A match nearly four years in the making: Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will once again, contest a grand slam final at Wimbledon 2019.
Indeed, as long as it’s been since their 2015 US Open final on the calendar, it feels almost longer in perception. In that time, we’ve seen both men have to reckon with the potential end of their careers – or at least status as an elite player – only to re-emerge as grand slam champions and world number ones. This is a match that, had things gone slightly differently, could only be happening in December – while also featuring Henri Leconte and Mansour Bahrami.
So regardless of who you’re cheering for on Sunday, savour it. We might get a bunch more (here’s hoping!), or this might be the last. Either way, sit back and relax as two of the greatest players to ever pick up a racquet come together for the 2019 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final.
Novak Djokovic (SRB) v Roger Federer (SUI) 
You’d be hard-pressed to mistake one for the other, but as far as Djokovic and Federer are concerned here at Wimbledon, this match is all about the same thing: legacy.
Of course, it’s not like either man would turn down the ranking points on offer, but really, this is all about how it helps their GOAT case. For Federer, a win makes him the oldest major titlist in the open era (37 years, 340 days) and puts his tally at 21, once more three ahead of Rafael Nadal, and potentially keeping him there for good.
For Djokovic, a win would put him at 16 slams, with both Nadal and Federer firmly in his sights. Yes, he’s got Nadal beat on weeks at no. 1, and Federer on the head-to-head, but nothing strengthens your case like another major.
If I had to use one word sum-up Djokovic’s run to the finals, it would probably be ‘understated’. The Serb has played a grand total of zero top-20 players this fortnight, and has generally just gone about his business, looking like his usual, immense self. That said, it’s possible to suggest he hasn’t been seriously tested, and while both Hubert Hurkacz and Roberto Bautista Agut were able to take sets off him, that was more to do with his own level dropping than any particularly outstanding effort from his opponents.
Conversely, Federer comes into this riding the hype-equivalent of a Japanese bullet train. Despite never hitting top gear through his first five matches, the Swiss got one of the more memorable wins of his storied career in a four-set semi-final victory over Rafael Nadal. Of course, that second set where his game went walkabout has to be concerning, but the way he bounced-back, and particularly how he held off a resurgent Nadal in the fourth, was very impressive.
Djokovic may only lead their head-to-head 25-22, but there’s no denying he’s the favourite here.
Even setting aside the fact he’s the number one player in the world and reigning Wimbledon champion, there’s also the not-so-small matter of how those H2H numbers skew when you look at their more recent history. Since Djokovic first started his ascension to all-timer status in 2011, the Serb has won 19 of their 28 meetings, and most ominously of all, has only lost twice to the Swiss in nine meetings at majors – the last coming here in the semis seven years ago. Even for a man of Federer’s stature, those are tough figures to overcome.
That’s not to say Federer can’t do it – I would argue he’s playing better tennis right now than he was prior to either the ’14 or ’15 Wimbledon finals – it’s just going to require him to sustain a very high level over five sets of tennis, against a man uniquely equipped to stonewall him.
Of course, that’s not going to stop him from trying, so how will he go about it? Well, it’s pretty simple, actually. So simple in fact that Djokovic knows it already: take time away, all the time. Hit on the rise, go for sharp angles, and close at the net – with the amount of spin the Serb puts on the ball, Federer always has the opportunity to do those things, it’s just whether he does it often enough to avoid the backhand-to-backhand exchanges that favour his opponent, and well enough that when he’s in those aggressive positions, he can’t be punished by his ridiculous defense. If he does do that, and serves well – also a particularly hard proposition against Djokovic – the odds actually swing in his favour, but it’s still a very big ‘if’.
However, there is one area where Federer will definitely have an advantage: crowd support. Regardless of how you feel about both men, we know Federer is getting the lion’s share of the cheers on Sunday – hell, even Djokovic said as much to Serbian media. Odds are it means little to nothing, but there’s definitely a scenario where Federer plays well, and the dearth of “ajde’s” from the crowd gets to an already-frustrated Djokovic, and he loses his cool. Again, not the biggest of deals, but something worth keeping an eye on.
Djokovic in five. This might be the most well-prepared Federer has been for a match with Djokovic in half a decade, and yet, they don’t call him “Thanovic” for no reason. It might take one hell of a fight to get there, but in the end, the Serb will be the one left standing as your 2019 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Champion.