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Novak Djokovic can net a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title this afternoon
Novak Djokovic can net a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title this afternoon

Novak Djokovic vs Matteo Berrettini, 2pm, Centre Court, BBC One

Novak Djokovic stands on the brink of history when he faces Matteo Berrettini in an intriguing men’s Wimbledon final.

The sublime Serb, 34, can move level with both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam singles titles with victory as he eyes a third straight SW19 crown.

Yet while he will enter the contest an overwhelming favourite, there’s every indication that his toughest challenge of the fortnight still lies in wait.

Just hours before his nation look to spoil England’s Euro 2020 party at Wembley, 25-year-old Berrettini will hope to give Italians another reason to celebrate in his maiden Slam final.

A winner at Queen’s last month, the big-hitter could hardly be in better form ahead of the biggest contest of his career.

How they got here

When Djokovic dropped the opening set of his first-round clash with British wildcard Jack Draper, eyebrows around the tennis world were firmly raised — but not for long.

Since that point, the world No1 has been the most ruthless version of his already-ruthless self, reeling off 18 straight sets without reply to crush all who have dared to stand before him.

Draper, Kevin Anderson, Denis Kudla, Cristian Garin and Marton Fucsovics were swatted away without much fuss. 

Even Denis Shapovalov — who forced each set to the maximum 12 games — was powerless to resist the relentless quality of the five-time Wimbledon winner.

Matteo Berrettini has enjoyed a fantastic run to his maiden Grand Slam final
Matteo Berrettini has enjoyed a fantastic run to his maiden Grand Slam final

Berrettini was well-fancied for a strong showing at SW19 after storming to the Queen’s title last month and has not disappointed.

Also dropping a set in his opening encounter, against Argentina’s Guido Pella, the Italian blew away the trio of Botic Van De Zandschulp, Aljaz Bedene and Ilya Ivashka in straight sets to reach the quarter-finals.

A last-eight epic with Canada’s maverick Felix Auger-Aliassime was eventually edged out in four, as was his semi with fellow surprise package Hubert Hurkacz — showing impressive resolve to hold his nerve in two telling encounters.

Although he’s had sterner examinations than his prestigious opponent, Berrettini has passed all tests to date with flying colours.

What they are saying

With his previous best effort in a Grand Slam being the 2019 US Open semi-final, Berrettini was understandably overwhelmed after overcoming Hurkacz on Friday afternoon.

“I have no words, really,” said the Italian.

“I just know I played a great match. My family’s here, my whole team. I’m really proud. 

“I think I never dreamed about this because it was too much of a dream. I’m just so happy. 

His only previous Centre Court appearance prior to this fortnight ended in a hammering at the hands of Roger Federer back in 2019 — but Berrettini feels that experience has stood him in good stead.

On that clash, he explained: “I enjoyed it even though I lost because that experience helped me a lot to prepare for now.

“Let’s wait and see. So far it [his semi-final win] is the best day tennis-wise of my life. Hopefully, Sunday is going to be even better. I’m so proud to bring the flag here.”

Djokovic, who will be making his seventh final appearance and has won all but one of his previous showpieces in London, believes his experience was key in his semi-final victory over a spirited Shapovalov.

The Serb said: “I think that experience definitely favours me every single time.

“Next time I get to work on the court, knowing that I’ve been through everything that I could possibly go through as a tennis player. It’s great.

“I know my strengths. I know what I’m capable of. I rely on that.

“Particularly at this stage of my career, the Grand Slams are everything really. 

“But I have to balance that with trying to be present and in the moment and focus only on the next match."

Keys to victory

The pair met in last month's Roland Garros quarter-final with Novak Djokovic prevailing in a tight contest
The pair met in last month's Roland Garros quarter-final with Novak Djokovic prevailing in a tight contest

Djokovic enters the contest as a strong favourite and has won both previous encounters between the pair, including a four-set win in last month’s French Open quarter-finals.

It is a meeting between one of the game’s biggest servers in Berrettini and relentless returners in the five-time champion, with the Serb’s ability to find, or not find, breaks sure to prove telling.

On the clay courts of Paris, Djokovic was able to control his opponent’s deadliest weapon relatively well, along with his brutal forehand.

However, that is something which will prove a significantly tougher task on grass.

The challenge for the underdog is more likely to be a mental one, with the man standing opposite him boasting infinitely more experience in crunch clashes.

What’s more, it’s a testament to the world No1’s quality that many onlookers have suggested he isn’t even playing at his highest level in this tournament.

Djokovic clearly has more gears to go through — but against Berrettini, he may need to find them.

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22:53 (+00:00)4 Aug 2021 (Wed)