The Big Three are hoarding Grand Slam titles.
Once more in men’s tennis, the rich will be getting richer.
It was only 10 years ago, at Wimbledon, that Roger Federer eclipsed Pete Sampras’s men’s singles record of 14 Grand Slam titles. Sampras now sits in fourth place, and the three players ahead of him show no signs of slowing.
On Sunday at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic will go for his 16th Grand Slam singles title, while Roger Federer will seek his 21st.
It will be the 11th consecutive major men’s championship won by one of the Big Three, which includes the 18-time winner Rafael Nadal, whom Federer beat in the semifinals on Friday.
Federer and Djokovic have played each other a lot.
The Wimbledon final will be their 48th meeting, and a record 16th at a Grand Slam tournament. The familiarity breeds comfort. That is particularly true for Djokovic, who beat Federer in their two previous Wimbledon finals, in 2014 and 2015. Djokovic leads their head-to-head competition, 25-22, including nine wins at majors.
During his late-career renaissance, Federer has turned around his rivalry with Nadal, winning of six of their last seven matches. But he has not quite solved Djokovic, who has not lost to Federer in any tournament since the ATP Tour Finals in 2015.
“I think the moment you’ve played somebody probably more than 15 times, especially in recent years also a few times, there’s not that much more left out there,” Federer said. “Especially you know where the players go when it really matters — how much can you still surprise somebody?
“At the end of the day, it comes very much down to who’s better on the day, who’s in a better mental place, who’s got more energy left, who’s tougher when it really comes to the crunch.”
Federer has a couple of records in his sights.
Federer, who got his 100th Wimbledon match win in the quarterfinals, will turn 38 next month, and he is bidding to become the oldest player in the Open era to win a Grand Slam men’s singles title, surpassing the record of Ken Rosewall, who was 37 years 62 days old when he won the 1972 Australian Open.
With a victory, Federer would also tie Martina Navratilova’s Wimbledon record of nine singles titles.
The final is No. 1 vs. No. 2. Sort of.
Djokovic is the No. 1 seed and defending champion. The Wimbledon seeding formula bumped third-ranked Federer up to No. 2, ahead of Nadal, because of his stronger record on grass in recent years. The final will pit the top two men’s singles seeds against each other for the 48th time at a major in the Open era. In these duels, No. 1 has won 24 of the previous 47 encounters. If Federer wins, he will rise to No. 2 in the rankings.
The crowd will be rooting for Federer, and Djokovic knows it.
Within the Big Three, the Federer-Djokovic matchup has delivered reliably dramatic matches. Federer’s attacking and Djokovic’s counterpunching mesh in a way that allows both to play their A games simultaneously. Their matches also tend to have exceptionally raucous atmospheres, with crowds firmly in Federer’s favor.
Asked what he would do in a final in which the crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of his opponent, Djokovic said he would “know what to expect.”
“Regardless of who’s across the net,” he continued, “or what is happening around, I’ll definitely give it all.”
The challenge is mental, not physical.
The mental place will be paramount for Djokovic, 32. He said that visualization would be a “very, very important” part of his preparation for the match.
“It is a quite challenging battle within yourself,” Djokovic said of playing in a Grand Slam final. “I think at this stage we play in one of the most important stadiums and tournaments in the world, playing semifinals, finals, fighting for a trophy with one of the biggest rivals.
“I think the most important and probably the first win that you have to make is the one within yourself, then whatever happens externally is, I guess, a consequence or manifestation of that.”
Federer said his preparation for his 12th Wimbledon final, five more than any other man has reached, would focus on the mental more than the physical. He has never beaten Nadal and Djokovic in the same major tournament.
“I don’t have much energy to go train very much right now,” Federer said Friday. “Honestly, it’s about recovery, hitting some balls tomorrow, warming up the next day. But it’s more in the tactics.
“I don’t think there’s much I need to do in terms of practice. This is like a school: The day of the test you’re not going to read I-don’t-know-how-many books that day. You don’t have the time anyhow.”