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Old warhorse boxes clever to aid Serb stallion over final hurdle

A jubilant Boris Becker last night celebrated winning Wimbledon by proxy.

Novak Djokovic celebrates with his coach, the triple Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, after defeating Roger Federer of Switzerland in yesterday's men's singles final.
Novak Djokovic celebrates with his coach, the triple Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, after defeating Roger Federer of Switzerland in yesterday's men's singles final.

The German's features have thickened in the 29 years since he first graced this arena as a belligerent, upstart 17-year-old, racking up the first of his three All England Club titles - and six grand slam tournaments in all - with a four-set win over South African Kevin Curren.

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But his supersize personality was as conspicuous a presence as ever on Centre Court yesterday. Pitted against Stefan Edberg in SW19's first battle of the supercoaches, the two men sat in near silence at either end of the players' box, scarcely making eye contact with each other, yet clearly hitting every ball.

Clad all in white as if they might climb off the substitutes' bench at any minute, by the time we reached a nerve-shredding fifth set all attempts at restraint had been abandoned. Standing between points and pumping both fists, Becker gloried in the measure of revenge he gained yesterday on a Swede he has always regarded as his "greatest ever rival".

A quirk of fate meant this 35th career meeting between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer - the Serb's win means he him trails 17-18 - drew them level with the 35 tour meetings contested by Becker and Edberg between 1984 and 1996. Only two match-ups, Djokovic v Rafael Nadal, and Ivan Lendl v John McEnroe, have appeared more frequently in the Open era.

While the German won no fewer than 25 of those, it has long rankled with Becker that Edberg prevailed in three of their four meetings in grand slams, including two of the three Wimbledon finals they contested between 1988 and 1990. While it was his deceased first coach, Jelena Gencic, who was name-checked in the Serb's on-court comments, and his countryman Marian Vajda who has made most of the hard yards, it was Becker who took ownership of the moment, co-ordinating an impromptu group hug among the entire Djokovic entourage in the throes of victory.

For all the similarities in their game style - both men were among the greatest volleyers of their era - the two supercoaches could hardly have been more different. While the Swede, who hardly looks a day older, has led a low-profile existence as a successful financial consultant since his retirement, the limelight tends to follow Becker around. The 46-year-old, who has a seat on Bayern Munich's advisory board and regularly competes in poker events, is on to his second wife and is no stranger to the pages of Bild.

His association with Djokovic only began in December, but as the self-styled final piece of the jigsaw to help the Serb win major titles, losing yesterday - following defeats by Rafael Nadal in Paris, and Stanislas Wawrinka in Melbourne - would have been a big blow to his prestige.

This 2014 final was so 1989, even if neither Djokovic nor Federer would rival the occupants of their respective coaching boxes in the great volleyers of all-time list. Nonetheless, both men looked to play as offensively as possible, their tactics fuelled by a desperation to win. While Federer was denied a first slam since Wimbledon 2012, and a record eighth title here, it was Djokovic who was finally able to drop the 'Chokeovic' nickname he was in danger of acquiring after five defeats in his last six major finals. Strangely, it was also the first time since the 2009 US Open that neither Andy Murray nor Rafael Nadal had made it to the final of a grand slam, although the Scot and the Spaniard have never met in one.

Last year it was the 27-year-old from Dunblane who had been roared to victory on the most genteel lawn in world tennis.

Like the man in his coaching box, Djokovic is more admired than loved, but there was little crowd neutrality when it came to his Swiss opponent, this place duly erupting when Federer pieced together a fine tie-break to land the first set, or saved championship point to take matters into a fifth set.

Even after Federer succumbed, netting on championship point No.2 for Djokovic to claim victory, they swooned when his wife Mirka produced his two older twins Myla and Charlene like rabbits from a hat for the post-match pleasantries (his other twins Leo and Lenny are just two months old). Djokovic, who dedicated his win to his pregnant fiancee Jelena Ristic and his future child, had been the recipient of parenting advice from yesterday's opponent. But Federer's attempts to prove the daddy of them all would end in failure.

The two supercoaches, and assorted friends and family, outshone a high-powered royal box, which included the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, David and Victoria Beckham, and Hollywood actors Samuel L Jackson and Bradley Cooper.

And after last night's champions' ball, Becker and Djokovic may not be the only ones nursing a bit of a Wimbledon hangover.

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