LONDON - Roger Federer targets a record eighth Wimbledon title on Sunday against Novak Djokovic who is desperate to end a stretch of Grand Slam finals defeats which are threatening to shatter his legacy.
Federer, 32, won the first of his 17 majors at Wimbledon in 2003 and the most recent in 2012 but his failure to return to a Grand Slam final since has had his critics penning his career obituary. Six-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic, the 2011 Wimbledon winner, will be playing in his third All England Club final in four years, but the 27-year-old has lost seven of his 13 finals at the majors, including five of the last six.
The pair will be playing for the 35th time in their eight-year rivalry while Sunday's final will be their 11th meeting at the Grand Slam level. Only once have they met at Wimbledon when Federer won their 2012 semi-final in four sets and only once before have they clashed in a Grand Slam final at the 2007 US Open where Djokovic, making his first appearance in a final at the majors, lost in straight sets as the Swiss captured a fourth successive title in New York.
Federer appreciates that Djokovic has matured as a player and a person since then and their relationship, which was once fairly cool, has warmed to the extent that the two even exchange tips these days on fatherhood. "He has a wonderful way of either redirecting or taking the ball early, taking pace from the opponent, even generating some of his own," said Federer.
"So I think that's what makes him so hard to play. There's not really a safe place you can play into. Like back in the day there was many guys where you just knew, Oh, this guy is a bit dodgey on the backhand. Let me play that and then build up the point from that. "Novak can hurt you down the line or cross-court on both sides. His forehand, his serve, his movement clearly is what stands out the most. He's really been able to improve that and make it rock solid."
Federer, the former world number one whose ranking slipped to a decade-long low of eight just six months ago, will become the oldest Wimbledon champion of the Open Era if he prevails on Sunday, beating the previous mark of 31-year-old Arthur Ashe in 1975. "It's not so important," he said. "I would know it if it would be really important to me, but it's not." What is important for the great Swiss is that he never lost faith in his ability to return to a Grand Slam final. "I played all the slams, 50 plus now (59 in a row). I think for that you need to be, first of all, healthy physically, but also mentally ready to do it," he said.
"You've got to love the game, because if you don't love it, then it's just going to be too hard. I think that's kept me going quite easily actually, because I know why I'm playing tennis." Djokovic has lost five of his last six Grand Slam finals and all of the last three to Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2013, Rafael Nadal at the 2013 US Open and to Nadal again at this year's French Open. Unlike Federer and Nadal, he is still without the career Grand Slam which every player craves having lost both his Paris finals to the world number one Spaniard.
"Losing three out of four last Grand Slam finals, it cannot be satisfying. I don't want to sound like I'm not appreciating to play finals of Grand Slams. It's already a huge result. We cannot take that for granted," said Djokovic. "I know that I can win the title. I should have won a few matches that I lost in finals of Grand Slams in last couple years. But it's an experience. It's a learning process."
Both players have plenty of Wimbledon experience in their corners Federer has Stefan Edberg, the 1988 and 1990 champion as coach while Djokovic works with Boris Becker, the winner in 1985, 1986 and 1989. "Stefan is clearly a piece of the puzzle," said Federer. In the Djokovic camp, Becker shares duties with Marian Vajda, who has been at the Serb's side since his early days. "We have a much better understanding now, and it shows on the court."