NOVAK Djokovic has ruthlessly preyed on battle-scarred Kevin Anderson’s fatigue to cap an extraordinary resurgence, banishing the injury horrors of 2017.
Landing his first major since the 2016 French Open, Djokovic forged to a 6-2 6-2 7-6 (7-3) victory over weary Anderson to notch his 13th grand slam title.
The Serb last year tumbled out of the top 10 for the first time since 2007 as elbow problems stripped him of confidence and power.
As recently as last month’s French Open, a sulking Djokovic pondered whether he would even contest the grass court season.
With a clinical 139-minute triumph over eighth seed Anderson, he climbed into fourth place as the most successful male in grand slam history behind Roger Federer (20), Rafael Nadal (17) and Pete Sampras (14).
“The last couple of years have not been easy,” he said.
“I had surgery and was absent from the tour for six months.
“I had many moments of doubt and I didn’t know if I could come back.
“This is a sacred place and this is very special.”
Djokovic admitted Anderson was the better player in the third set “and I was quite lucky to get through.”
His fourth victory at the All England Club promoted him into equal sixth as the most successful man here, alongside Rod Laver, Reggie Doherty and Anthony Wilding.
Only Federer (eight), William Renshaw and Sampras (seven) and Bjorn Borg and Laurie Doherty (five) have been more prolific.
Djokovic’s previous titles here came in 2011, ‘14-15.
Djokovic had not won a title since Eastbourne last year. He secured his 69th — and arguably most cherished — against Anderson.
With 20 winners to Anderson’s 26, Djokovic restricted his unforced error count to just 13, while Anderson made 32.
And he saved all seven break points, while breaking Anderson’s serve four times.
“The first two sets Novak beat up on me pretty bad,” Anderson said.
“I came close to pushing it into a fourth set, only a few points away but congratulations to Novak and his team.
“I’m definitely not as fresh when I came into the tournament but…it really meant a lot to me to be here.”
Djokovic rolled through the first set in 29 minutes as Anderson struggled for range and rhythm, twice dropping serve.
The pattern continued through the second bracket as Anderson paid the price of his epic 6hrs, 36mins semi-final grind against John Isner.
Renowned for his stamina, the gritty baselines mounted a charge late in the third set as Djokovic’s nerves frayed.
Staving off five set points, Djokovic yelled at umpire James Keothavong to order the crowd to “shut the f**k up.”
He eventually forced a tie-break — and immediately elevated to snuff out Anderson’s brave bid.
On winning, Djokovic pointed to the heavens in tribute to his late former coach Jelena Gencic — and then followed his usual post-Wimbledon victory tradition of eating a blade of grass.
Entering the tournament as world No 21, Djokovic will move to No 10 when the new rankings are issued.
World No 8 Anderson, who lost last season’s US Open decider to Nadal, will move to No 5 — a career-high.
Djokovic’s victory meant the world’s most coveted title remains in the keeping of the Big Four.
Since Lleyton Hewitt’s march to the crown in 2002, only Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have prevailed at the home of tennis.
More broadly, since Juan Martin del Potro’s 2009 US Open victory, the only major which hasn’t fallen to the foursome was Marin Cilic’s 2014 US Open win.