Crowds came flocking back in force, we had the full complement of golf majors and tennis grand slams, and sport almost ran smoothly over the past 12 months.

To boot, there were sensational moments, featuring both the biggest names in sport and some that few had heard of at this time last year.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and the numbers that made them so remarkable.

Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

Entering 2021, Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs had a career-best of 10.03 seconds for the 100 metres. By most standards that is staggeringly quick, but at the very elite level of sprinting it ranks as only middling. To put it into some context, 34 men ran quicker than 10.03 seconds in 2021. Jacobs finished only 19th at the 2019 World Championship and few outside of athletics circles knew the name. The former long-jumper grabbed a little attention when he produced a world-leading 6.47 seconds to win the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, then he ran 9.95 for the 100m in Savona in May, but he still headed to the Tokyo Olympics as a big outsider, not expected to be a factor. Jacobs made a mockery of his lowly billing, as he powered to personal bests in the heats and semi-finals before doing so again in the final, dashing home first in 9.80 seconds to grab gold and leaving rivals gasping in astonishment. He led Italy to sprint relay gold too, a glorious double in that country's remarkable year of success.

Emma Raducan-who? From A level exams to US Open top marks

Twelve months ago – no, make that barely six – London-based Raducanu was simply not a factor in grand slam discussions. Fresh out of school, she had to fight to earn a wildcard for Wimbledon when organisers initially baulked at the idea, but they were persuaded and Raducanu went on to reach the fourth round. The teenager who was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother had arrived, but it was at the US Open that she roared into the history books. There was no wildcard in New York for the British youngster, but Raducanu won three qualifying matches and then raced through the main draw, defeating 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the title match. She did not drop a set in 10 matches and became the first women in the Open era to win 10 main-draw matches in her first two grand slams. It made her the first qualifier to win a slam and the first US Open women's singles winner since Serena Williams in 2014 to triumph at the tournament without dropping a set along the way. The $2.5million in prize money was followed by endorsement offers from across the world as Raducanu became an instant superstar. The tennis world waits to see what comes next.

No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

The youngest Ryder Cup team ever assembled by the United States torched European hopes at Whistling Straits in September, scoring a 19-9 victory. That was the widest margin of victory by either side since Europe, rather than Great Britain and Ireland, became the USA's opposition in 1979. Dustin Johnson bounced back from losing four of his five matches in the 2018 edition to finish with a 5-0 record, just the third player in US v Europe battles to finish with a perfect record (after Larry Nelson in 1979 and Francesco Molinari in 2018). Johnson, at 37, was the oldest player on the team. European veteran Lee Westwood matched Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances in the match, while Sergio Garcia stretched his points record from 25.5 to 28.5 as he and Jon Rahm combined well, but it was emphatically an event that belonged to the host Americans.

Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

He might have been absent for the US team's Ryder Cup triumph, but Phil Mickelson's name was up in lights again as he became the oldest winner of a men's golf major, landing the US PGA Championship title in May. At the age of 50, Mickelson caused a huge upset at Kiawah Island, scooping his sixth career major when he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the final day. It was his only top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

Strange things happened in men's tennis in 2021, not least the sight of Roger Federer suffering a 6-0 'bagel' at the end of a straight-sets Wimbledon quarter-final defeat. That happened against Hubert Hurkacz in July, and it was the last match Federer played in the year. He wants to play again, and the 40-year-old believes he can, but knee surgery will keep him out of action until mid-2022 at the earliest, by his own reckoning, and that Centre Court defeat to Hurkacz could turn out to be how his eight-title Wimbledon career ends. Novak Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal on a joint-record 20 grand slam titles by cleaning up at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he has now spent a record 353 weeks at number one, passing Federer this year. But Djokovic could not make it a Golden Slam, losing to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the Olympic Games semi-finals, and a Grand Slam was just beyond him too, Daniil Medvedev winning his first major when he swept the Serbian in straight sets in the US Open final.

Another year, more records for Brady

At the age of 43, Tom Brady was MVP in the Super Bowl as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February. He now has seven Super Bowl wins behind him, another outright record, and has been MVP in the game on an unmatched five occasions. Brady, having turned 44 in August, is in the hunt for another Super Bowl ring and perhaps outright NFL MVP honours this season, although Aaron Rodgers will likely deny him the latter accolade. Still, the records keep coming for Brady. He has moved in front of Drew Brees to have the most pass completions in league history (7,200 and counting), become the first ever 15-time Pro Bowler, and in December became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns.

