An Epic Wimbledon Final Gives Way to Plans for a Grand Future

WIMBLEDON, England — On Sunday evening, the Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic stood on Centre Court after beating Roger Federer and made it clear that his long-term plan was to keep improving and adding to his legacy.

On Monday afternoon, Richard Lewis, the tournament’s chief executive, stood in front of an aerial photograph and made it clear that Wimbledon had a similar long-term plan of its own.

The All England Club, which owns and operates tennis’s oldest Grand Slam tournament, continues to expand. The most visible addition this year was the retractable roof on No. 1 Court, giving Wimbledon a weatherproof complement to Centre Court, which was equipped with a roof in 2009.

But those projects have been tiny in scale compared with what is coming next as Wimbledon prepares to expand to the other side of Church Road.

In December, the club completed an early buyout of the lease of the Wimbledon Park Golf Club, which will nearly triple the All England Club’s footprint to about 120 acres from 42.

“It’s just so much opportunity and wonderful to be able to talk about, ‘Will we have too much space?’” Lewis said.

The club will take possession of the majority of the new land in December 2021, and the rest most likely in 2022 or 2023.

Detailed plans are still being formulated, options still being debated. Will they dig tunnels under Church Road to bring the two sections of Wimbledon together? Will the road be closed during the tournament?

But what is clear is that a large number of grass courts will be constructed on the new site, allowing the club to stage the qualifying tournament at Wimbledon instead of at its current site about four miles away in Roehampton.

That could happen in time for the 2024 tournament.

Djokovic will be 37 then, the same age Federer was on Sunday when he pushed Djokovic to the brink of defeat, only to fail to convert two match points in the fifth set.

Djokovic, showing his now-hallmark grit, went on to win the longest Wimbledon men’s singles final in history, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3).

The fifth-set tiebreaker at 12-all — new to Wimbledon this year — was instituted to prevent ultramarathon matches that can wreak havoc on the schedule and on players’ ability to recover. Lewis said that, when Wimbledon opted last fall to introduce the final-set tiebreaker, there was a serious debate about whether the finals should be exceptions. But the tournament leadership chose to maintain consistency across all matches.

Lewis also said he was happy Wimbledon had decided not to take the conventional path and go to a final-set tiebreaker at 6-6.

“I must admit I was standing there at 6-all by the side of the court, and I thought there’s loads left in this match, and I’m really glad we’re not doing it now,” Lewis said. “I think 12-all takes time to get used to, but I felt the standard of tennis was unbelievably good, and one of the factors was I think Roger and Novak didn’t have to worry about pacing themselves. They knew there was a finish line.”

It is remarkable that Djokovic could fight off an inspired Federer over 4 hours 57 minutes, and also that Federer remains so inspired at this late stage of his career.

“I hope I give some other people a chance to believe at 37 it’s not over yet,” Federer said during the awards ceremony.

Djokovic was watching quietly from the other side of Centre Court, the champion’s trophy in his grasp, as Federer answered questions from the BBC’s Sue Barker. When it was Djokovic’s turn, he sent a clear message.

“Roger said he hopes that he gives some other people a chance to believe they can do it at 37,” Djokovic said. “I’m one of them.”

It would be quite a golden-era twist if Federer’s enduring ability to challenge for major trophies is what provides Djokovic with the belief that he can eventually break Federer’s records of 20 Grand Slam singles titles and 310 total weeks at No. 1.

But that scenario looks ever more likely with Djokovic re-establishing himself as the sport’s best big-match player after the two-year slump between winning his first French Open title in 2016 and his Wimbledon victory in 2018.

For now, he has 16 major singles titles and has spent 260 weeks in the top spot. He will remain No. 1 heading into the United States Open, the next Grand Slam tournament, which begins in late August.

“I’m not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind, for me at least,” said Djokovic, the reigning U.S. Open champion. “It depends not only on myself. It depends on circumstances in life. I’m not just a tennis player. I’m a father and a husband. You have to balance things out. Obviously you need to have the right circumstances, the right support, for things to play out in the right way.”

Support remains an issue for Djokovic, who has had to play in front of vocally pro-Federer crowds at what would normally be neutral Grand Slam venues. But Djokovic shrugged off the partisan fervor and beat Federer in the 2015 U.S. Open final and in the 2014, 2015 and 2019 Wimbledon finals.

Djokovic has been the villain at Wimbledon before. Andy Murray dispatched him with surprising ease in straight sets in the 2013 final to become the first British man in 77 years to win the singles title.

You might think British tennis fans would feel some gratitude to Djokovic. Apparently not much. Federer’s beautiful game, genial personality and sentimental status as the game’s grand old man mean that Djokovic is, for now, only No. 1 on the scoreboard at showplaces like Centre Court.

“I don’t have any obligation to play,” Djokovic said of tennis. “I play it because I really love it, and I have support of the closest people in my life. As long as that’s so, hopefully in five years time I can be hearing the same chants.”

By then, much will have changed. Federer will surely have ended his career and finally be free to ski with his children in Switzerland instead of watching from the side of the slopes to avoid injury.

By then, the new and much-expanded Wimbledon should be in place. And the expensive new roof on No. 1 Court will surely have proved much more useful than it did in 2019, when it was closed only occasionally for fading light, and never for rain during a tournament of clear and delightful weather.

“I will take a fortnight where we have no rain any year,” Lewis said with a chuckle. “But I have no illusions. The roof will come in very handy.”

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of weeks Novak Djokovic has been ranked No. 1. It has been 260, not 160.

Christopher Clarey has covered global sports for The Times and the International Herald Tribune for more than 25 years from bases in France, Spain and the United States. His specialties are tennis, soccer, the Olympic Games and sailing. @christophclarey

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