Updated July 10, 2022 at 5:36 p.m. EDT|Published July 10, 2022 at 9:15 a.m. EDT
WIMBLEDON, England — The sports art patrons at Centre Court on Sunday got a careful study of one of the most jaw-dropping traits ever seen in games and sets and matches, something they could appreciate even had they dipped into the Pimm’s. That trait spent the afternoon surmounting an unusual hell scape of obstacles. It rides on in plain sight even as it’s technically invisible.
It’s Novak Djokovic’s composure, often so large that it’s a wonder there’s room in him for all the other organs. It defined his 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) win in the men’s singles final over the volatile and brilliant and brilliant and volatile Nick Kyrgios. It wowed Kyrgios himself. It combined with Djokovic’s otherworldly shotmaking to build a pinnacle in Djokovic’s choppy 2022 and revive his career-long foray into humongous numbers.
Those include a fourth consecutive Wimbledon title, a seventh Wimbledon title overall — to tie Pete Sampras and William Renshaw and lurk within one of Roger Federer’s record — and a 21st Grand Slam title, within one of Rafael Nadal and one ahead of Federer, the maestro Djokovic trailed 16-1 some 11 years ago. All those numbers and all the other numbers owe their construction largely to his composure.
“He was just so composed,” Kyrgios said. “That’s what I was just thinking to myself. In big moments, it just felt like he was never rattled. I feel like that’s his greatest strength — he just never looks rattled. He just looks completely within himself the whole time.”
What a howling pile of inconvenience that composure overrode. It solved Kyrgios’s molten serve, which kept booming by at 130 mph and whatnot, so much time spent “just seeing balls pass by,” Djokovic said, the 30 aces only part of its gasps. It solved Kyrgios’s variety, of which Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 champion here, said: “You cannot prepare match [plan] against Nick Kyrgios. Nick Kyrgios is a genius, a tennis genius. He doesn’t know what he’s going to play next in the point.”
It solved Kyrgios’s tactics, which include the occasional 125-mph second serve, the shots through his legs, the (one) underhand serve, the unpredictability with the grab bag of shots and just the damned noise of the 27-year-old Australian. It solved Kyrgios’s antics, which included yammering ad nauseam to his team in the stands and with the chair umpire over matters such as a yelping woman in the stands Kyrgios perceived to be well into her corks.
“I’ve been on a couple of nights out in my life,” Kyrgios said to a roomful of laughs, “and I knew she had too many.”
Yet the composure breathed on, steely amid the funkiness of Djokovic’s year, with this Wimbledon seeming urgent because he might not make the U.S. Open, seeing as how the United States has a policy about vaccinations for noncitizen, nonresident internationals and Djokovic remains unvaccinated. And it regenerated itself six months after Djokovic’s haunted tour of Australia, where he arrived with permission, stayed 11 days in courts both tennis and judicial, then experienced deportation and lingering glumness.
“I lost words for what this tournament, what this trophy means to me, my family, my team,” Djokovic said on the court afterward, reminiscing to “a little mountain resort in Serbia where my parents used to run the restaurant” and their firstborn began to play after watching Wimbledon. Yet soon he said also: “It’s a relief as well considering what I’ve been through of course this year. It adds more value and more significance and more emotions, of course.”
He told of the Australian Open aftermath, of “some unpleasant situations as well that [would] keep on repeating the same movie that I kind of was part of unfortunately in Australia.” He told of reaching Dubai, his next tournament, where he lost in the quarterfinals to No. 123 Jiri Vesely, and feeling “so much pressure and emotions happening. I wasn’t feeling myself on the court.”
All of it “caused turbulence inside of me,” he said. “I just needed time to weather the storm.”
“It’s very emotional,” Ivanisevic said. “If I can say, it was a s--- year, a tough year. . . . This was a huge thing what happened to him. . . . This was a big shock.”
When they arrived on court Sunday, Djokovic had his 32nd appearance in a final in his 68 Grand Slam tournaments and Kyrgios a first in his 30. Kyrgios would have to shoo the butterflies that visit debutant major finalists and disinvite the bats known to make routine tours of his head.
He did both fairly beautifully, all told. He stayed patient in rallies that favored Djokovic, until Kyrgios seemed to tire slightly and called off some of his chases for balls. He was fearless, as anyone might be with such a serve. His notorious wiring never did malfunction. He kept the standard high even after a crucial juncture at 4-4 in the third set when he lost a service game with errors more than Djokovic won it — unless you count the composure — getting broken after leading 40-love to trail two sets to one.
He still joined Djokovic in a fourth set bereft of even a single break point.
“He puts constant pressure on his opponents when he’s cruising through his service games,” Djokovic said.
“I felt like I belonged, to be honest,” Kyrgios said inarguably.
