On Sunday afternoon at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, Novak Djokovic could win a 20th Grand Slam title, a third major of the year and a third Wimbledon title in a row – the man standing in his way is first-time Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini.
With Djokovic playing in a 30th Grand Slam final and Berrettini about to experience a major final for the first time, the odds clearly point towards a victory for the world No 1.
However, Berrettini has not lost on grass this season and has never lost on the surface when he has won the first set.
In his semi-final against Hubert Hurkacz the Italian hit 60 winners to just 18 unforced errors and has won 151 of 158 service games on grass this year.
“Obviously I’m trying to be the best at everything – tactics, the mental side, physicality, everything,” Berrettini said after his 6-3 6-0 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 semi-final win against Hurkacz.
“After the third set, which I thought that I deserved to win and I didn’t, I had to say to myself that it didn’t matter. I was feeling better and like I was the stronger player and it paid off.
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“I remember the first time that I stepped onto this court, two years ago against Roger [Federer], and it wasn’t the same performance! But, he’s just a great legend. I enjoyed it, even though I lost, and I think that experience helped me to be ready.
“I’m grateful for everything that’s happening. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. My first final in Wimbledon. It’s just crazy to think about it.
“It will be a great day, a great sports day. I’m really happy that, together with football now, we are one of the biggest sports in Italy.”
Another first at the Wimbledon Championships
Marija Cicak will be the Chair Umpire for the final. She is the first female Chair Umpire of the men’s final and it follows on from her chairing the ladies’ singles final in 2014 and ladies’ doubles final in 2017.
On Sunday, Berrettini’s serve and his booming forehand will be two great weapons as he aims to make his dreams come true by winning his first Grand Slam final and becoming the first Italian to triumph at Wimbledon.
Djokovic is widely regarded as one of the best returners that the game has ever seen, but the Italian’s power and ability to hit the edges of the service box will be a challenge, even for the imperious Serb.
Particularly at this stage of my career, Grand Slams are everything; they’re the four events that count the most in our sport and I’ve been very privileged to make history in the sport I truly love.
While the seventh seed and first-time finalist battles his nerves, for Djokovic the process of being in a Wimbledon final and a Grand Slam final is normal.
During the latter stages of this year’s Championships the Serb has not held back from speaking about his motivation to continue making history and pushing the envelope.
“I’ve said this so many times before, the most special tournament in the world on this court and there is no holding back, once you step out on the court, particularly at the later stages,” Djokovic said.
“The dream keeps going, that’s all I can say. I’m trying to take out the maximum of my own abilities every single match and see what happens. Giving up is never an option.
“It fills my heart every time I hear there is something on the line, it inspires and motivates me but at the same time I have to balance it with being present and in the moment and win only the next match.
“For me only one match exists in a few days and I’m going to try and not think about the 30th Grand Slam final.”
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Djokovic owns a 2-0 advantage in his head-to-head record against Berrettini, and he will be all the better for the way in which Shapovalov pushed him during their 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 7-5 semi-final.
“He [Shapovalov] served for the first set and was probably the better player in the second set. He had many chances,” Djokovic said.
“We’re going to see a lot of him in the future. He’s a great player. You could say I was the ultimate competitor today.”
As the ‘ultimate competitor’ Djokovic saved 10 break points against the Canadian during that semi-final and does not have a history of stepping back on the big occasions.
With the opportunity to equal Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam titles, the chance to secure a third major of the year and a third Wimbledon title in succession, Djokovic should grow a foot taller on the Centre Court stage.
He has lost just one set during this year’s Championships – against Britain’s Jack Draper in the first round – and has not lost a grass court match since 2018.
If Berrettini brings his ‘A’ game and Djokovic does too, we could all be treated to another Wimbledon final to remember and at the end of it, one man will make history.
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