England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

Joe Root became the first England captain – or player, indeed – to suffer nine defeats in Tests starting in a single calendar year, in a strange 12 months for the Yorkshireman. His form with the bat has been up there with the best of his career, the 31-year-old scoring 1,708 Test runs to go third on the all-time single-year list, with only Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards ahead of him. Even in the Tests that England have lost, Root has made a number of handy contributions with the bat, scoring 648 runs at an average of 38.11. Overall he has scored 26 per cent of England's Test runs across the year, the highest proportion of any player for their respective team in 2021. Yet the Ashes were lost by lunch on day three of the third Test, an outrageously dismal result. Root top-scored in England's two innings in Melbourne, typically, but he cannot get a tune out of many of his team-mates, so ends the year with his future as skipper in doubt.

Curry still hot as NBA records fall

In January, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player to post a triple-double in the NBA, as the 19-year-old Charlotte Hornets prospect grabbed 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Come December, the Memphis Grizzlies set two records in the same game, scoring a franchise-high number of points and winning by the biggest margin in NBA history, as they handed out a 152-79 thrashing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. December was also the month when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors set a new three-pointer record, becoming the first man to make 3,000 threes in a career after going past Ray Allen's previous NBA record of 2,973.

Spanish tennis great Manolo Santana, a four-time grand slam winner, has died at the age of 83.

Santana won the US Open, Wimbledon and the French Open twice during the 1960s, during which time he spent a period as world number one.

He also won the men's singles tennis tournament at the 1968 Olympics, though it was not recognised as a medal event at the time, while also winning the French Open men's doubles in 1963 and the Davis Cup with Spain on three occasions.

Santana retired in 1977 and in more recent times was regularly seen watching countryman Nadal – the only Spaniard to have won more grand slam titles – from the stands.

Nadal led the tributes to Santana on Saturday with an emotional post on social media.

"I have just received the terrible news of the death of our great Manolo Santana," he wrote on his official Instagram account.

"As I have said many times in the past: thank you very much for what you did for our country and for leading the way for so many. 

"You have always been a reference, a friend and a person close to everyone.

"We will miss you Manolo; you will always be unique and special. Greetings to your family and a lot of strength at this time. We will never forget you."

Ash Barty has announced her engagement to Liverpool fan and golfer Garry Kissick, capping a memorable year in style.

Barty added another sparkler to her collection when she revealed an engagement ring on Tuesday, having already landed the glistening Wimbledon trophy and an Olympic medal in the 2021 season.

She posted a picture of herself and Kissick on Instagram, showing off her ring and captioning the shot "Future Husband".

Kissick is a trainee professional at Brookwater Golf Club, a venue close to Brisbane, and is often seen in a Liverpool Football Club shirt, as was the case with the engagement picture.

He and Barty have visited Liverpool's home ground of Anfield together.

Speaking about having the likes of Kissick and coach Craig Tyzzer with her on the road, Barty said during her run to the Wimbledon title in July: "It's nice to be able to share some of these awesome moments with those that put so much time and energy into my career and allow me, encourage me, help me kind of work and figure out a plan and a way that they try and achieve our dreams. I think being able to share that with them is really special."

Barty won a bronze in mixed doubles at Tokyo 2020 alongside long-time friend John Peers, describing that achievement as "a dream come true".

She also won the Yarra Valley Classic, the Stuttgart Open, and WTA 1000 titles at Miami and Cincinnati before calling time on her season after a third-round exit from the US Open, where she lost to Shelby Rogers.

Barty finished the season as world number one for a third successive year, despite her recent inactivity.

She said a major triumph in her homeland was a priority for 2022, saying: "My focus is now on the Australian summer and doing everything I can to win the Australian Open. I can't wait to play at home again."

Roger Federer has confirmed he will not participate at the Australian Open and said he would be "extremely surprised" if he is fit enough to play at Wimbledon.

The 20-time grand slam winner has played just 13 matches in 2021 as he recovers from a third knee surgery in the space of 18 months, with Federer's last appearance a disappointing straight-sets loss to Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-finals at SW19 in July.

The Swiss great has now officially confirmed he will not be at Melbourne Park for the first grand slam of 2022, while it remains touch-and-go whether Federer will be back at Wimbledon this year.

"At the moment, I expect to be able to return in the summer of 2022," he told Tribune de Geneve having confirmed playing in Australia is out of the question. 

"The next four or five months are crucial. In the spring, I will already see things much more clearly. The truth is that I would be incredibly surprised if I were to play again at Wimbledon [in 2022]."

