Novak Djokovic savoured his history-making achievements after defeating Matteo Berrettini in the Wimbledon final to equal Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s record of 20 grand slam titles.
Federer had 16 titles when Djokovic won his second in 2011 but over the last decade the Serbian has relentlessly hunted down his great rivals.
His hard-fought 6-7 (4) 6-4 6-4 6-3 success against Italian Berrettini, who acquitted himself very well in his first slam final, made him the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the first three titles of the year, and the calendar Grand Slam is now well within reach.
Speaking on court, Djokovic, who made it six Wimbledon titles and three in a row, said: “I have to pay a great tribute to Rafa and Roger. They are legends of our sport. The two most important players I ever faced.
“They are the reason I am where I am today. They made me realise what I had to do to improve. The last 10 years has been an incredible journey that is not stopping here.”
Whether Djokovic will give himself the chance to become the first man to win the Golden Slam of the four major titles and Olympic singles gold in a year is up in the air, though, after he revealed he is reconsidering whether to play in Tokyo.
The decision not to allow any fans, plus tight restrictions on athletes, have prompted a rethink, with Djokovic saying: “My plan was always to go to the Olympic Games. But right now I’m a little bit divided. It’s kind of 50-50.”
This was Djokovic’s 30th slam final but never has so much been on the line, and nerves were very evident in his first two service games as he committed three double faults and struggled to elevate his second serve over 80mph.
But Berrettini, looking to become the first Italian to win a Wimbledon singles title, was also tight and Djokovic moved into a 5-2 lead.
He had a set point in the next game but Berrettini finally held after eight deuces and suddenly his big forehand began to fire.
The seventh seed broke back and then played a brilliant tie-break. He thumped his forehand, caught Djokovic out with the speed of his movement, and took his first set point with a 138mph ace.
Djokovic responded like a champion, winning the first four games of the second set, but again he could not serve it out and then saw Berrettini save three set points before finally levelling the contest.
The crowd were fully into the match, alternating chants of ‘Matteo’ and ‘Nole’ ringing around Centre Court and giving Marija Cicak, the first woman to umpire a Wimbledon men’s singles final, a few difficult moments.
There were more of those for Djokovic in the third and fourth sets, too, but he has made a career of winning the important points and so it was again here.
The 34-year-old admitted he was affected by nerves, saying: “I did feel before the semis and also the final today slightly different emotions in terms of expectations, the tension build-up, because history is on the line.
Novak Djokovic - 20
Roger Federer - 20
Rafael Nadal - 20
Pete Sampras - 14
Roy Emerson - 12
“I’m aware of it, even though I was trying not to think about it too much, trying to approach this match as any other match. Sometimes the things are so big off the court that it’s hard to avoid them in a way.
“I think after the first set was done, I just felt relief. Obviously it was not great that I lost the first set, but on the other hand I just felt like I just wanted to get this first set over with so I could start to swing through the ball and play the way I want to play.”
Federer has not won a slam title since the Australian Open in 2018, while Nadal was unable to maintain his stronghold of Roland Garros against the Djokovic surge this year.
“I feel like I’m probably the most complete that I’ve been as a player right now in my entire career,” said Djokovic.
“I consider myself the best and I believe that I am the best, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking confidently about winning slams and making history.”
Berrettini went into the match on an 11-match winning streak after lifting the title at Queen’s Club, and he leaves London not just dreaming but believing.
The 25-year-old said: “I’m disappointed, I’m p****d because I lost, because I think I didn’t play my best match, but I have to say it’s thanks to Novak in a way that he made me play in this way. That’s why he’s one of the best ever. Congrats to him.
“Obviously for me it’s been an unbelievable two weeks. But I know that I can do it. I know that I can win this title. I’m not sure if I’m going to do it, but I know I can do it. So that’s what I’m going to do in the next weeks, in the next months and years: try to lift the trophy.”