Wimbledon 2018 Review The Whole Greater than the Sum of the Parts
Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon 2018 final 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 victory over 8th seeded Kevin Anderson, as impressive as it was in its showcase of the victor’s persistence, passion and champion’s mentality, will not go down in the all time top 100 slam finals list, but the tournament, as a whole, will likely go down in history as one of the greatest slams of recent times.
Casual fans, or one off viewers of the 2018 Wimbledon final, had they just watched that one match of the total 127 played in the men’s draw, may have switched off mid second set, if not earlier considering the ease with which Novak Djokovic was predicted to win and how early in the match those predictions seemed to have been prudently cast, Those viewers may have then decided never again to set eyes on a Wimbledon final.
For those viewers new, or relatively so, to tennis who watched the championship match until the bittersweet end, (the bitter the overall quality of the contest, the sweet Anderson’s rallying end and Djokovic’s comeback sealed),, they may have decided to not skip next year’s entirely, to perhaps, instead, just tune in at around 3:30pm, in time for the start of the third.
That is not how it works for the well slam versed tennis fans, though. There’s no giving up when the parts of a slam get a little shaky for us. Too often we have seen ‘dud’ finals and sat through them to the bitter end, but had the edge of our brief disappointment taken off by the lingering afterglow of the thrills that came before, our reward enjoying the victor both lift the trophy and live the dream of grand slam glory.
Plenty of thrills came before this year’s final, too. 11 hours 51 minutes of it, in the semis. John Isner and Kevin Anderson going all the way, 26-24 in the fifth, in 6 hours 36 mins; Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic going 5 hours 15 over two days. The last time men’s tennis had such competitive semis was the Australian Open 2017, though the Australian Open 2012 was perhaps the last time a slam’s semis were as comparably outstanding, when Nadal defeated Federer in four and Djokovic defeated Murray in five. This slam semis day may not have had the overall gravity of that Melbourne pair, depth wise, but it bested it for Will they-won’t they (hold serve, finally break, collapse, beat the all time slam length record) drama and How on earth do they do that? gasps, let alone surpassing that Ozzie duet for post match subject matter, both semis sparking debates ranging from the somewhat mundane now hotly contested in and outs of sporting event’s contracts with local authorities regarding closing time all the way to the more complex reform of long held conditions of the game (tiebreak in fifth sets at SW19 in 2019 anyone?).
The call to bring in fifth set tiebreaks was part knee jerk reaction, part sound reasoning, and the record breaking semis were, at least, partly to blame for the lack of intensity in the first two sets of the final. Such intensity was needed if the match was going to end the tournament on a high. Anderson needed to be pumped from the first ball, while Djokovic could afford to be calm, this being his 22nd slam final to Anderson’s 2nd, the Serbian having earned the right to wait to go up a gear or two until Anderson bought it to him, and/or until the 12th seeded Serbian got closer to the finishing line of sets and the match, whichever came first. Anderson, though, could not bring any such intensity. The second time slam finalist , with two appearances on his resume for the past 12 months, was, after that grueling semi-final, dead on arrival, and Djokovic, who had not seen a slam final Sunday in over two years, took his cue to come back to life.
Djokovic had resurrected himself, somewha,t already in the semis versus Nadal, showing us he could beat one of his great rivals on the slam stage again and it was his biggest win since beating Murray in the 2016 Roland Garros final. That Nadal semi win was the win of Djokovic’s comeback from injury. Nadal was playing close to some of his best grass court tennis, but Djokovic stayed with him deep into the fifth, the indoor conditions too good a sign his time had once again come, and that, added to the 12th seed just needing the win that little bit more, that potion of luck and desire, in a game of small margins, made the difference.
There is back, however, and then there is back, and Djokovic could not be said to have returned to his old self until he was winning Slams again, so the Wimbledon final victory proved to be the final nail in the comeback, the achievement, after two years of sitting on the slam final sidelines, at times relegated to the back benches, losing the big ones he did play, but more often not even putting himself into a position to contest them.
Anderson, meanwhile, had just played the two matches of his 11 year career back to back and a third one, the Wimbledon championship match, while potentially poetically his, was, in the record book scheme of things, with Djokovic across the net, most likely one match too far.
For the South African, the most significant of those two career wins was versus Isner, the most remarkable versus Federer. That last eight match in which Anderson saved a match point and came back from two sets to love down to defeat the defending champion in a season the Swiss was partly ranked No.1 and which he had, after Indian Wells, structured with a view to winning an 8th title in SW19 was quite the shock even in as upset ridden a tournament as Wimbledon ’18. That match was an upset to remember for neutrals, and, a match, which, when paired with the five set Nadal win over del Potro, made the quarters one to remember. The tournament needed it, too, after a less than stellar round of 16 in which none of the matches went to five, and half were over in straights, a Monday more sedate than manic. The last sixteen, however, had been led into by the drama of Gulbis Vs Zverev and Khachanov Vs Tiafoe in round 3, the shocking collapse of a seemingly strident Cilic to Guido Pella in round 2, Fritz’s remarkable composure for two sets versus Zverev in that same round, and the score of competitive contests in the first couple of rounds of the Championships.
That’s how slams roll, though. Ups and downs all the way, and you never really know what you are going to get- Nadal Vs Anderson in the US Open ’17 or Coria Vs Gaudio in the French Open ’04 final to name two ends of a wondrous and at times woeful spectrum. Seeing where a slam final lands or crashes on that spectrum is why those fans who suffered this year’s Wimbledon finale will sit through every slam final, to see if Anderson’s late rally in the third could be that Gaudio moment.
And who would have wanted to miss that?
Not those who had been following the 126 prior matches this Wimbledon, and who knew the narrative so far. Nor even those who anticipated the final was more coda than climax, but had their minds open to the idea that the match, once in motion, could change direction any ball before game, set, and match was called. After sitting through two semis as torturous for one proponent of one style as they were beautiful the other, and an indulgence for lovers of both, those fans had seen the protagonists develop over the fortnight, had anticipated where the arcs would curve, knew how gracefully Anderson had taken his semi-final victory, how much the journey meant to him, and they also knew how, after two tumultuous years, Djokovic really was Grand-Slam-Winning-Grass-eatingly back. Those fans knew that the record books would show that Djokovic won his 13th slam and Anderson went 0-2 in finals, but they also knew that was not the whole story. That whole story was told in the matches before, in the interviews, the reports and the forums. A story more than the sum of its parts. A story, whatever the score, well worth watching all the way to the end.
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