"When you get right down to it, it doesn't make much difference whether I return in 2022 or not until 2023, at 40 or 41. It doesn't matter. The question is rather will I manage to torture myself again day after day for my comeback?

"My heart says 'yes' today. So, I'm taking things step by step. I have experienced similar challenges many times in my career sometimes without the public being aware of it. Even though I know that the end is near, I want to try to play some big matches again. It won't be easy but I will try."

 

Now aged 40, Federer's latest injury setback led to suggestions he could call time on his glittering career, though his coach Ivan Ljubicic this week said he was not contemplating such a decision.

Federer accepts he may never play in a grand slam final again and is at peace with that fact, but still "believes in these miracles" as he aims to once again compete among the elite level.

"If I do my rehabilitation intensively, there is a chance that I will get back to a high level," he added. 

"If I do strength training, go on the bike, swim, do balance exercises, work on my upper body, then I believe in it.

"Will I return to the Tour for a smaller round or for something bigger? Nobody knows, neither the doctors nor me. But I'm fighting for it. To be clear, my world will not collapse if I never play another grand slam final.

"But it is my ultimate dream to return once again. And in fact, I still believe in it. I believe in these kinds of miracles. I have already experienced them. 

"Sports history sometimes writes such miracles. I am realistic – it would be a great miracle but there are miracles in sport."

Roger Federer's body has been saying no for the past two years, but Pat Cash is hopeful the 39-year-old will return for another run on the ATP Tour.

After suffering a setback to his longstanding knee injury during Wimbledon, the 20-time grand slam champion has this week withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics.

Despite being without much match practice – playing just four tournaments before Wimbledon after coming back from two knee surgeries - Federer was able to make the quarter-finals at All England Club.

However, he suffered a demoralising loss to Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets in the last eight that promoted a fresh round of speculation over his future in the game.

Cash, who won Wimbledon in 1987, hopes Federer will be back despite his recent injury woe.

He told Stats Perform: "First of all, let's hope that Roger Federer will keep going. 

"I think he can, I think he just needs more matches and probably needs to make sure that he's able to last. 

"But your body starts saying no at some stage and it's been saying that for a couple of years now for him." 

 

Wimbledon winner Novak Djokovic is now level with Rafael Nadal and Federer on 20 slams.

Cash believes judging the Swiss star purely on grand slam titles is not a fair measure of his brilliance, pointing instead to his astonishing record totals of 58 major quarter-final berths and 46 semis.

"He has been the most consistent player that I think we've ever seen," Cash said. "He may not end up with as many grand slams but his consistency is just outrageous.

"All the other players have lost early in grand slams, the Djokovics, the [Andy] Murrays, then the Nadals had lost early in grand slams, Roger just doesn't do it.

"Of all the titles that he's won, I think for me, his most impressive record is how many semi-finals or quarter-finals in grand slams in a row that he got to. It was something ridiculous for 10 or 11 years.

"He never failed at any grand slams and that is just absolutely mind blowing."

 

However long he tries to play on, Cash insists nothing can sour the memories of an extraordinary career from Federer.

Cash added: "Obviously, he raised the bar as far as the standard of tennis has gone. 

"The other players really had to catch up. Novak admitted it, he said, 'Without Roger there, leading the way, I wouldn't have been as good a player as I could have been'. 

"That's the gold standard of Roger Federer over his career and I'm not sure anybody will be as consistent as him in tennis history. 

"He's just phenomenal the way he plays, and we all of course enjoy the style, his movement. And he's a class act off the court as well."

Federer's status for the US Open, which begins on August 30, is unclear, with Djokovic looking to take the outright lead for major titles and achieve a historic calendar year Grand Slam.

Novak Djokovic will never have a better opportunity to achieve a historic calendar Grand Slam, which former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash says he should prioritise at all costs.

The Serbian won a sixth Wimbledon crown on Sunday, defeating Matteo Berrettini in four sets to achieve a final victory that moved him on to 20 grand slam titles.

With Australian Open and French Open successes also already achieved, glory at the US Open would see Djokovic become only the second men's player in Open Era history to win all four majors in the same year.

Cash thinks the stars have aligned for Djokovic, with issues for his main rivals leaving the 34-year-old primed to achieve the famous feat in 2021.

"The impossible dream really is there," Cash said to Stats Perform.

"For Novak this year it is a great opportunity for him to grab a bunch of grand slams and grab all the titles. 

"Certainly Wimbledon – without disrespecting the other players – was one of the weaker men's side draws that I've seen in many, many years. 

