’s really only until the fourth set, when I was down a break, that I started to understand more how to return him, which was a surprise for me because I’ve played him that many times,” said Federer, who has an 18-17 record against Djokovic.
Increasingly, Federer tried to shorten points by approaching the net, a serve-and-volley style that evoked memories of his first Wimbledon title, 11 years ago.
After his victory, Djokovic plucked grass from the court and ate it, as he did when he won in 2011.
“It tastes like the best meal I ever had in my life,” he said.