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Djokovic digests more firsts

WIMBLEDON, England — Until Sunday, Novak Djokovic never managed to win a grasscourt tournament of any sort, let alone Wimbledon.

Until Sunday, Djokovic had never beaten Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam match, let alone a final.

Until this year, Djokovic was very good. Now he's great.

After outrunning and outswinging defending champion Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 for his first title at the All England Club and third major title overall, Djokovic crouched on Center Court, plucked some blades of grass and shoved them in his mouth.

"I felt like an animal. I wanted to see how it tastes. It tastes good," Djokovic said. "It came spontaneously, really. I didn't plan to do it. I didn't know what to do for my excitement and joy."

Djokovic is 48-1 with eight titles in 2011, including major trophies from the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Today, he will rise from No. 2 to No. 1 in the men's rankings, overtaking Nadal.

"I want to win more Grand Slams," said Djokovic, the first man since Andre Agassi in 1992 to win his first grass title at Wimbledon. "I will not definitely stop here, even though I have achieved (the) two biggest things in my life in three days."

Early in his career, Djokovic stood out less for his shotmaking than for his showmanship and a propensity for losing late-round matches at majors. Now, the 24-year-old is the total package.

He credits a handful of factors with helping him excel recently: more maturity; confidence after helping Serbia win its first Davis Cup title in December; and a gluten-free diet he doesn't like to discuss in any detail.

Djokovic's only loss all season came against 16-time major champion Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals a month ago, Djokovic's seventh exit from a Grand Slam tournament in the final four.

For so many years, Federer and Nadal ruled tennis. One or the other was No. 1 every week since February 2004. One or the other won 22 of the past 26 Grand Slam tournaments, including Nadal's 10 titles.

But now Djokovic owns three of the other four trophies in that span — 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro has the other — and has elbowed his way past that pair in the rankings.

"We all know the careers of Nadal and Federer. … They have been the two most dominant players in the world the last five years. They have won most of the majors," Djokovic said. "So sometimes it did feel a little bit frustrating when you kind of get to the later stages of a Grand Slam — meaning last four, last eight — and then you have to meet them. They always come up with their best tennis when it matters the most. … I always believed that I have (enough) quality to beat those two guys."

Djokovic was 0-5 against Nadal at Grand Slam tournaments entering Sunday, including retirements from a 2006 French Open quarterfinal and 2007 Wimbledon semifinal.

A more significant head-to-head record, though, is one both men acknowledged played a role Sunday: Djokovic is 5-0 against Nadal this year, all in finals — two on hardcourts, two on clay and now one on grass.

"When one player beat you five times, (it's) because today my game don't bother him a lot," Nadal said after his 20-match Wimbledon winning streak ended. "Probably, the mental part is little bit dangerous for me."

NBC out?: NBC, which has broadcast a portion of Wimbledon for 43 years, is expected to be replaced by ESPN, which is negotiating with the All England Club to televise the entire event, several media outlets reported. ESPN had previously owned the rights to extensively televise early rounds.

Djokovic digests more firsts 07/03/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 3, 2011 10:01pm]
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