"And that's because we've got two of the big stars coming back from injuries – Andy Murray and Roger Federer – who played well but weren't at the peak of their career.

"The younger players are coming through but they're not quite there yet and Novak is just sitting on top of that mountain as the King of the Castle.

"His performance was exceptional at Wimbledon, there's no doubts about it. 

"The slightly younger players are coming through – Berrettini obviously in the final really pushed him to just about the limit.

"Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open final up two sets to love. So, these guys are close, very close, and it won't be long before they catch up with Novak and the others. 

"Obviously Rafa [Nadal] was out of this Wimbledon as well – I don't really think he's a serious threat on the grass anymore but he's still a great competitor. 

"So these guys are catching up, Rafa is still there, maybe Murray will come back and Federer will come back and be in better shape in the next year – but this is the year that Novak can really grab." 

 

Djokovic admitted this week he is still "50/50" over whether he will take part in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus countermeasures in the Japanese capital. 

Federer withdrew from the tournament on Tuesday and Cash insists Tokyo will not be the priority over glory in New York for Djokovic.

Cash added: "It's the Olympics, okay – maybe he wants to do that, but certainly his goal is now to try and win all four grand slams in the calendar year.

"He has done four in a row, but he hasn't done them in the same year, which is very, very tough to do. 

"There is a reason why I think one person has done it in [men's] professional tennis – Rod Laver and it was in 1969, so it's not easy to do. 

"But I really do think it's in his sights and that has got to be his priority. 

"It's absolutely the absolute peak of our sport to win all four grand slams in one year." 

With Djokovic now level with Federer and Nadal on 20 majors, Cash would not be surprised to see him build a big lead.

He added: "Look, it's very hard to say. We have all been proven wrong by the numbers. 

"Though most of us thought that Rafa and Novak would get pretty close to Federer, we didn't really think they'd get there and beyond. 

"I think Novak is likely to win another couple, but you know, it takes us one little injury [to derail him] so it is very hard to say.

"John McEnroe said 25 or so [for Djokovic] and that could be well within his reach at the moment. 

"He's improving and that's frightening to think. He's won 19 grand slams before Wimbledon, and all of a sudden we've seen this guy come to the net, volley, add another string to his bow to become a better player. 

"Yeah, age 34 and he is improving – that's pretty frightening." 

Roger Federer has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics because of a setback to his knee suffered during the grass-court season.

Olympic gold in singles is one of the few honours missing from Federer's glittering resume, the 20-time grand slam champion having won silver in 2012, losing the gold medal match to Andy Murray less than a month after beating the Briton in the Wimbledon final.

While Murray will be in Tokyo to attempt to defend his title again having successfully retained it in 2016, Federer – a doubles gold medallist in 2008 – has elected not to make the trip to Japan.

"During the grass-court season, I unfortunately suffered a setback with my knee, and have accepted that I must withdraw from the Tokyo Olympic Games," Federer wrote in a statement on Twitter.

"I am greatly disappointed, as it has been an honour and highlight of my career each time I have represented Switzerland.

"I have already begun rehabilitation in the hopes of returning to the tour later this summer. I wish the entire Swiss team best of luck and I will be rooting hard from afar. As always, Hopp Schwiz!"

Federer missed most of the 2020 season due to persistent right knee problems that led him to undergo two surgeries.

The length of his recovery forced Federer to miss this year's Australian Open but he made his return to the tour in time for the French Open, reaching the fourth round before withdrawing to focus on the grass-court season.

Yet he was stunned by Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round in Halle and was often unconvincing in progressing to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, where his quest for a ninth title was ended by Hubert Hurkacz, the Pole becoming the first player to win a set 6-0 against Federer at the All England Club.

The 39-year-old's withdrawal makes him the latest tennis big name to pull out of the Tokyo Games. On the men's side, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem decided against competing, while Serena Williams confirmed before her first-round retirement at Wimbledon that she had no plans to play at the Olympics.

World number one Novak Djokovic has said he is "50-50" on going for his first Olympic title. Having won all three majors so far this year, Djokovic is in prime position to become the first man to do the 'Golden Slam' in the same season. Steffi Graf achieved the feat in 1988, with a sweep of the majors followed by her victory at the Seoul Olympics.

Roger Federer has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics because of a setback to his knee suffered during the grass-court season.

The rise of Ash Barty to become a double grand slam champion has been "phenomenal", with her mental strength key to that major glory.

That is the opinion of former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, who watched with delight as Barty triumphed in the 2021 tournament at the All England Club with a three-set win over Karolina Pliskova in the final.

