Wimbledon, England: The best of two generations of men’s tennis will collide Sunday when Roger Federer plays Novak Djokovic for the Wimbledon title with Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker looking on as coaches of the finalists.
The top-seeded Djokovic, at 27, is in his prime, while Federer is weeks shy of his 33rd birthday. He is already the record-holder in career Grand Slam titles, with 17, but he is without one since he won here two years ago. Djokovic, a 2011 Wimbledon champion, has not won a Grand Slam event since the 2013 Australian Open.
One thing is certain: Whatever stylistic influence Edberg has had on Federer and Becker on Djokovic in the brief times they have been partnered, a celebration of the serve-and-volley tennis played by the retired Wimbledon champions (Becker in 1985, 1986 and 1989; Edberg in 1988 and 1990) is unlikely.
Becker, a German, enjoyed a 25-10 head-to-head advantage against Edberg, a Swede, but Edberg won two of their three Wimbledon finals. Those defeats were crushing to Becker, who called Edberg "the toughest rival I have had in my career."
If the playing styles have changed in this era of slower grass courts, Becker and Edberg have teamed with players more similar to them emotionally.
Becker was fiery, known for his acrobatics on grass. Djokovic does not try hard to conceal his emotions, letting out primal howls after peak points, good and bad.
Like Edberg, Federer is more interested in expressing himself with his tennis, although he is not a classic stoic like the Swede.
While Edberg has been pushing Federer to attack the net more in pursuit of a record eighth Wimbledon title, he has done so more strategically with the ball in play. Earlier in the tournament, he conceded that coming in behind a big forehand or a backhand chip approach became more challenging as the quality of the opponent improved.
In his semifinal match against Milos Raonic, Federer dictated play except when overpowered by Raonic's rocket serves. When Djokovic ventured in against Grigor Dimitrov, he looked unsure of his footing, as well as his volley selection.
Federer predicted a match of many groundstrokes.
"We both like to be close to the baseline," he said. "We both like to take charge, especially on quicker courts. He has a wonderful way of either redirecting or taking the ball early, you know, taking pace from the opponent, even generating some of his own. So I think that's what makes him so hard to play. There's not really a safe place you can, you know, play into."
They have played only once on grass, in a 2012 Wimbledon semifinal, Federer winning in four sets. He also leads the head-to-head series, 18-16, including victories in two of their three 2014 matches. He has had the lighter road to his record 26th career Grand Slam final, having dropped only one set in six matches, while Djokovic has lost five sets and been pushed in three matches.
"I have a lot of energy left in the tank," Federer said.
There has been, at times, an edge to the rivalry, Federer bristling at the cockiness of Djokovic and his camp.
"Of course, I respect Roger and everything he has achieved in his career as a player," Djokovic said. "To come back and play finals of Wimbledon again, it's incredible what he's doing. But, again, when we come to the court, that ends."
What, if any, impact the two coaches will have on the finish remains to be seen. Federer called Edberg "a piece of the puzzle." Asked about Becker after his semifinal, Djokovic said the German had been "a bit stressed" about wanting to escape to watch his country's World Cup match with France.
"He said, 'See you later," he said. "I said, 'OK.'"
© 2014 New York Times News Service