Wimbledon finals always matter, but this one represented something more. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer produced an all-time classic on Sunday, going the distance in what ultimately became the longest men’s singles final ever played at SW19. Djokovic emerged the eventual winner, but this was about more than just one title and one tournament.
This year’s Wimbledon fired the starting pistol on the race to finish as the greatest of all time - dubbed the ‘GOAT’ in the social media age. The narrative before the tournament was of a rising new generation. The likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Sasha Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Felix Auger Aliassime were tipped to make a real impression. Instead, three of those four crashed out in the first round. The other exited in the third round.
Indeed, the 2019 Championships only served to underline the supremacy enjoyed by the established elite. Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal cruised through the tournament to the semi finals, with Federer and Nadal only beaten by fellow members of The Big Three. Their level is still way beyond that of anyone else in the men’s game right now.
Now into their 30s, some more so than others, all three men are surely conscious of their place in history. Djokovic, Federer and Nadal already hold the top three spots for the number of Grand Slam titles and so it has become a straight contest between them to decide who will claim become the GOAT.
Federer currently tops the standings with 20 major titles to his name. As the oldest of the trio, his expiry date is closer than that of the others. We have been saying that for a while - Federer will be 38 next month and was one point away from winning another Wimbledon title - but there will come a time when the Swiss starts to fade. In truth, we might already be at that point, Federer more careful in picking what tournaments he plays.
Many believe, with good reason, that Federer will be caught. However, a ninth Wimbledon crown would have nudged his tally again. It would have extended his lead over Djokovic to six Grand Slam titles and raised the likelihood of holding off the Serbian. Now, though, the difference stands at just four titles, a gap Djokovic, the world number one, could feasibly close in the space of just one year.
The common narrative pits Djokovic and Federer against each other in the race to finish as the GOAT. Nadal, however, might be the sleeper candidate in this contest. He has 18 Grand Slam titles to his name, after all. The Spaniard might not have won a major on a surface other than clay since 2017, but his dominance of Roland Garros, where he has won 12 times, will keep him in the conversation.
Sunday’s Wimbledon men’s final will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time. It will go down alongside the famous Federer-Nadal final of 2008 as the best match ever witnessed by the Centre Court crowd. Indeed, it was a spectacle in its own right. In time, though, it could mark the start of one last furlong between The Big Three. At this stage, one more Grand Slam title is never just one more Grand Slam title.