Barty sealed victory at Wimbledon just a month after withdrawing from the French Open with injury, becoming the first Australian woman to win the title since her idol Evonne Goolagong in 1980.

Cash and Lleyton Hewitt are the only Australians to have won the crown in the intervening period.

The 1987 winner Cash feels Barty – who won her first major at Roland Garros in 2019 – has the perfect blend of talent and fight which led to the country's latest success.

"I've got to know Ash and her team pretty well over the years," Cash told Stats Perform.

"I was coaching [CoCo Vandeweghe] who partnered with Ash to win her first grand slam title [in the doubles] at the US Open in 2016, so we did spend a lot of time together. 

"I saw her improving all the time, but for her to take this extra step in the last couple of years, it's been quite phenomenal. 

"The improvement in her game, her confidence and obviously [her play] under pressure, which is where it all matters, it's been exceptional. 

"Nothing's always perfect, of course, but she worked her way through the tournament after starting off in pretty average form – I think she would admit that herself.

"And she ended up playing fantastically well in the last two matches when it really counts."

Barty is calm, serious and focused – traits Cash thinks show up when she reaches pressure points in her matches.

"There's always moments if you're going to be a tennis player you’ve got to be prepared for really sticky, tricky moments if you're going to be one of the best players in the world," added Cash.

"They come up every set, every match you play out there. They're sticky moments and even on the practice courts when you're doing practice matches.

"But she is a great competitor. She's been a good Junior, been a Junior Wimbledon champion.

"She gives a lot of credit to her team, and I would too, but she's got she got to do the hard work out there and deal with the pressure and, and she did exceptionally well considering it all.

"In many ways, she just she is a quiet person and very happy to rest up and do her own thing, but she is incredibly well spoken now - very endearing where everybody loves her and loves her personality."

Cash felt world number one Barty achieved Wimbledon success at a time when it is more difficult than ever to come through a tough spell, battling injuries and struggling for match practice amid coronavirus restrictions.

"Injuries are always a concern for any player on tour," he said. "The tour is pretty relentless, especially these days where there's no real opportunity to have time off.

"You're sort of in bubbles, you can't go out and have a rest and get to a restaurant or have a few days away from the tour. 

"You're constantly going from one bubble to the next bubble and seeing the same people and they're your opponents! So it's not easy – there [are challenges for players with] mental wellbeing and physical issues and of course it is a highly competitive sport.

"So she's negotiated that quite well since these niggling injuries that happened.

"I think the French Open obviously was a bigger concern with the leg. She didn't play any pre-Wimbledon events and therefore, the first couple of rounds are always dangerous. 

"But she negotiated those quite well and bit by bit by bit built on her form. And by the end, she was moving incredibly well, getting around the court. 

"That was the real difference between the two players in the finals, that Ash was just a better mover on the grass courts."

Novak Djokovic has admitted he is still "50/50" over whether he will take part in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus countermeasures put in place in the Japanese capital.

The world number one made history on Sunday by beating Matteo Berrettini in the Wimbledon final to match Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slam titles.

Djokovic has won all three majors in 2021 and recently suggested he would represent Serbia at this year's Olympics, with the tennis tournament due to begin on July 24.

However, with organisers this week confirming spectators will be banned from attending events in Tokyo amid rising coronavirus cases, Djokovic is unsure if he will travel to Japan.

"My plan was always to go to Olympic Games, but right now I'm a little bit divided," he said after his sixth Wimbledon triumph. 

"I also hear that there's going to be a lot of restrictions within the [Athletes'] Village. Possibly you would not be able to see other athletes perform live. 

"I can't even have my stringer that is very important part of my team. I can't have a stringer. I'm limited with the amount of people I can take in my team as well.

"It's kind of 50-50 because of what I heard in the last couple days."

 

Djokovic has competed at the Games on three previous occasions, but unlike Nadal and Federer he has never previously claimed a gold medal, the bronze he won in 2008 being the best the 34-year-old has managed.

Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Roberto Bautista Agut, Denis Shapovalov, Nick Kyrgios, Simona Halep and Serena Williams have previously confirmed they will not play at the Olympics.

Switzerland's Federer, who won gold in the men's doubles in Beijing 13 years ago, has yet to make a decision on his participation.

A golden age deserves a Golden Slam, and who would bet against Novak Djokovic achieving that now?

This extraordinary Serbian has chased down Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the grand slam race, joining them on 20 majors as he became the first $150million man in tennis.

