This is it. The finale to Wimbledon 2018 is upon us.
Kevin Anderson versus Novak Djokovic. Each already the performer of (at least) one miracle this tournament, now they face-off in a contest that can give only one the redemption they so desperately seek. Really, who needs movies when you’ve got tennis?
For the last time this tournament, here we go. Read on for our preview of the 2018 Men’s Singles Final.
Always playing catchup to Rafa and Roger, now Djokovic gets his own chance at a similar return to glory. Physically and mentally, the Djokovic we knew went AWOL in 2017, and many didn’t think he’d ever return. Indeed, it was only a month ago a distraught Djokovic was considering skipping Wimbledon after a dismal showing at Roland Garros – now look at him. If he goes all the way, that’s one hell of a comeback.
For Anderson, Sunday also represents a chance that many didn’t think he’d ever get again. As deserving as he was of his appearance in last year’s US Open final, the fact remains he didn’t have to play a single top-10 player or five-setter along the way – this time he’s had it harder — much harder – and yet he’s somehow found his way back. Winning a major is one thing, doing it after 21+ hours on court with 13-11 and 26-24 fifth-set victories is another, and indeed as remarkable an accomplishment as anything we’ve seen in recent years.
Each man less winning and more surviving their semifinals, this issue for Djokovic and Anderson isn’t that they’ve been too tested, not tested enough. Still, with the scalps of Kyle Edmund and Kei Nishikori in his collection, Djokovic was hinting at a return to slam-winning form before his marathon semi with Rafa Nadal, and that match only solidified the notion.
For Anderson, it’s safe to say this is the best he’s ever played, particularly from the quarterfinals onwards. Roger Federer simply had no answer for the sledgehammers he was landing off both wings in their match, and in his semi, he went serve-for-serve, swing-for-swing with another massive hitter in Isner seeing the ball at his all-time best. Of course, there’s the small matter of what he has left.
Unsurprisingly given his 5-1 head-to-head advantage (including 2-0 at Wimbledon) and his opponent’s particularly tortuous route to the final, Djokovic enters this match a strong favourite. That said, Anderson has reason to believe, and it all stems from the circumstances of their last meeting, in the R16 here at Wimbledon back in 2015.
Leading Djokovic two-sets-to-love before eventually succumbing 6-7(6), 6-7(6), 6-1, 6-4, 7-5, Anderson comes into this one with the knowledge that a less-rounded version of himself was capable of causing a peak Djokovic immense trouble. In 2018, with the current state of his ground game, why wouldn’t he believe he can go just a bit better?
Of course, the problem is that more than any other player on tour, Djokovic can make you feel like the match is on your racquet, when in reality he’s been stringing you along, just waiting to make his move. Indeed, that’s exactly what the Serb will do here, both in the amount and depth of returns he gets back into play, and the way he will play Anderson should a rally ensue, changing direction, mixing in slice, and rarely giving him a look at the same ball twice. His goal is to keep Anderson behind the baseline until he runs him ragged or can hit a winner, and he’s very good at doing it.
As such, the key for Anderson will be the exact opposite – ending points before Djokovic can get stuck in. That doesn’t just mean big serves and a lot of volleys, but also flattening-out his forehand and backhand to take time away from Djokovic, and even the occasional “this point is ending now“-style winner-attempt when out of position. Otherwise, he’s not going to win a war of attrition.
Still, the truth is this matchup might be decided as much in the brain and lungs as on the court. Djokovic has been here so many times before, and had so many clutch moments (including yesterday) compared to Anderson that you have to give him the mental edge, and even if his semi concluded less than a day ago, you’d have to think his legendary fitness will see him more-or-less prepared. Understandably, the big South African might have nothing left.
Djokovic in four. As dangerous as Anderson is, the most likely outcome is still that the combination of his fatigue and the obstinacy of Djokovic will prove too much. Unless Anderson can once again play lights out tennis, this “near-peak” version of Djokovic will to enough to nullify the South African’s barrage, and in the end, earn him his fourth Wimbledon title.