WIMBLEDON, England -- Out of nowhere, from the depths of his imagination, Novak Djokovic resurrected the past. He was two points away from the victory of his life, 30-all as he served for the Wimbledon title against Rafael Nadal, and he broke a pattern he had established so brilliantly all day.
He charged to the net behind his serve.
All of a sudden, we were seeing Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg, or perhaps John Newcombe or Rod Laver. It was a classicist's touch, and totally unexpected, at a time of excruciating tension. Perhaps that's what it takes to dismantle the fortress that is Nadal, a bit of strategy every bit as bold as the great man himself.
Djokovic came in behind that serve and sliced an artful backhand volley for a pure, cross-court winner that earned him a match point. It seemed inevitable now, the realization of Djokovic's lifelong dream, and this 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 victory concluded as a Nadal backhand sailed long.
Djokovic collapsed to the turf, on his back, but he did not make a show of his triumph. The big celebration was going on in his box, where his family and friends bounced and hugged as one, delirious at the sight of his achievement. So much talk had been about Nadal heading into the match: whether he'd win his 11th Grand Slam title, whether he'd win his third Wimbledon, whether he'd make it a clean 6-0 against Djokovic in the majors.
Instead, a different streak came to mind: Djokovic's four straight wins over Nadal as the hardcourt season moved on to clay. Djokovic scored a pair of titles on each surface, forging the essence of his 43-match winning streak, and it was that remarkable run that gave him the confidence he could take down Nadal on Centre Court.
This was Djokovic's match from the start. He sailed through the first set without allowing Nadal a break point, earning his own break in the final game when Nadal went wide with a down-the-line forehand.
When Nadal broke serve for a 2-0 lead in the second set, we were witnessing the essence of a "zoning" player, a man who could do no wrong. He clinched that game with a desperate sprint to the net, in time to lift a feathery cross-court backhand volley over the head of a charging Nadal, worthy of thunderous applause.
In holding for 3-0, Djokovic closed out that game with an ace. He changed rackets at 5-1, and just when you wondered if it might be the wrong time to make a change, he cracked an ace and served out the set at love. All of his rackets were working this day. He could have taken a flyswatter out there and held his own.
The third set was vintage Nadal, the man who views a two-set deficit as a trifle, a minor obstacle, something easily overcome. Djokovic's "zoning" period ended right around the 1:25 mark of the match, and let's face it, that was inevitable; nobody plays out of his mind for three solid hours. This was Nadal's time, and he was positively steamrolling as he served out his final three games of the set at love.
The key game of the match came as Djokovic broke serve for a 5-3 lead in the fourth set. This was when we got a rare glimpse of a very human Nadal, committing unforced groundstroke errors from the baseline. Usually--and especially in big matches--he's the one grinding people down, unleashing the awesome power of his whiplike strokes and nailing the corners. But here he went wide with a cross-court backhand for 0-30. He snapped a forehand into the net for 0-40. And after a brief reprieve, he missed badly on a backhand long, handing Djokovic the game.
It was 4:38 p.m. on a gray, still afternoon in southeast England, and Djokovic was serving for his dream. We got another rare glimpse of Nadal, totally disheartened as his netted baseline forehand made it 30-15. Moments later, at 30-all, came that retro moment from Djokovic, the instant of serve-and-volley inspiration, and at that point there was little doubt as to the outcome.
Well after the match, Djokovic's supporters had gathered just outside Centre Court, singing chants from their homeland and waving Serbian flags. It was a rather private ceremony, here in the heart of a posh London suburb, but many folks gathered around to watch. There's nothing quite as invigorating as the sight of pure happiness, and the realization of a dream. Here's a toast of Serbian beer to the man who got it done.