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Wimbledon ends where it began, with Novak Djokovic and a standing ovation on Centre Court, but he was not the central character here. While the records will show that Djokovic won his fourth straight Wimbledon title, adding his seventh overall and 21st grand slam, it can also be argued that it was handed to him. Nick Kyrgios and his run to a first grand slam final has been captivating as well as controversial, but it was his unravelling here that will be the prevailing story of the final.
Djokovic, of course, played his part in grinding down Kyrgios and extinguishing the unique threat that he provides. It takes steel to battle from 0-40 down but it takes a champion’s timing to do it twice, and at crucial junctures in the match. Had they gone the other way, at the end of the second set and start of the third, then this may have developed into a different contest altogether. It was Djokovic’s grit and lapses from Kyrgios that were responsible for that, but the Australian instead pointed to anything and everything around him. His box and those closest to him received the brunt of the tirades, but it extended from the umpire to an over-exuberant fan in the opposite corner.
It came after a spellbinding opening set, with Kyrgios untouchable on serve and creating the break with a dangerously cutting backhand slice. One assumption ahead of the match was that Djokovic could not afford another slow start, after losing the first sets against Jannik Sinner and Cameron Norrie, and that a player like Kyrgios could race away if given the lead. The reality did not prove to be so foreboding, with Djokovic tightening his return game and planting the first itches of irritation in the Kyrgios head.
It would derail his match and although Kyrgios did settle to force the fourth-set tiebreak, Djokovic was too clean and his opponent too erratic for it to be close. What could have been another seismic turning point in the match was instead a landslide, and for that Kyrgios can only have himself, and Djokovic’s superior levels, to blame.
It leaves Djokovic back where he is used to being, supreme and on top. After the turmoil of his deportation from Australia, as well as painful defeats at the Olympics, US Open and French Open, he has found his home in SW19 once again and the emotion of the celebrations spoke of how important this was. With uncertainty still surrounding whether he can play the next grand slams on the calendar, in New York and Melbourne, it could also be his last chance for a while.
Kyrgios, meanwhile, will reel at the missed opportunities. Although this tournament has shown how unwise it can be to try and separate Kyrgios’s ability and temperament, it was that battle and the direction in which it swung that proved so crucial again. As for what lies ahead, Kyrgios will next month appear in court in Canberra facing allegations of assaulting his former girlfriend late last year. The 27-year-old has been unable to comment as he reached his first grand slam final but is expected to do so in the coming weeks.
Djokovic, though, goes on. His winning streak at Wimbledon extends to 28 matches, spanning four tournaments, but if there was anyone who had the tools to bring it down it may have been Kyrgios and the first set showed why. There were gasps at the speed of the Kyrgios serve but in getting the early break it was the low, cutting backhand slice that did a lot of the damage. Kyrgios stayed patient, pulling Djokovic in, and in between, there was the full box of tricks. There were underarm serves, shots between the legs from the baseline, left-handed volley, and all with barely a peep.
It turned quickly, and it did so as Kyrgios continued to put the pressure on. There was significant tension on the Djokovic serve early in the second set, but winning two lengthy rallies proved pivotal. Djokovic was the one stretching as Kyrgios probed but he held serve thanks to a wonderful drop shot and then moved to 0-40 with an angled backhand, beginning to open up the court. The break was clinched thanks to a big net cord, and it was now that Kyrgios felt his box was an irritable presence behind his right shoulder.
The momentum was slipping away but Kyrgios almost salvaged it after conjuring a sublime forehand pass on the run. Djokovic ended on his back, but he got up to save four break-point opportunities, wrestling it back as Kyrgios dumped a backhand into the net. It was key. Djokovic served it out and continued to pose questions into the third.
Kyrgios by then had lost the freedom of his play. It became fraught, tense, and the arguments extended to a member of the crowd for repeated shouts of encouragement during serves. Djokovic was primed on the returns, alert and the slices landing deeper while the balls from Kyrgios were becoming loopy and inviting. He was forced into two tweener points in a row midway through the third and although he saved the first it was telling of the direction of travel.
It came, again, from being 40-0 up. Djokovic arrowed in the returns, dragging himself back to deuce and exploiting the growing casualness of the Kyrgios game. The agitation built, the double fault came with it and led to fury at the break. A bottle was thrown as the protestations from Kyrgios towards his box became louder and more direct. The set was quickly sealed and Djokovic left the court to let Kyrgios simmer.
It may have actually helped Kyrgios. He calmed while his first serve returned and although Djokovic put pressure with a stunning pick-up volley at the net, Kyrgios belted two aces to edge ahead. Kyrgios had further chances, with Djokovic facing the pressure of serving to stay in the set. It was met by clutch serving, helped by loose moments from Kyrgios. Amid the haze there was a glimmer of a match, and Centre Court was suddenly edgy again. But there was also a gulf in levels, and as Kyrgios muttered and grumbled while Djokovic motored to the line, it felt as if the chance had already slipped away.