By Sudipto Ganguly
LONDON (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic stayed serene amid a frenzied atmosphere to tame fiery Australian Nick Kyrgios in an engrossing final on Sunday, lifting a seventh Wimbledon trophy and taking his Grand Slam title count to 21.
Rallying from a set down, Djokovic exhibited ice-cool nerves in sweltering conditions to win 4-6 6-3 6-4 7-6(3) for his fourth consecutive trophy at the grasscourt major to close in on Rafa Nadal's record 22 Grand Slam titles.
By lifting the Challenge Cup once again, Djokovic drew level with his childhood idol Pete Sampras in the all-time winners list and is now just one shy of Swiss Roger Federer's record eight Wimbledon titles.
After finishing 2021 one win short of a rare calendar-year Grand Slam, Djokovic's season has not panned out exactly as he would have envisaged after being deported from Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open and losing to Nadal in the French Open quarter-finals.
"Certainly this year has not been the same like last years," he said. "It has started the way it has started and it has affected me definitely in the first several months of the year.
"I was not feeling great generally. I mean, mentally, emotionally, I was not in a good place."
The Serbian's refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 could prevent him from entering the United States to compete at the year's final Grand Slam in New York, but the air of uncertainty had no bearing on his love affair with the lawns at the All England Club.
Djokovic said he had no plans to get vaccinated and only hoped the entry restrictions will be eased for him to play at Flushing Meadows next month.
After completing victory in just over three hours, Djokovic raised his arms to the sky and after shaking hands with Kyrgios, he bent down to pluck some grass from the famous old court and tasted it before running up to his player's box to kickstart the celebrations.
"It always has been and always will be the most special tournament in my heart, the one that motivated me, inspired me to start playing tennis in a small mountain resort in Serbia where my parents used to run a restaurant," said an emotional Djokovic, who was also celebrating his eighth wedding anniversary with wife Jelena on Sunday.
"Every single time it gets more meaningful and more special, so I'm very blessed and very thankful to be standing here with the trophy."
Competing in a men's record 32nd major final on a sun-bathed Centre Court, the 35-year-old was facing an unseeded opponent who had never previously been beyond the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam.
In their only two meetings -- both in 2017 -- Djokovic did not win a set, failed to break the Kyrgios serve and had only a single break point opportunity.
Five years later, it was another sublime serving performance from the Australian during the early stages.
A couple of well-disguised drop shots from Kyrgios helped him set up two break points in the fifth game and a double fault from Djokovic brought up the first break of serve, which was enough for Kyrgios to take the set.
A focused Kyrgios, however, did not forget to entertain when he could. There was an underarm serve and he hit a return on the half volley between his legs to delight the crowd.
No-one, however, expected it to be an easy straight-sets match with Djokovic having not lost at the All England Club since retiring injured from his 2017 quarter-final against Czech Tomas Berdych.
Djokovic's delivery went up a gear in the second set and the Serb slowly but surely started demonstrating why he is considered the best returner in the sport.
Once the level of the Kyrgios serve dropped in the second set, Djokovic was ready to pounce.
With Djokovic serving to level the match at one set apiece, however, Kyrgios raised his game to set up four break points, only for the top seed to save them all and convert his first set point to leave the Australian fuming.
Kyrgios poured out his frustrations in a lengthy rant aimed at his box and the Australian maverick was his usual hot-headed self during the third set as Djokovic started playing pristine tennis.
He was broken from 40-love up in the ninth game and continued swearing and screaming, earning himself a code violation for obscene language.
The drama across the net, however, did not have any impact on Djokovic's focus.
After holding serve to win the third set he calmly collected his bag and left the court, leaving his opponent sitting on his chair and shaking his head in frustration.
After both players failed to create a break point in the fourth set, Djokovic dominated the tiebreaker and sealed the Championship on his third match point for his 28th straight Wimbledon win when Kyrgios found the net on a return.
"He's a bit of God, I'm not gonna lie," Kyrgios said. "He's just really composed. It's weird, I felt like he didn't do anything amazing today."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly, editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)