Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will play for the Wimbledon title tomorrow, each with a point to prove.
The players -- who have a combined 23 Grand Slam singles titles -- moved to the championship match after beating emerging stars of the men’s game yesterday. Federer eased past 23-year-old Milos Raonic of Canada, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, while Djokovic often slipped and screamed at himself during a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (9-7) win against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.
“Things were difficult all of last year, most of the year, so I’m happy I worked hard off the court to get myself back into shape and back into contention for tournaments,” Federer said in a news conference after he advanced to his first major tennis final since he won his seventh Wimbledon title in 2012.
The 32-year-old Swiss, the oldest man in the semifinals, was knocked out of the second round of Wimbledon last year. After losing in straight sets to Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, Federer made some changes. He got a heavier racket which gives him more power on his single-handed backhand, and hired former Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg as his coach at the start of the season.
After losing to Andy Murray of Britain in last year’s Wimbledon final, Djokovic fell to Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open.
Like 17-time major singles champion Federer, Djokovic also made some changes. He hired another Wimbledon champion, Boris Becker, at the start of the year.
A close four-set loss to Nadal of Spain in the finals of the French Open, the one major title that’s eluded the Serb, had mentally affected him, Djokovic told reporters at the start of Wimbledon.
Losing his last three major finals “cannot be satisfying,” Djokovic said yesterday. “I know that I can win the title. I should have won a few matches that I lost in finals of Grand Slams in last couple years.”
Federer, who leads Djokovic 18-16, said much will depend on his attacking ability.
“Novak can hurt you down the line or cross court on both sides,” he said. “His forehand, his serve, his movement clearly is what stands out the most at this moment now. He’s really been able to improve that and make it rock solid. For me it’s really important to stay aggressive against him.”
Federer overwhelmed the No. 8 seeded Raonic from the start with strong serving and all-court coverage against his 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters) opponent.
Raonic, who had been trying to become the first Canadian man to reach a Grand Slam tennis final a day after compatriot Eugenie Bouchard advanced to today’s women’s championship match against Czech Petra Kvitova, dropped his serve at 4-all in all three sets. Federer never got broken and faced only one break point.
No. 11 seed Dimitrov, 23, had been playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal after he ousted defending men’s champion Murray in straight sets in the quarterfinals. That win came a day after Nadal was knocked out of the fourth round by Australian wild card entrant Nick Kyrgios, 19.
With Djokovic leading by a set and one point away from a double break in the second, the momentum shifted when Dimitrov produced an ace. It was all Dimitrov after that, winning five straight games as he attacked his opponent’s backhand. Faced with a second set point, Djokovic stopped play to challenge a line call. He was wrong, handing the set to Dimitrov, who was watched in the stands by his girlfriend, 2004 champion Maria Sharapova.
Djokovic got so frustrated with his faltering backhand, that he threw his racket high in the air in front of the Royal Box after yet another error mid-way through the third set. He regained the initiative in the tie-break, taking a 5-2 lead on a double fault and winning the set with a service winner.
Three double faults and a forehand error gave Djokovic an early break in the fourth set, only for the Serb to let Dimitrov off the hook once again by dropping his own serve. Serving to stay in the set at 5-4 down, Djokovic screamed after he saved a set point and held as Dimitrov continued to slip on the baseline.
In the fourth-set tie-break, Djokovic saved three more set points. Dimitrov fended off the first match point with a forehand passing, and then lost the match as a forehand clipped the net and sailed past him.
Djokovic will be prepared for another tough match tomorrow against men’s Grand Slam record holder Federer.
“His level has been very high, I have to say,” Djokovic said. “With his immense experience of winning this title so many times and, of course, from being so dominant in men’s tennis for over a decade, of course that helps in the approach of the Grand Slam final. Hopefully I can tactically prepare myself and execute well to not allow him to be at his top shape on Sunday.”