In a Wimbledon final that was perhaps unexpected, three-time former champion Novak Djokovic will look to claim the title against South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who is competing in his second Grand Slam final after reaching the title match in New York last year. There were doubts over whether Djokovic would ever compete for a Slam again after a loss of form and fitness, but he looks to be back to his best. But Anderson has already proved himself dangerous. Who will come out on top?
Anderson and Djokovic have met six times in a rivalry Djokovic has dominated, winning five to Anderson’s one. That victory for Anderson came a decade ago in Indian Wells in their first match, with the South African winning 7-6 3-6 6-4 in the second round. Since then Djokovic has been generally unchallenged, although Anderson did take the first two sets off him in 2015 at Wimbledon in their most recent meeting, only for Djokovic to win in five.
Path to the final
Djokovic began his Wimbledon campaign with straight sets demolitions of Tennys Sandgren and Horacio Zeballos to reach the third round. There he rallied past British #1 and a partisan crowd to win 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-4. Djokovic then beat Russia’s Karen Khachanov in fading light 6-4 6-2 6-2 before overcoming Nishikori 6-3 3-6 6-2 6-2. That set up a semifinal with Rafael Nadal that was one of their finest clashes, with Djokovic eventually prevailing 6-4 3-6 7-6 3-6 10-8 to reach the final.
Anderson’s road has been longer still. He was comfortable in beating Norbert Gombos 6-3 6-4 6-4, before ousting Andreas Seppi 6-3 6-7 6-3 6-4 and Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3 7-5 7-5. That set up a clash with Gael Monfils, who Anderson beat narrowly 7-6 7-6 5-7 7-6. He then edged out Federer, saving a match point in the third set, 2-6 6-7 7-5 6-4 13-11. Then in a battle of the big servers he outlasted John Isner over six-and-a-half hours, finally triumphing 7-6 6-7 6-7 6-4 26-24.
How do they match up?
Anderson will have to produce the best serving performance of his life to overcome Djokovic, surely the best returner the game has ever seen. Anderson moves and hits the ball well for a big man, but cannot match the Serbian’s quality off the ground. Djokovic was striking the ball superbly against Nadal, and his movement was also exceptional, as he withstood the worst that Nadal could throw at him and was just about standing at the end.
Fitness will also surely play a role in the outcome of this match. After Anderson’s back-to-back marathons, which have seen him spend over 11 hours on court in three days, how much the eighth seed will have left to give is uncertain. But, in his favour is that he, unlike Djokovic, will have benefitted from a day off. After local government rules forced Djokovic and Nadal to suspend their clash on Friday night, they returned to play another two hours on Saturday, leaving Djokovic less recovery time.
Although Anderson will be the beneficiary of a day’s rest, Djokovic’s powers of recovery are rightly legendary and he has played considerably less tennis to reach the final. A final he would be favourite to win anyway, for history weighs heavily on his side as a 12-time Major champion against Anderson, who has never won a title above 250-level. Expect Djokovic to work the big man over and neutralise his serve en route to a straight sets victory.