When he raced up to the players' box and butted heads out of joy with Goran Ivanisevic, his coach, Djokovic was living out another magnificent moment in a career jammed with them.

This is now three successive Wimbledon titles and six in all at the All England Club for Djokovic.

More than that though, he is the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the first three grand slams of a season, and the Olympic Games and US Open are still to come.

Steffi Graf is the only player in tennis history to have won all four majors and an Olympic gold in the same year, the great German doing so in 1988. Graf could soon have company in the record books, because Djokovic looks unstoppable.

When Matteo Berrettini snatched the opening set here on a tie-break, there were omens that said it would be the Italian's day. The grand slam final newcomer had a 22-0 winning record from the times when he previously won the first set in grass-court matches.

Djokovic had other ideas.

The 34-year-old is a case study in triumphant self-improvement, forever seeking ways to bolster his chances of winning, whether it be veganism, meditation or relentless hard yakka on the training court.

He wound up many with his views on vaccinations, and triggered others, including Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray, last August by fronting a new Professional Tennis Players Association at a time when the sport's existing off-court leaders were battling to cope amid the pandemic.

And he will never be as loved on Centre Court as Federer, Nadal and Murray, those other members of the Big Four. It's something he is coming to terms with.

"He means well but sometimes he doesn't come across," said Boris Becker on the BBC.

But what Djokovic does on court remains wondrous and his achievements are reaching new heights.

In grand slam terms, it is now a three-man crowd on 20 titles. Tennis can throw up surprises, but Djokovic is a firm favourite to break away and finish alone on top of the pile.

"It means none of us will stop, that's what it means," Djokovic said, as he reflected on matching his great rivals. "They're legends of our sport and they are the two most important players that I ever faced in my career. They are the reason where I am today.

"They helped me realise what I need to do to get stronger mentally, physically and tactically."

Federer could yet decide the time has come to quit, perhaps even before the US Open comes around, while Nadal, when he returns from his mid-season hiatus, may rise to the challenge in New York.

Yet Djokovic made his intentions quite clear when asked about the prospect of sealing a clean sweep of 2021's biggest titles at Flushing Meadows.

"I could defijnitely envision that happening," he said. "I'm hoping I'm going to give it a shot. "I'm in great form, I'm obviously playing well, and playing my best tennis at grand slams is the highest priority I have at this stage of my career, so let's keep it going."

Twenty years ago, wild card Ivanisevic won this title behind some of the greatest serving ever witnessed.

Against Berrettini and throughout Wimbledon, Djokovic demonstrated how much that shot has become such a vital play for him too.

Djokovic came into this title match with the best percentage record of first-serve points won in the tournament (85 per cent). Berrettini had served the most aces, but Djokovic sat a healthy third on that list too.

Like Cristiano Ronaldo in football, Djokovic has found new ways to prolong his stay at the top of his profession, and Ivanisevic has had a big part to play in that over the past two years.

Djokovic had 209 aces from 30 matches this year before launching into his Wimbledon mission, and he has added 68 in seven matches over this fortnight.

That represents a big step-up from where he was five years ago, when in a year that saw him win the Australian and French Opens and reach the US Open final he served a modest 276 aces in 72 matches. He has gone from serving close to four aces a match to seven. And while he will never launches aces in the manner of an Ivanisevic, he is still finding ways to develop his game.

Ronaldo has become increasingly a penalty area predator rather than a player who causes chaos across the football pitch. From the 2008-09 season to the 2013-14 campaign, Ronaldo scored at least eight goals per season from outside the 18-yard box, but over the past four seasons the most he has managed has been three.

Where once many of his goals came from fast breaks out of defence, now those are collectors' items.

The greatest find a way to sustain greatness and Djokovic is similarly working on building up the weaponry that allows him to extend his career well into his mid-thirties.

He won 79 per cent of first-serve points against Berrettini, who had a success rate of 76 per cent. And although he was out-aced 16-5 on this occasion, it was Djokovic's consistency that won out.

His athleticism remains astonishing. Trailing 3-2 in the fourth set, Djokovic dashed from the baseline to the net to track down a drop shot that would have beaten most, but he clipped the ball across court for a winner that even had Berrettini smiling.

The game was not yet up, but in essence it was. How do you beat this guy?

Djokovic now owns a 20-10 win-loss record in grand slam finals. Only Federer, who has reached 31 of those matches, has played in more.

Djokovic has won seven of the past eight slam finals he has contested. He has triumphed in six of his seven Wimbledon finals – the exception being his 2013 loss to Murray.

