Novak Djokovic recently won his 6th Wimbledon to go on par with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slams each. The big 3 have been the constant of tennis for the last 13 years. Whenever they take each other on, it’s always a masterclass in tennis, especially if it’s a final. So today, we look at some of the most significant chapters in the grand story of the three greatest to ever do it with a look back at their 5 best finals on the grandest stage of the sport.
1. Wimbledon 2008, Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal
Arguably the greatest match in the history of Tennis, defending champion Roger Federer took on Rafael Nadal for the third year in a row to complete a trilogy for the ages at the Championships. Rafa had fallen short in 2006 and 2007, with the loss in 2007 described as one of his worst moments in tennis. One year later, he walked out onto the hallowed turf, a man of focus, a man who would not accept anything but the best on the day and he displayed exactly that in the first two sets. Wimbledon’s golden boy could not handle the King of Clay as the Spaniard was ruthless, consistently hitting Roger’s backhand, slowing down the points and leaving the Swiss frustrated. Nadal comfortably took the first two sets 6-4, 6-4 to firmly place him in the driver’s seat. Then came the rain.
The first rain break served as a catalyst for Federer, it halted Nadal’s momentum and the defending champion took advantage of it. He took the third set off a dejected and laboured Nadal 7-6. The 4th set, watching two titans go toe to toe in one of the greatest sets in tennis history, is something which will be etched into every fan’s memory who watched it unfold. The two could not better each other right until the tie break during which, one of the greatest shots you would ever see was played by the Swiss maestro to save a championship point. A tremendous backhand down the line which left the crowd at Centre Court and Rafa, absolutely stunned. It was at this moment Federer knew he was taking this final to a fifth.
Then came the second rain break. They got back to the court when darkness had seemed to claim it. Hawk-eye stopped working due to the lack of light, but none of this stopped Federer and Nadal as they continued from where they left off. It was at 7-7 when the Championship referee said they could only play two more games because it was getting so dark. That’s when Rafa drew blood, breaking Federer’s serve to make it 8-7. Nadal then finally took the 9th game and heard the music to his ears, “Game, set and match, Rafael Nadal.” Rafa was crowned Wimbledon champion.
2. Australian Open 2012, Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal
The longest Grand Slam final in history, 5 hours and 53 minutes of gruelling tennis. World Number one Novak Djokovic took on World Number two Rafael Nadal in a highly anticipated final and it did not disappoint. Both Rafa and Novak were in equal admiration of this matchup, the Spaniard has called it the best match he’s ever played even though he fell short, while the Serb has referred to it as the finest win of his career.
They both traded the first two sets which were equally close. Djokovic ran riot in the third taking it 6-2, and even though it was the shortest of the match it still ran for 45 minutes. The fourth set was another tiresome affair for both players. The set was a stalemate which meant it went to tiebreak. Nadal managed to dig deep and took the tie break 7-5 to make sure the final was going the distance. No one expected the fifth set to be as intense as it was, both players refusing to give in and making each other work to the maximum just to win a point. Nadal drew first blood to make it 4-2 but failed to hold his serve and Djokovic levelled it up at 4-4. Djokovic finally managed to break Nadal’s serve in the decisive game and ended the marathon and laid claim to the title.
By the time the trophy presentation came both players were so exhausted that they needed chairs to sit so they could get through it. This match was a prime example of when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Both of these players always seem to bring the best out of each other and their tennis is always at the highest level.
3. Wimbledon 2019, Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer
The top two seeds at the 2019 Wimbledon were inseparable for 4 hours and 57 minutes in one of the longest singles finals Centre Court had witnessed. Djokovic took a nervy first set 7-6, as both players made crucial errors in the opener but it was Federer’s four forehand errors in the tie break which cost him dear. The second set was very straightforward for Federer as he eased past the Serb 6-1, who seemed to lose the set from the second game. Djokovic, undeterred from the second set, bounced back in the third.
The two kept each other guessing throughout the set and at 5-4 Djokovic managed to save a set point. Federer capped off a 26 shot rally with a sensational winner at the start of the 12th game. Djokovic had let the Swiss have his moment with that and then dominated the rest of the set including the tie break to make it two sets to one in his favour. Much like the second set, Federer was far superior in the fourth. He broke the top seed twice and eventually closed the set out at 6-4, sending the match to a deciding fifth set.
Funnily enough, through the entire match, Federer had bettered Djokovic in almost every statistical category. But it’s about who steps up when the lights shine the brightest and that’s exactly what Djokovic did in the fifth. Federer broke the Serb at 7-7 and was serving when he had two championship points. Djokovic stepped up, saving both championship points and then broke him back. Both players matched each other’s intensity to take the championship into a deciding tie break. Djoker took the tie-break 7-3 to win his fifth Wimbledon after a Championship Classic.
4. Australian Open 2017, Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal reminded the tennis world that they weren’t done yet as they put on an absolute clinic at the Rod Laver Arena in 2017. Federer was the 17th seed while Rafa was the 9th, but the old guard seemed to be back for one last dance.
The early stages of the first set saw them test each other out. Then the Swiss took charge and swept Nadal in 34 minutes taking the first set 6-4. The second set was Nadal’s turn to shine, going 4-0 up in no time. Federer tried to make things difficult but eventually succumbed to the Spaniard and it was a set a piece. A pattern began to form with Federer wiping the floor with Nadal in the third, taking it 6-1. Rafa then did the same with Federer in the fourth to send the final into a decider. This time, it was not straightforward for either of them. Nadal drew first blood early on, but it was Roger’s sensational hitting and willpower which saw him break back and level it up at 3-3. The momentum was on Federer’s side but a weary Nadal kept coming at him with everything he had, but it was all in vain. He eventually broke Nadal and this time he made sure it was fatal. It was his first Grand Slam in five years and at the age of 35, this felt like Roger’s greatest triumph. A triumph that sent a message to the Tennis world, that Roger still had it.
5. Wimbledon 2014, Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer
Before the 2019 epic there was the 2014 classic. It was only the second time the pair faced off in a Grand Slam final.
The first set saw both players deliver a serving masterclass. Neither of them could even force a single break point, sending the set into a tie break. Federer took the tie break 9-7 after saving two set points, but Djokovic quickly bounced back in the second, breaking the Swiss early and levelled the tie up. The third set followed the first, a long set which resulted in a tie break, but this time it was Djokovic’s turn and he went ahead in the match. Djokovic’s service games had been immense right until the 5th game of the fourth set when the two traded breaks. The Serb broke his opponent once again, to get to within one game from the title. Federer then did what he does best, breaking him when he was 3-5 down and then proceeded to calmly save a championship point with an ace. It was third time lucky for Roger when he finally broke Djokovic to take the fourth and sent the Wimbledon final to a fifth set for the first time in five years. Both players served with aplomb right until it was 5-4, when Federer made two costly errors to hand Djokovic his second Championship title, and the grass could not have tasted better after a hard earned win against the master.
These three sensational athletes have been the epitome of the sport and have produced the greatest feats in tennis. They seem to age like fine wine as records tumble year after year. We don’t know how long they can keep this up for, but for as long as they do, we can only watch and admire.