LONDON (Reuters) - After two years of turbulence Novak Djokovic was flying high in clear blue skies again on Sunday after winning a fourth Wimbledon title he believes can act as a springboard to a glorious new chapter in his career.
A 6-2 6-2 7-6(3) defeat of Kevin Anderson on Center Court ended a two-year hiatus in his Grand Slam title collecting and put him on 13 — fourth on the all-time list behind Pete Sampras (14), Rafael Nadal (17) and Roger Federer (20).
“I can’t look too far on the road because I have to embrace and cherish this kind of accomplishment,” the 31-year-old Serbian told reporters.
“If you asked me a month and a half ago whether I think I can win Wimbledon, part of me would say yes, I hope, but maybe I wasn’t that sure at that time of my level.
“This is obviously very pleasing and satisfying to be able to play the way I played in the last couple of tournaments, in Queen’s and Wimbledon.
“This is going to be a huge confidence boost and springboard for whatever is coming up and for the rest of my career.”
When Djokovic won his first French Open in 2016 he became the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time. He was top of the rankings and his iron-like grip on men’s tennis appeared unshakable.
Two years on he was bundled out of the quarter-finals at Roland Garros by unseeded Italian Marco Cecchinato — his form still erratic after admitting he came back too early from surgery he underwent on his elbow in February.
That injury forced him to retire hurt at last year’s Wimbledon, miss the U.S. Open and bow out early at this year’s Australian Open.
He even suggested in a furious reaction to the Cecchinato defeat he might not even play at Wimbledon.
All that now looks like ancient history with Djokovic set to return to the world’s top 10 after falling outside the top 20 for the first time since 2006.
“There were several moments where I was frustrated and questioning whether I can get back to the desired level,” Djokovic, who produced a vintage performance to beat Nadal in the Wimbledon semi-finals, said.
“That makes this whole journey even more special for me. It’s easy to talk now. But I look back at it and I’m grateful that I went through these mixed emotions, turbulences, mentally moments of doubt and disappointment and frustration.
“It’s usually in a struggle that you get to know yourself, you get to have an opportunity to rise like a phoenix and evolve and get better.”
Djokovic said returning to work with long-time coach and mentor Marian Vajda this year had been a key part of the return to form. He had begun the year with former Czech player Czech Radek Stepanek and Andre Agassi as part of his entourage.
“We talked actually post-match (today). It seems like (Marian’s) planning to keep on working with me, which is great news. We going to keep on working till the end of the year for sure, then we’ll see after that,” Djokovic said.
“I’m so grateful to Marian and (fitness coach) Gebhard Gritsch for coming back, coming to join me again to help me to get to where I am at the moment, it’s really nice of them.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond