At some point in recent years a peculiar little character started hanging out in the career ledger of Novak Djokovic, just sort of lurking in the background.
It was a hint of injustice, and it stood around back there stating that while six Grand Slam titles are many, six Grand Slam titles do not make a statistic meaty enough to accentuate one of the best players ever.
Six didn't equal the total of some players of yore who, while wonderful, were considerably inferior to Djokovic, and never matched Djokovic's eight-season, multi-surface run of towering consistency in a hard era. Start with John McEnroe and rummage around from there.
If six Grand Slams with two of them outside Australia don't do enough to describe Djokovic, seven Grand Slams with two Wimbledon titles explains him much better. It seems more right. Besides, any player rugged-of-brain enough to shoo aside a three-alarm, fourth-set nightmare against Roger Federer and prevail in five has a rarefied caliber.
That's why as the match full of points more staccato than to what we've become accustomed went along through Sunday midday, as held service followed upon held service, it felt like sentiment going against justice. Sentiment forever favors Federer, his ambassadorship for the game so deep that a big chunk of the public could never see him win enough and would like to see him turn the entire field into perpetual yard mulch. Justice seemed to want Djokovic, on the premise that if you contend that often and that commendably, you're damned good enough to sort out things at least as often or not.
Djokovic had a 6-7 record in Grand Slam finals entering Sunday at Wimbledon with Federer. As oft-stated, he's a victim of the Federer-Nadal golden era which Djokovic somehow turned into the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic golden era. As less-oft-stated, his seven final losses included not a single dud. At least four of them featured forces bigger than even the opponent. Seldom did Djokovic even look all that runner-up-ish. It would be hard to lose seven finals with any more credibility.
At 20 he played Federer in the 2007 U.S. Open final, with Federer amid a gorgeous and astonishing 11-for-16 Slam run. Djokovic went out and helped himself to seven set points in the first set. He converted none, but everybody called it a worthy beginning for a 20-year-old. From there, he lost four finals to Rafael Nadal and two to Andy Murray. Two of the Nadal finals came at the French Open, and while that's the world's problem, nobody has come as close to Nadal in Paris as has Djokovic, including a final where rain butted in (2012) and a semifinal that's merely one of the greatest matches ever (2013). Two of the other finals featured Djokovic against the tide of Murray want, both of the latter's push for a first Slam title (2012 U.S. Open) and a tennis-historic first Wimbledon title (2013).
The other two finals with Nadal (2010 and 2013 U.S. Open) were big-heart bouts that flattered both finalists.
Fourteen stalwart final appearance pretty much make you a regular Sunday (or Monday) lead actor. He'll be there. You can count on him. There he is again. Djokovic might not seem as famous as Federer or Nadal, but that probably owes to fame fatigue. There's only so much fame the public can dispense. Last week there came one of those statistics that manage to be both unsurprising in general and startling in the moment: Djokovic just qualified for his 23rd Grand Slam semifinal (sixth all-time, tied with Nadal and Pete Sampras.)
Of course, you go out there, you win, you win; you lose, you don't win. But true to a habitual finalist of the finest character, Djokovic has mastered even the highest form of the high art of forgetting bad moments. That carried him through Sunday: the second-set break point against him right after Djokovic missed the sitter, the baseline review at 4-2 in the third-set tiebreaker that went against him, the outrageous turns in the fourth set when he served for the match and had a match point on his return and couldn't get any of it, the torturous missed third break point of the 4-3 game of the fifth.
He ignored the serial horror and still won, and while that win may have bucked mass sentiment, that only compliments it further. The very good final got both a glimpse at Federer's most underrated virtue -- his fight -- and an ending that felt just. Now Djokovic has seven and counting. Now he has three OTA (Other Than Australia). Now it all makes a little bit more sense.