Still, with all that and that and that, the 35-year-old Djokovic suffered zero service breaks after an early one at 2-2 in the first set, when he double faulted weakly to close matters. Djokovic’s solving of Kyrgios carried that mark of composure, his 17 unforced errors to 33 on the other side.
When it got to a fourth-set tiebreaker, that composure overtook the whole theater. Djokovic made one measly unforced error, a botched forehand at 2-0. He stayed in steady rallies as if to do so interminably and let Kyrgios err. He got to 6-1, weathered two Kyrgios serves for 6-3 and then crushed two forehands smack upon the baseline in a 10-shot rally that closed it with a Kyrgios backhand into the net.
Djokovic turned around to his team with arms raised yet again in yet another year, then shared a hug with Kyrgios, went down to the grass and ate some, made his new airplane move on his belly, went up to hug his family and team.
He got big applause from the fans who saw how hard it had been, and he drew big laughs during on-court remarks, and he took his trophy and went to shake one by one the hands of all the ballboys and ballgirls and linesmen and lineswomen lined up per tradition at the net because, by now, he’s almost as much a part of the tapestry as they are.
“Over the moon,” he would say soon, his composure reestablished as celestial.
— Chuck Culpepper
Read highlights from Sunday’s final, by Cindy Boren in Washington, below.
Nick Kyrgios took a 4-3 lead in the fourth set thanks to his serve and Novak Djokovic quickly countered by holding his serve to tie the score at 4-4.
Kyrgios still managed to offer a running commentary, questioning the electronic line devices, though, and if the match goes deeper, he’ll need to get everything else out of his head. And there’s the chance that, at 4-4 with Djokovic having taken two sets, this ends shortly.
“When you have watched as many Kyrgios matches from the commentary booth as I have — when he is playing his best he is full of adrenaline, but he’s come off that now and somehow he has to get that level up without any of the anxiety that goes with it,” said Todd Woodbridge, a former Wimbledon doubles champion, on the BBC.
After winning the third set 6-4, Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios headed into the fourth set with questions about whether Kyrgios could keep his head in a match that he perhaps could have won in straight sets.
The chair umpire has so far refused to intervene beyond assessing a warning to Kyrgios for his constant comments, which are likely to continue as the Australian struggles with self-control
Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s the missiles Nick Kyrgios is firing. Whatever the case, Novak Djokovic had a few opinions to offer to his box, too, in the third set.
The stakes are rising higher and higher, with what was a routine game at 4-4 in the third set suddenly turning as Kyrgios lost his composure, cursing as Djokovic broke his service for a 5-4 lead and will serve for a two sets to one lead.
Nick Kyrgios received a warning from the chair umpire for excessive commentary as he held serve for a 3-2 lead in the third set.
According to Kyrgios, a woman in the front row has had about “700 drinks” as he explained it. The umpire said he hadn’t heard it and Kyrgios responded that he had. Fortunately, it did not affect the course of what is an entertaining as all get-out match.
In case you were wondering, the next step for a violation is a point penalty, followed by a game penalty for the next violation.
"She's drunk out of her mind and talking to me in the middle of a game. She's the one who looks like she's had 700 drinks."
I can’t wait for the Woman Who Had 700 Drinks at Wimbledon and Got Yelled at by Nick Kyrgios to write a Guardian op-ed titled “I Am the Woman Who Had 700 Drinks at Wimbledon and Got Yelled at by Nick Kyrgios”
Shortly after a mini-tantrum in which Nick Kyrgios directed some choice, shall we say, words in the direction of the box occupied by his supporters — one near the royal box occupied by the tender-eared young Prince George — he faltered and Novak Djokovic quickly broke him for a 3-1 lead in the second set.
Suddenly, Kyrgios was his own worst enemy and Djokovic made him pay for a 4-1 lead in the second set.
Kyrios, as is his wont, headed for his chair and continued to talk and gesture toward his box as he ate a banana in vintage mid-match behavior for him.
It’s a little tough to determine which player is the winner of 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Both look cool and collected, but Nick Kyrgios, with his jaunty backward cap, looks more relaxed — perhaps because he has beaten Novak Djokovic twice head to head — as he takes the first set.
Kyrgios, fueled by a streak in which he won 14 straight points and a first serve that topped 130 mph, won the first set 6-4. Although Djokovic fought back to 40-all in the 10th game, Kyrgios regained his footing and closed out the set, appearing to settle in comfortably. So far.
In the fifth game of the first set, Nick Kyrgios struck first, breaking Novak Djokovic’s serve.
Djokovic won only two points on his serve and double faulted to end the game as Kyrgios took a 3-2 lead in the first set.
If Kyrgios was hurt by not having played since his quarterfinal because of Rafael Nadal’s injury, there are no signs of rust. He’s hitting good shots and showing no jitters.. Djokovic has had the answers you’d expect from a six-time Wimbledon singles champion, but Kyrgios has the first break.