WIMBLEDON, England – Until Sunday, Novak Djokovic never managed to win a grass-court tournament of any sort, let alone Wimbledon.
Until Sunday, Djokovic never was able to beat Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam match, let alone a final.
Until this marvelous – and nearly perfect – year, Djokovic was very good. Now he’s great.
After outrunning, outswinging and, for stretches, dominating defending champion Nadal, winning 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 for his first title at the All England Club and third major championship overall, Djokovic crouched on Center Court, reached down, plucked some blades of grass and shoved them in his mouth.
“I felt like an animal. I wanted to see how it tastes. It tastes good,” Djokovic said later, his eyes wide and his smile contagious. “It came spontaneously, really. I didn’t plan to do it. I didn’t know what to do for my excitement and joy.”
Putting together one of the best seasons by any athlete in any sport in recent memory, Djokovic is 48-1 with eight titles in 2011, including major trophies from the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Today, he will rise from No. 2 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, overtaking Nadal, a switch that was guaranteed by virtue of Djokovic’s victory in the semifinals Friday.
“I want to win more Grand Slams,” said Djokovic, the first man since Andre Agassi in 1992 to win his first grass title at Wimbledon. “I will not definitely stop here, even though I have achieved (the) two biggest things in my life in three days.”
Which, perhaps, is why he engaged in such a lengthy and original celebration, even tossing several rackets into the stands, the sort of crowd-pleasing gesture for which Djokovic (it’s pronounced JOE-ko-vich) long has been known.
Indeed, early in his career, Djokovic stood out less for his shot-making than for his showmanship – check out his spot-on impersonations of other pros, including Nadal, on YouTube – and a hard-to-explain propensity for losing, or even quitting during, late-round matches at majors.
Right now, though, the 24-year-old from Serbia is the total package, with the bona fides to prove it.
He credits a handful of factors with helping him truly excel recently: more maturity, confidence from helping Serbia win its first Davis Cup title in December, and a gluten-free diet he doesn’t like to discuss in any detail.
Djokovic’s only loss all season came against 16-time major champion Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals a month ago.
Djokovic was 0-5 against Nadal at Grand Slam tournaments entering Sunday – including retirements from a 2006 French Open quarterfinal and 2007 Wimbledon semifinal.
A more significant head-to-head record, though, is one both men acknowledged played a role Sunday: Remarkably, Djokovic is 5-0 against Nadal this year, all in tournament finals, two on hard courts, two on clay courts, and now one on grass.
“When one player beat you five times, (it’s) because today my game don’t bother him a lot,” Nadal said after his 20-match Wimbledon winning streak ended. “Probably, the mental part is little bit dangerous for me.”
Benesova, Melzer win mixed doubles title
Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic and Jurgen Melzer of Austria won the mixed doubles title by beating Elena Vesnina of Russia and Mahesh Bhupathi of India 6-3, 6-2 on Center Court. Benesova and Melzer did not drop a set in the tournament.