Change and continuity: On the Wimbledon titles of Djokovic and Rybakina

Djokovic won his seventh title, while Rybakina was the fifth straight first-time winner

July 13, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 01:17 am IST

Novak Djokovic is unlike the archetypal Wimbledon champion. He is neither a big-server nor a net-rusher and does not slice and dice his way through points. Instead, he is peerless in how he absorbs an opponent’s most devastating play, seizes crucial moments and flips the narrative within a blink of an eye. No one in living memory has anticipated, moved and defended a grass court quite like the 35-year-old Serb. On Sunday, he brought to the fore all these facets to clinch his seventh Wimbledon crown — fourth on the trot — and a 21st Grand Slam title. Admittedly, the grass at SW19 is slower and the bounce truer than earlier times, helping consummate all-courters like Djokovic. But the run of Nick Kyrgios to the final — albeit after a walk-over against an in-form but injured Nadal in the semi-final — was enough evidence that the surface still offers purchase to those willing, and able, to play traditional grass-court tennis. Kyrgios did this for a set, bouncing off the audience’s energy like a showman would in a theatre. Wimbledon, in fact, has come to be his safe space, where he is still loved and not judged despite his boorish behaviour from time to time. Yet Djokovic, the ultimate diffuser, displayed patience and tactical endurance, the lack of which proved Kyrgios’ undoing yet again.

For Djokovic, the Australian Open may have brought the most success (record nine titles), but it is Wimbledon that has proved more momentous. Pete Sampras’s maiden triumph in 1993 sparked his interest in tennis and he has now equalled the legendary American’s tally at Wimbledon. Victory in 2018 resurrected his career after a prolonged slump and the latest win is sure to galvanise him again, after the fiasco in Australia over his unvaccinated status and the stinging quarter-final loss to Nadal at Roland-Garros. He has now surpassed Roger Federer in the all-time Major race and is just one behind Nadal. That he has fallen to seventh in the ATP rankings because of the absence of ranking points at this year's competition will be a mere footnote. While Djokovic has been a near constant at Wimbledon, Elena Rybakina was the fifth straight first-time women’s singles winner. The 23-year-old was up against the sentimental favourite in Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, bidding to become the first Arab and African woman to win a Slam trophy. There was also the awkwardness surrounding her nationality, in light of the All England club’s ban on Russians and Belarusians. Rybakina was born and raised in Russia, but switched to Kazakhstan four years ago in return for funding. But she displayed remarkable mental fortitude, and with a power-packed game felled two Major winners and the World No.2 to secure tennis’s most coveted prize.

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