Tokyo awaits now, and then New York.

All that prize-money, all that he has achieved already, and Djokovic remains ravenous for more.

Roger Federer is proud to play in an era of tennis which he labelled as "special" after Novak Djokovic clinched his 20th grand slam title.

Djokovic beat Matteo Berrettini 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4 6-3 at Wimbledon on Sunday to seal his third major trophy of the season.

It is the world number one's sixth title at the All England Club, as he defended the crown he won in an epic final against Federer in 2019.

Djokovic is now level in the record books with Nadal and Federer, with all three of the greats on 20 grand slams each.

The Serbian will look to make that 21 at Flushing Meadows later this year, as he aims to become just the second player in the Open Era to complete a clean sweep of the men's slams in a single year, after Rod Laver in 1969.

In the post-match presentation, Djokovic hailed Nadal and Federer as inspirations, and the latter echoed that sentiment.

"Congrats Novak on your 20th major," Federer, now ranked eighth in the world, tweeted.

"I'm proud to have the opportunity to play in a special era of tennis champions. Wonderful performance, well done!"

Novak Djokovic lauded Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as inspirations after he claimed his 20th grand slam title at Wimbledon.

Djokovic overcame Matteo Berrettini 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4 6-3 on Sunday to win for the sixth time at the All England Club, matching Nadal and Federer's haul of slam titles in the process.

The world number one dropped just two sets throughout the tournament and will now head to the US Open looking to complete a calendar Grand Slam.

Asked what it meant to draw level with his two great rivals, Djokovic said: "It means none of us three will stop, that's what it means.

"I have to pay a great tribute to Rafa and Roger, they are legends of our sport, they are the two most important players I ever faced in my career. They are the reason that I'm where I am today, they've helped me realise what I need to do to get stronger mentally, physically, tactically.

"When I broke into the top 10 for the first time I lost for two, three years all of the big matches I played against these guys. Something shifted in 2010, the beginning of 2011 and the last 10 years has been an incredible journey that is not stopping here."

Djokovic, 34, will go to New York looking to overtake his rivals and create history as he looks to become only the second man to win the four majors in the same year.

"I could definitely envisage that happening. I'm hoping, I'm going to definitely give it a shot," he said.

"I'm in great form. Playing my best tennis at grand slams is my highest priority at this stage of my career. Let's keep it going."

Djokovic beat Federer in an all-time classic Wimbledon showdown in 2019, though did not quite find his best form against slam final debutant Berrettini.

"It was more than a battle, I would like to extend congratulations to Matteo," he said.

"I know it's not the best feeling losing in a final. I'm sure there's a great career ahead, I truly believe that. He's got an incredible game, very powerful - true Italian hammer! 

"Winning Wimbledon was always the biggest dream of mine as a kid, I've told this story many times but I have to repeat it to remind myself how special this is and not take it for granted. On the contrary, to enjoy and be aware that this is a huge honour and privilege.

"A seven-year-old boy in Serbia, constructing a Wimbledon trophy from materials I could find and today finding with a sixth Wimbledon [title] it's incredible, amazing."

Berrettini took a front-foot approach and struck an impressive 57 winners, but ultimately his unforced error count of 48-27 to Djokovic's tally – proved costly. Indeed, the Italian lost the match when he sent a weak backhand into the net.

"Unbelievable feelings, maybe too many to handle," Berrettini said.

"For sure he was better than me, he is a great champion. Well done Novak, once again, he is writing the history of this sport so he deserves all the credit.

"I'm really happy for my final, hopefully it's not going to be my last one here, my last one in a grand slam."

Novak Djokovic drew level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slam titles after battling back to beat Matteo Berrettini and defend his Wimbledon crown.

Sunday's final was the first since 2019, when Djokovic had to be at his best to edge Federer in one of the All England Club's great matches.

The top seed scarcely came close to that same standard against Berrettini, nor did he need to despite falling behind in a first-set tiebreak, allowing his opponent – a major final debutant – to defeat himself at times.

A 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4 6-3 success earned Djokovic parity with Federer and Nadal, and he may well be out on his own as he shows few signs of slowing while his ageing rivals each manage their schedules.

Even in command of the one set he dropped, Djokovic survived a sloppy start to break at the second attempt as his opponent skewed a forehand into the sidelines and piled on the pressure again in a long eighth game.

But he faltered when serving for the set, with Berrettini's chipped forehand pass restoring parity, which was then protected with a roar to reach a tiebreak.

