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Updated: July 6, 2014 00:24 IST

A lot on the line for Djokovic and Federer

Mukund Padmanabhan
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If Federer fails to dominate and the match goes the whole way, then Djokovic will be the favourite; he has a 2-0 record against Federer in five-set matches.

Two of tennis’s Big Four will face off in Sunday’s men’s final, but the match seems to have crystallised around a single question. Can Roger Federer win his eighth Wimbledon title and 18th Grand Slam tournament?

The issue is not really about bettering Pete Sampras’s seven titles or furthering an already astonishing Grand Slam record. The question has a personal and poignant ring to it as it touches on Federer’s decline — that is, in terms of his own lofty standards — over the past four years, a period during which he has won only two Grand Slam titles.

It hints at whether tennis fans and experts alike have been horribly wrong in writing him off as someone who could never win another Grand Slam, and — perish the thought — as an ageing 32-year-old should have retired when people asked ‘why’ rather than ‘why ever not’.

A victory here will be a personal vindication of the belief in himself and his resolve to stay the course in the face of growing scepticism about his future in the game. He will probably be aware that this may just be his best shot at another Grand Slam for quite a while.

So, can Federer win against Novak Djokovic? The short answer is, on current form, yes. Federer has been playing the best tennis he has in recent years and in a style that is reminiscent of his earlier days. He has been incredibly light on his feet, moving around the court almost ethereally and in a manner that exposed the shortcomings of much younger opponents. His serve, if you discount one game against Stan Wawrinka, has been unbreachable.

Best of all, his big weapon — the sharp forehand to either flank, which became error-prone and was mainly responsible his recent losses — is working just fine.

He has had a relatively easy draw, though, so far, and faces his first real test in top-seeded Djokovic.

Although Federer won their only encounter on grass in 34 matches, Djokovic has two attributes to negate Federer’s strengths on his favourite surface — a great return of serve and an extraordinary capacity to retrieve, manifest in his ability to stretch into splits when pushed into corners.

The Serb has also demonstrated time and again, as he did in the semifinal against Dimitrov, that he only needs a small crack in the door to wedge his foot in and come through after throwing it wide open.

If Federer fails to dominate and the match goes the whole way, then Djokovic will be the favourite; he has a 2-0 record against Federer in five-set matches.

Djokovic has been the bookies’ favourite for the title all along, though the odds have narrowed down considerably following Federer’s performance, reflecting the only certainty in this match — namely that it’s anyone’s game.

If Federer wins before a Centre Court crowd that is going to be strongly rooting for him, he will prove that he knew something about himself and his game that many others did not.

If he loses, we may all go back to asking the same question again — can Federer win another Grand Slam?

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