Novak Djokovic, left, celebrates after beating Rafael Nadal, right, in… (Glyn Kirk / AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Wimbledon, England – There was nothing Rafael Nadal could do Sunday about Novak Djokovic.
Nadal couldn't stop Djokovic from stretching his limber body to reach from sideline-to-sideline. Nadal couldn't stop Djokovic from creating unrecognizable angles by making the ball go first here, to the left, then here, to the right, then off the baseline where a little dust and dirt and chalk would fly into Nadal's face.
And Nadal couldn't stop Djokovic from kissing the Wimbledon turf and nibbling on a piece of grass.
Djokovic, a 24-year-old from Serbia who once practiced tennis while bombs fell in his country, won his dream-making first Wimbledon championship, overwhelming defending champion and top-seeded Nadal, 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
This was Djokovic's fifth straight win over the 25-year-old Spaniard this year and it was created artfully.
Djokovic, who officially becomes ranked No. 1 in the world Monday, earned match point an old-fashioned way. He served and volleyed as if he was acknowledging those who have owned Wimbledon most recently – seven-time champion Pete Sampras and six-time champion Roger Federer.
But Djokovic also took the fight out of Nadal with his power, winning punishing rallies by making Nadal run and grunt and finally flail.
A gracious Nadal offered the best summation of what happened.
"Seriously," said the winner of four of the last five majors before Sunday, "I lose because I am playing against the best player of the moment, the best player of the world tomorrow and I am the second. And when you play against these players and they are playing unbelievable, the normal thing is to lose."
Nadal had won 20 straight matches at Wimbledon and drew some big-name athletes to come watch this final. Lakers center Pau Gasol, a fellow Spaniard, was in the crowd. Irish golfer and new U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy was in the Royal Box.
But it was the president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, who leapt to his feet in the Royal Box, and it was all of Djokovic's family – his parents Srdjan and Dijana and his younger brothers Marko and Djordje who joined together and danced as one – who celebrated a champion.
Djokovic is 48-1 this season. His loss was to third-ranked Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals and against Nadal, Djokovic carried out the job of serving for the match with mental calm and tennis creativity.
On the first and only match point Djokovic needed, he reeled off a giant serve and feasted off Nadal's helpless, desperate return by cracking a cross-court forehand that was so deeply accurate that all that was left for the defending Wimbledon champion to do was hit a backhand wide.
As soon as the ball landed, Djokovic fell to the ground. After shaking hands with Nadal, he kissed the court and tasted the grass. "I felt like an animal," Djokovic said. "I wanted to see how it tastes. It tastes good."
For the last four years Djokovic had finished ranked third in the world, always trailing either Nadal or Federer. Most of the men's tennis conversation over that time was about the greatness of Federer, who has won an all-time best 16 major titles, or Nadal, who has a career 17-8 advantage over Federer.
Speaking triumphantly afterwards, Djokovic's mother described how the conversation is sounding now.
"For four years it was Roger, Rafa, Rafa, Roger," she said. "Now it is Novak, Novak, Novak, Novak."
Later her son explained his feelings about longing to take his place with Nadal and Federer.
"They have been the most dominant players in the world the last five years," Djokovic said. "Sometimes it did feel a little bit frustrating when you kind of get to the later stages of a Grand Slam, last four, last eight, and have to meet them. They'd always come up with their best tennis when it matters the most.
"I always believed that I have the quality to beat these two guys. I have full respect for those two guys … but the mental approach has to be positive. I have to win this match. There is no other way."