Tennis Prose



The Smile That Won Wimbledon

By Scoop Malinowski

For the third Federer vs Djokovic Wimbledon final in a row, the exact same pattern played out. Both played champion caliber tennis but once again the same man emerged as the victor.

Like two race horses battling for the triple crown with the same thoroughbred prevailing each time by a NOSE, Djokovic barely survived and narrowly beat Federer again by a whisker. In 2014, Djokovic won 6-4 in the fifth. In 2015, Djokovic won 6-3 in the fifth and today Djokovic won 7-3 in the fifth set tiebreaker after a 12-12 draw.

It does not get any closer than that in tennis or any sport. You have to consider Fed vs Nole one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sport. The Serbian now leads the head to head 26-22.

Each was playing his A game into the fifth set and neither seemed to have an edge but I had a gut feeling that Djokovic would win again based on the mental edge from having beaten Federer so many times in big matches in the last five years.

But it’s folly to bet against a man like Federer, especially a desperate Federer hellbent on revenge on his most frustrating antagonist.

Federer was spectacular again and struck the break and then had two match points, rather championship points on his serve at 8-7. But he played two conservative points and lost both, missing a forehand wide and Djokovic connected on a forehand passing shot.

Later in the set, Djokovic saved a break point with another brave execution winner, an overhead winner down the middle at 11-11. His reaction may have changed the flow of the epic duel. Djokovic smiled broadly and fiercely, the only smile of the entire stressful fifth set. It was no simple smile though, it was an omen. And it spoke volumes. I interpreted this Djokovic smile to be saying, “I’m the MAN. I’m the best, now I’m going to prove it.”

They kept batting to the 12-12 tiebreaker, a new rule for Wimbledon.

Djokovic sped ahead in the breaker and won 7-3. I felt that smile changed the match and I told the crew of players I was watching it with at the Polonia Open in Packanack Lake in Wayne NJ. ‘That smile was the turning point,’ I declared.

And it was. It showed Djokovic was more confident and relaxed than Federer who had a frozen look of focus for the whole match, there seemed to be no feeling of enjoying the process. Federer didn’t have that extra gear of confidence to express a signal to Djokovic and the world that the match was his. It was more like Federer just kept trying and trying to find a way to win. It was Djokovic who somehow inherently, instinctively KNEW he was going to win and that knowing smile helped him make it reality.

After the win Djokovic sat down and smiled again and nodded a few times, as if saying, ‘See, I told you I’m the best. I knew it and I proved it.’

Of all the big 3, only Djokovic had the capacity and ability to smile in the most tense and stressful Grand Slam situations. I believe this is one important reason why Djokovic became the greatest tennis champion of all time.

For me, this Grand Slam was won by a smile. The Djokovic smile in the most critical moments, won him his fifth Wimbledon title and 16th major overall.

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  • Leif Wellington Haase · July 15, 2019 at 2:40 am

    Federer was magnificent in defeat. He was the better player for the first four sets. He won more games. He won more points. Ironically—with the big exception being the desertion of his topspin backhand in the fifth— Roger did everything that showed him to be in the prime form that Scoop rightly touted: great serving, fine net play, and success against Djokovic off the ground. He truly did everything but win.

    Scoop is right I think about Djokovic’s wry smile and its provenance, so to speak. Instant accounts of the match are already overlooking the pivotal twenty-third (!) game of the fifth set, when Djokovic lost a 40-love lead on serve and faced two break points, including the one he saved by coming to net and got away with, leading to his sheepish smile.

    I think that Roger will regret the missed opportunities on that point, which Djokovic saved with a shaky low overhead of the kind he not infrequently botches, more than any other in the match, including the two foregone championship points.

    After that point Djokovic swung much more freely and indeed recaptured the high level that had deserted him during most of the match, a level he maintained through the final breaker.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 15, 2019 at 6:52 am

    Leif, Feddy was magnificent in defeat, no major finalist was ever finer. This had to be the closest margin of victory and defeat in a major final in history, the closest to a dead heat. It’s a shame Federer has lost three Wimbledon finals to the (future) greatest of all time, Federer was born at the wrong time, it’s too bad he could not play more guys like Philippoussis and Pioline in his finals. Thanks for the details on the smile, I was watching it on a laptop screen with ten others for the whole fifth set with a bunch of others at this Polonia Open tournament. All Fed fans. I won $20 by daring to bet on Djokovic early in the fifth. I knew that smile was the sign and said it and even the staunchest Fed fans didn’t protest this observation. They knew too.

  • Douglas Day · July 15, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Remember that time at the Open Novak gestured “watch this” before blasting back a Fed 2nd serve? It aint swag if you can do it.
    Those 2 finishes are revealing indeed Scoop. Richard Pagliaro writes ” Djokovic read and reacted with poise and precision”. As that durable flexibility has minimized his two-hander’s limited reach he knows he can defend the greatest attacks ever on grass…he smiles.

  • catherine · July 16, 2019 at 4:49 am

    I wonder why there’s no comment on Jelena’s absence from Wimbledon this year ? Poor gossip content from T-P 🙂

  • Hartt · July 16, 2019 at 7:14 am

    From what Novak said, she was in Wimbledon, but at home with one of their kids. Maybe she finds it too stressful to watch in person. Poor Mirka was super stressed, and the camera kept showing her.

