By Jared Pine
In an era of tennis dominated by four players on the men’s side, fans have been treated to some of the best rivalries the sport has ever seen. One of them — the Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic contention — takes Centre Court in the Wimbledon final on Sunday.
Among the different match-ups of the four players, the Federer-Djokovic rivalry has never been considered better than second-best at any time. Perhaps that’s because 20 of their previous 34 meetings have come in tournaments’ second-to-last round. Maybe it’s because Sunday will be just their second meeting in a grand slam final. It could be that this rivalry will likely finish second in most meetings of any rivalry since 1968. Or maybe it’s just because these two are arguably each others’ second biggest rival behind Rafael Nadal.
Still, even though this rivalry has been characterized by the number two since it began in 2006, it will be the number one that is attached to Sunday’s match between these two greats. A Djokovic win on Sunday, returns him to the World No. 1 ranking, a first since the fall of 2013. A Federer victory, on the other hand, gives the Swiss his eighth Wimbledon crown, and he’ll stand alone at No. 1 on the list of most Gentlemen’s Wimbledon Singles titles.
Since the Djokovic-Federer rivalry has been overshadowed by each player’s head-to-head with Nadal, it is easy to ignore the accomplishments of the rivalry. However, it should be noted that this will be the pair’s 35th meeting, tying them for third-most in the Open Era with the Boris Becker-Stefan Edberg rivalry of nearly 20 years ago. (Let it not be lost either, that Becker now serves as Djokovic’s coach, and Edberg will be in the other players’ box as Federer’s coach). The two coaches, who each won six Grand Slam finals in their careers, began their current partnerships at the start of 2014. In their own rivalry, Becker and Edberg met in three consecutive Wimbledon finals between 1988 and 1990 with Federer’s coach winning two.
In 2007 a 20-year-old Djokovic was swept aside in three sets by Federer at the US Open final, Djokovic’s first slam final. In the seven years since, Djokovic has played in 12 more Grand Slam finals, and Federer has appeared in 10, but none of those were against each other. Even in 2012, when the two battled for the No. 1 ranking, the only major final that Djokovic didn’t reach that year was the only one that Federer did — Wimbledon, where Federer won his 17th and last Grand Slam championship.
A victory Sunday will further separate Federer from any player in men’s history and tie him in Grand Slam titles with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Meanwhile, Djokovic is looking for No. 7, which would push him past Becker and Edberg on the all-time list.
Here’s a look at some of their most memorable matches:
2009 US Open Semifinal – Federer d. Djokovic 7-6(3), 7-5, 7-5 – This was the pair’s third of five consecutive meetings at Flushing Meadows, which Federer won to reach his seventh consecutive Grand Slam final. Though it was straight sets, it was three high-quality sets. Late in the third set, Djokovic hit a drop shot and volley lob over Federer, which he returned for a ‘tweener winner to give himself three match points.
2010 US Open Semifinal – Djokovic d. Federer 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 – This match was Djokovic’s first win over Federer in four tries at the US Open, which played a big part in giving him the confidence to challenge the Federer-Nadal dominance in the 2011 season. Late in the final set, Djokovic faced two match points on his serve at 4-5, 15-40, but saved both with forehand winners and came back to win the deciding set, denying Federer a seventh consecutive appearance at a US Open final.
2011 Roland Garros Semifinal -Federer d. Djokovic 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) – Federer ended Djokovic’s 41-match win streak to start 2011 with his four-set victory over Djokovic and denied Djokovic the No. 1 ranking that would have accompanied a victory. Federer fired 18 aces in one of the best serving displays in any match between the pair. The 18th came on match point, which was followed by a defiant finger-wag toward the Djokovic box from the Swiss.
2011 US Open Semifinal – Djokovic d. Federer 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 – The pair met in a fourth consecutive US Open semifinal, where Djokovic had a storybook comeback over Federer en route to his fourth career grand slam crown. Federer won the first two sets and earned a break lead in the deciding set. Serving at 5-3, 40-15, Federer again had two chances to defeat Djokovic at the US Open, but Djokovic saved the first with a now famous forehand return winner. Federer was unlucky on a ball that clipped the net and landed wide to ruin his second match point, allowing Djokovic to complete the comeback from two sets down.
2012 Wimbledon Semifinal – Federer d. Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 – Like every other match on this list, this one came in the penultimate round of a grand slam. Federer earned his 15th win over Djokovic in four sets under the roof on Centre Court. Federer kept the points short with attacking play and limited Djokovic’s break opportunities in a master class performance to reach his eighth Wimbledon final. After winning the final for his 17th career major title, Federer surpassed Djokovic in the ATP rankings to become the world No. 1 and break Pete Sampras’s record for most weeks with the top ranking.