The pair traded mini-breaks before Berrettini seized the initiative, stepping forward for a superb forehand winner and serving out the set with a blistering ace.

Djokovic promptly claimed control of the second, though, alert at close range to break a first time and two up when Berrettini bowed to the third chance in the third game, firing into the net.

Berrettini did not give up the chase, following an outrageous tweener lob for 5-2 with a break back after Djokovic's slip and then a further frantic hold.

However, the world number one this time successfully served out the set to love and once more made swift progress in the third, holding his nerve in a backhand rally until Berrettini clipped the net.

Djokovic saved a pair of break points at 3-2 and kept Berrettini at arm's length thereafter to see out the set.

Berrettini took the fight to the favourite in the fourth but merely succeeded in provoking his best play of the match, a staggering point in which the breathless Djokovic held firm setting the stage for a break in the next game – decided by a double fault.

With the end in sight, rather than face the challenge of serving for game, set, match and championship, Djokovic went on the offensive again and Berrettini could not cling on, slicing into the net at the last.

Data Slam: Berrettini brave but beaten

Berrettini's aggressive approach meant this match was always likely to be decided on his racket. His 16 aces improved a tournament-high tally to 117 and fittingly included the decisive point in the first set. There were also 57 Berrettini winners, including three from approach shots in that opener. But the 48 unforced errors to the risk-averse Djokovic's 21 took the contest away from the Italian.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 31/21
Berrettini – 57/48

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 5/4
Berrettini – 16/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 6/15
Berrettini – 2/7

Novak Djokovic is wary of the threat "red hot" Wimbledon final rival Matteo Berrettini poses to his Golden Slam ambitions.

Chasing a sixth title at the All England Club, and bidding to become the fourth man in the Open Era to record a hat-trick of successive Wimbledon triumphs, Djokovic could hardly be set to face a tougher opponent.

Berrettini won the Queen's Club title on grass in June and has made good on many experts' prediction that he would be the player to come through the bottom half of the SW19 draw.

Should the 25-year-old Italian carry off the title, he would become his country's first singles champion at Wimbledon.

And although Djokovic starts as a heavy favourite, looking to join Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slams, it is not so preposterous to think there could be an upset.

Berrettini leads the way in aces with 101 for the tournament, which puts him 38 ahead of Djokovic in third place on the list.

He has also been the second fastest server, sending down a delivery of 139mph. Djokovic sits top in terms of points won on first serve, his 85 per cent success record putting him a shade ahead of Berrettini, fifth with a very healthy 82 per cent.

There have been suspicions in the past that Berrettini had a limited game in terms of its dimensions, but he has put paid to that talk in recent times, showing admirable variation, which together with the confidence that is soaring makes him a genuine threat to the world number one.

 

Djokovic has not lost at Wimbledon against a fellow top-10 player since his defeat to Andy Murray in the 2013 final, and if he is seeking positive omens ahead of Sunday's Centre Court showdown that is certainly one, as is the fact he beat world number nine Berrettini in four sets in their French Open quarter-final in early June.

The 34-year-old from Belgrade is aiming to complete the third leg of a staggering bid to win all four majors and the Olympic Games singles title. The Golden Slam is a feat only ever previously achieved by Steffi Graf in 1988.

But Djokovic senses danger when he looks at Berrettini, more so than when they met on clay in Paris.

He pointed out: "Obviously grass favours him even more, favours his game. If he serves big, as he did throughout the entire tournament, it's tough to break his serve, it's tough to go into the rhythm, to find a good positioning to return, make him play.

"But I believe in my return. I think return has served me very well throughout my career. Hopefully I'll be able to get a lot of those serves back and wait for my chances."

Djokovic added: "It's really anybody's game. He's arguably the guy who has been in the best form on grass courts this year, winning Queen's. He's red hot. It's going to be a great battle."

It would be a sixth Wimbledon title for Djokovic should he claw his way past Berrettini, who is seeking a first grand slam title.

In the Open Era, only Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer have won three or more successive Wimbledon titles among the men, while Djokovic, in this potentially historic year of his, is bidding to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win each of the first three slams in a season.

Berrettini's career record does not come near to competing with that of the player who will stand on the opposite side of the net. On Sunday the Rome-born player will target a sixth tour title, and a third on grass.

Yet coming from Queen's Club, he was being told that a major opportunity awaited him at Wimbledon.

"I knew I could do it, but I didn't think I am going to do it because this is how I am," Berrettini said.

"I took every step really careful and slowly. I guess it was the right thing to do. Obviously the job is not done yet. I want to get the trophy now that I'm here."

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