  • catherine · July 16, 2019 at 8:28 am

    Yes, also I read she’d been to Serbia earlier on for business about one of Djoko’s foundations. Mirka – don’t know how she copes with it all. I think Roger should excuse her from courtside duties now. Alexis’ face was a picture, watching Serena. Grim would’ve been a good word for his expression. Same with Venus.

    Saw a video of Simona’s arrival back in Bucharest. She looked absolutely exhausted.

  • Hartt · July 16, 2019 at 11:05 am

    They had a little ceremony for Simona when she got back and she is receiving Romania’s highest civilian award. And, smart woman, she asked the Olympic committee rep if she could carry the flag at the Olympics, and of course he said yes. 🙂

    A Romanian poster on Match Call Migrants wrote that the big ceremony will be on Wednesday in a stadium that holds about 55,000 – or close to 100,000 if they have people on the field. There wasn’t much time to plan after her RG title, and there were 25,000 people then. He thinks the stadium will be packed this time.

  • catherine · July 16, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    Of course Simona missed Rio and I suspect she’s always regretted not making the trip – so she got her request in early this time 🙂

    I can’t imagine what it must feel like being a tiny figure out there is the stadium surrounded by mass adulation. But I think she’ll handle it ok.

    I read Stephanie Myles’ piece in Tennis Life and I felt it was a bit grudging. Maybe I’m wrong – I don’t see her articles very often.
    Simona won because Serena wasn’t good enough to beat her. And that’s it – no ifs or buts. Same as last year. Kerber won because she arrived in the final with the right mind-set and Serena wasn’t good enough. Both Simona and Angie played as well as they needed to. You can’t really do more than that.

  • Hartt · July 16, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    I thought Myles’ article was fair. My take on it was that Simona was in the zone, but Serena did not give her much of a challenge. But I see what you mean by a “bit grudging.”

    I am looking forward to seeing what the players do at the Rogers Cup. At last word, all the top players will be there (except, as we discussed earlier, Bianca may not make it).

    Soon after her Wimby win Simona asked Cahill if she should play doubles at the Rogers Cup, so she sounds keen.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 16, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Novak said she was at his wimb base house, not in box.

  • Hartt · July 16, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    Scoop, I said that about Novak’s wife several posts ago.

  • catherine · July 17, 2019 at 1:00 am

    Why is Simona asking Cahill if she should play doubles ? Is he coaching her or not ? I wonder what Daniel feels about the whole situaton. That he’s just a stop gap ?

    Because I’ve also read that Simona wants Cahill back next year. Seems odd to me. She’s shown that she can achieve without him. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she has a bit of a slump post-Wimbledon. Other players will be fresher in mind and body. As you say – it’ll be interesting.

  • catherine · July 17, 2019 at 1:08 am

    Osaka on the cover of Allure magazine. That’s her season over.

  • Hartt · July 17, 2019 at 7:52 am

    Simona has made it clear that Dobre is her coach, but said that Cahill gives her friendly advice. We have no way of knowing what Daniel thinks of that, but he must have been aware of what a huge influence Darren has been, and continues to be, for Simona, when he took the coaching job.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 17, 2019 at 8:05 am

    Not very confident now Osaka can be the next wta dominant queen, more likely to be another Kerber muguruza sloane inconsistent flash.

  • catherine · July 17, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    Philosophical musings from Kerber’s twitter about ’embracing challenges’, ‘going on a journey’ and learning from her ups and downs. I suppose there’s not much else she can say halfway through a **** year and slump to No 13 ranking.

    (The WTA probably asked her to comment more on Twitter when she’d actually rather say nothing, action speaking louder than words….)

  • Hartt · July 17, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    Scoop, I don’t know if Osaka can be the WTA “dominant queen,” but she should have better results in the upcoming hard court tourneys. She still is not comfortable on clay or grass. I hope she can win a tourney or two, especially because she is a treat-eligible player and I want more sushi. 🙂

  • catherine · July 17, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    Hartt – I’ve noticed some players have fallen off your treats-eligible list — or is it that they are just not winning ? I worry that Naomi is talking too much about her problems, state-of-mind etc and that isn’t helping her. She’s seeming vulnerable and it’s giving to the opposition. Let’s hope some good hard court results are ahead.

    I didn’t believe the stuff Angie wrote for a second – she’s trying to explain her difficulties and because that’s often impossible you just get a terrible load of old cliches. She’d be better off enjoying the new Lion King – the first was her favourite movie at one time – and stop the introspection.

  • Hartt · July 17, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Catherine, because Dasha Kasatkina has been in what feels like a never-ending slump. I did replace her on the treats list with Barty, another player who has nice variety. But that was the only recent change. Even normally dependable players like Fed and Kvitova haven’t won titles recently. One person joked that with Roger losing Wimby she was concerned about my starving – he was my “Meals on Wheels.”

    So I think it is time for those Canucks on the list, Milos, Félix and Shapo, to step up and win a title. They are all playing the Citi Open, so there is their chance!

    I am optimistic about Naomi doing well on the hard courts, and think she will win another Slam. But have no idea if she can win the USO again.



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