LONDON — Their combined career winnings are more than $140 million and they’ve totaled 23 Grand Slam titles. But in their own ways, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who will meet here Sunday to decide the Wimbledon championship, think of themselves as being on the road back.
A title at SW19 might not necessarily be their road to redemption, but for each it could be what they view as a sort of career correction, a reframing of their golden rackets. Djokovic hasn’t won a Slam since his triumph in the Australian Open at the start of last year. Federer, with seven Wimbledon titles, has won only one Slam in the last 3½ years, a four-set victory over Andy Murray here in 2012.
For these two champs, arguably the two greatest men’s players of their era, such waiting, waiting, and waiting around seems interminable. Really, how much dust in the trophy case can one man allow to accumulate?
“I don’t even remember when my last Grand Slam final was,’’ said Federer, relaxed, smiling and confident Friday after his easy dismissal of Canadian giant Milos Raonic in the Centre Court semifinal.
“Losing three out of four last Grand Slam finals, it cannot be satisfying,’’ said Djokovic, reflecting over his recent run after a slightly more difficult time in erasing Grigor Dimitrov in his semi on Friday. “I don’t want to sound like I’m not appreciating to play finals of Grand Slam . . . [playing here in the final] is already a huge result, we cannot take that for granted. But again, I know that I can win the title, I should have won some of the matches that I lost in the finals of Grand Slams the last couple of years. But it’s an experience. It’s a learning process.’’
Federer, who at 32 would be the oldest man to win here in the Open era, has won 18 of the 34 matchups with Djokovic dating to 2006, back when Federer was already in full championship flight and Djokovic was just stepping to the baseline. Federer won seven of the first nine matchups, but Djokovic, five years younger than the Swiss master, has won seven of the last 11.
For all their success and head-to-head confrontations, they have faced each other only once at the All England Club, in the 2012 semis. The ever-slick Federer captured it in four sets, returning two days later to defeat Andy Murray for his seventh Wimbledon title. If Federer wins Sunday, he will be the all-time men’s winner here, separating himself from fellow seven-timers Pete Sampras and 19th century British legend William Renshaw.
“Athletic,’’ said Federer, summing up in one word the rivalry he has shared with Djokovic, the Serbian star who can’t match Federer’s backhand but surpasses him in the tracking-and-retrieving game. “It’s been good. I must say I’ve enjoyed the matches against him. We didn’t come through the rankings together . . . I was established while he was coming up. We saw each other in a different light than we see each other today when we’re both ranked high. Things clearly have changed over time.
“But ever since he’s won Grand Slams and become world No. 1, it’s been a cool rivalry, in my opinion.’’
Federer, crowned king here five years in a row (2003-07) and then again in 2009 and 2012, will be playing in his 25th Slams final. He has won 17 of 24 title matches for an astounding 71 percent winning rate, his title-taking nearly as metronomic as his shot-making. His only title loss here came in 2008, when he lost to Rafael Nadal in a five-setter, which came the year after he capped his drive to five titles with a five-set win over the then-budding Spanish star.
Djokovic, whose greatest treasure haul has been his four Australian Open titles (2008, ’11, ’12, ’13), is a more mortal 6 for 13 (46.1 percent) in Slams title encounters. In Paris, where he has never won on Roland Garros clay, he has gone 0 for 2. He has split here, with a win over Nadal in 2011 and a loss to Murray in 2013, which in itself should be viewed as a gift to the UK worthy of, say, at least a $1 million gift certificate in the Wimbledon gift shop. Djokovic has played more title matches (five) at the US Open than anywhere else, but only has his 2011 win over Nadal to show for it. Otherwise, he has gone lost in America to the likes of Federer (2007), Nadal (2010), Murray (2012), and again to Nadal last September.
Now Djokovic is faced with the artful Roger, typically a fan favorite here, British fans mesmerized by his mellifluent serve and his dynamic one-handed backhand. By contrast, his game is more that of a maestro’s, his racket a baton that he whips through the air with grace and pace. Djokovic is more the aggressive coal miner, lean and sinewy, chasing down everything in sight and often ripping back powerful two-handers from his “weak’’ side.
“He has a wonderful way of either redirecting or taking the ball early,’’ said Federer, complimenting Sunday’s prey/opponent. “He takes pace from the opponent, even generating some of his own. I think that’s what makes him so hard to play. There’s not really a safe place you can play into. I think for me it’s really important to stay aggressive against him.’’
“The key against him,’’ offered Djokovic, “is trying not to allow him to dictate too much because he likes to be very aggressive. I’m going to have to be able to get as many returns back in the court and try also to stay closer to the line, protect the baseline.’’
. . .
American Jack Sock and Canadian Vasek Pospisil defeated Bob and Mike Bryan, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, in the men’s doubles final. Sock and Pospisil broke the top-seeded Bryan brothers’ service in the final game on their fifth match point.