With the recent news that the X-Factor is making a return to British TV screens, Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios provided a generous sprinkling of their own special stardust on the Centre Court for a high-class Wimbledon final that ended with the super Serb tying the tally of boyhood 1990s hero Pete Sampras with a magnificent seventh title.
The 35-year-old Djokovic has now won 21 grand slam singles titles, leaving him one behind mens’ record-holder Rafa Nadal and one Wimbledon win behind Roger Federer. And this triumph at his favourite event helped exorcise demons of Australia earlier this year, when Djokovic saw his visa cancelled and was deported due to his decision to remain unvaccinated.
For so long slightly in the shadow of Federer and Nadal, Djokovic’s titles and achievements now simply demand equal status and recognition. In a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 win he once more showed the remarkable powers of recovery he demonstrated in beating Cameron Norrie from a set down in the semi-finals, and Jannik Sinner from two down in the quarters.
The chances are that Djokovic’s vaccination status may mean he misses both this year’s US Open and the 2023 Australian Open – so this was almost must-win if he harbours hopes of overhauling Nadal in the all-time pantheon. It was his fourth Wimbledon win in a row, he has not lost there since 2017 and not on Centre Court since 2013.
Too often the histrionics, antics and controversy surrounding maverick Aussie Kyrgios have overshadowed his sublime natural talent and abilities with a tennis racket in hand. But on this stage, the biggest he has ever enjoyed, the 27-year-old reminded everyone, even the many critics of his behaviour, just why he is worth tolerating.
And that included Djokovic. Once upon a time there was no love lost between the pair, but that changed when Kyrgios stuck up for Djokovic in January. Both now call it a ‘bro-mance’ after a final played in an excellent spirit.
There were many flashes of sheer genius, the half-volleys, balls taken early and some of the real trademarks – an under-arm serve, a between-the-legs ‘tweener’ facing Djokovic, a couple of similar efforts chasing lobs back to the wall, and the usual plethora of outrageous drop shot attempts. And then allied to that the raw power, be it the serves up to 136mph, or the crashing forehands.
But all of this merely seemed to drag the best out of Djokovic. He responded to the ‘Hollywood’ shots with some of his own, winning most of the exchanges whichever player started it. And his reputation as the world’s best returner was simply enhanced. Some of Kyrgios’s most penetrating and pacy serves just came flying back at his feet.
It wouldn’t have been a proper Kyrgios match incident-free, of course. He did pick up a code violation for bad language, though for once many might have had some sympathy. A spectator who was talking to him throughout, called out between his first and second serves leading to him double-faulting.
After branding the incident “a ******* joke” and receiving a customary warning, Kyrgios than asked umpire Renaud Lichtenstein why the offender had not been booted out, adding: “It's the one that looks like she's had about 700 drinks, bro!”
And in an earlier incident a protesting spectator shouted “Where is Peng Shuai,” a reference to the former Chinese player for whom there is still much concern after she largely disappeared from the public eye having raised allegations of sexual assault against a high-ranking politician. The spectator was bundled out of the arena, and later claimed on social media that he had been thrown down some stairs by security.
The accusation of excessive force was denied by the All England Club. A spokesperson said: “A spectator was removed from Centre Court after disrupting play by shouting, running down the stairs and causing a nuisance to their fellow spectators. The individual was removed by security colleagues and escorted off the grounds.”
For the unseeded Kyrgios this run marked an incredible renaissance. By his own admission just three years ago his mental health was at an all-time low, suffering with depression and turning to drink, drugs and self-harm, and even contemplating suicide. That year he was dragged out of a pub at 4am before playing Nadal. This year he could find plenty to smile about even in defeat.
Djokovic said: “The way this year started in Australia affected me a lot, I wasn’t physically and emotionally feeling myself for some weeks. There was turbulence inside me, and I had to weather the storm. I knew it would take time and I had to be patient to get back to my optimal state. And this win is a relief, and carries more value.
“This tournament is extra special for me, it was seeing Pete Sampras winning Wimbledon for the first time that made me start playing the game. I had a strategy. Nick is talented and flashy, with one of the best serves that is hard to read. I had lost to him the previous two times, and he had nothing really to lose here.
“In the tiebreak though I managed to read his serve in a couple of key points. He has his ups and downs during a match, and I thought that my experience of these occasions could help.”
Kyrgios said: “I felt like I belonged out there in a grand slam final, and I have that under my belt now. But Novak is just so composed, never gets rattled and is such a great returner. It was a hell of a match, and I served well. My level was right there against one of the greatest of all time.
“The woman who kept talking to me…I have been on a few nights out, and knew she had had too many! This was me playing in a Wimbledon final, someone should have given her a water or taken her out. But I feel like my fire has been lit the whole year. I’m not supposed to be here, I’m just a kid from Canberra. But I thought I could go deep this year.”