Novak Djokovic says his epic Wimbledon final victory over Roger Federer was his most “mentally demanding” match – and he even had to tell himself the partisan crowd was cheering for him.
Djokovic, 32, retained his title with a 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) win over the eight-time champion, 37.
Lasting four hours 57 minutes, it was the longest Wimbledon singles final.
“When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger’ I hear ‘Novak’,” said the Serb. “It sounds silly, but it is like that.”
Djokovic – now a five-time Wimbledon champion – added: “Mentally this was different level.
“It was probably the most demanding, mentally most demanding, match I was ever part of.
“It was a huge relief in the end. You work for, you live for these kind of matches.
“They give sense and they give value to every minute you spend on the court training and working to get yourself in this position and play the match with one of your greatest rivals of all time.”
‘I always try to imagine myself as a winner’ – blocking out the noise
Djokovic saved two match points on his way to beating Federer in the first 12-12 final-set singles tie-break used at the All England Club.
He credited mental training and visualisation in helping him through the epic that unfolded on Centre Court, adding it was more difficult for him than the physical toll on his body.
“I always try to imagine myself as a winner. I think there is a power to that,” he said.
“Also there has to be, next to the willpower, strength that comes not just from your physical self, but from your mental and emotional self.
“For me, at least, it’s a constant battle within, more than what happens outside.
“It’s really not the situations that you experience that are affecting you, but how you internally experience those situations, how you accept them, how you live through them.”
Federer fever was rife throughout the grounds of SW19 and on Centre Court itself, with the majority of the 15,000 in the stands supporting the Swiss.
That is a situation Djokovic has faced on numerous occasions and something he has been known to react negatively to, cupping his ear in response to chants supporting opponent Roberto Bautista Agut in the semi-finals.
In the final, many of the 52 unforced errors and nine double faults Djokovic made were cheered, and he was booed when he questioned a Hawk-Eye decision that had ruled in Federer’s favour.
His celebrations after winning the title were somewhat muted.
Asked if he was aware of the favouritism towards Federer, Djokovic said: “It’s hard to not be aware.
“You have that kind of electric atmosphere, that kind of noise, especially in some decisive moments where we’re quite even. It’s one way or another. The crowd gets into it.
“If you have the majority of the crowd on your side, it helps. It gives you motivation, it gives you strength, it gives you energy. When you don’t, then you have to find it within.”
With 16 Grand Slam titles to his name, Djokovic closed the gap to Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (18) on the all-time records list.
Djokovic is five years Federer’s junior and one year younger than Nadal, and he says they are “one of the biggest reasons” he continues to compete.
“The fact they made history motivates me. It inspires me to try to do what they have done, what they’ve achieved, and even more,” he said.
“Whether I’m going to be able to do it or not, I don’t know. I’m not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind for me at least.
Djokovic refuses to set himself the target of catching – or surpassing – their records, because he has bigger priorities in his life.
“It depends not only on myself, it depends on circumstances in life,” he said. “I’m not just a tennis player, I’m a father and a husband.
“I don’t have any obligation to play. I really don’t have any commitment to play tennis. I play it because I really love it and I have support of the closest people in my life.”