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Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates his win over Italy's Matteo Berrettini during their men's singles final match of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in London, on July 11, 2021.AELTC/FLORIAN EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

During the Big Three era in men’s tennis, they’ve made a slight alteration to the winner’s speech at a Grand Slam.

The champion – always one of a trio – delivers the usual bunkum about how great the crowd is, what an incredible team he has working behind him and how humbled he is. He makes sure to congratulate his opponent on his own effort and remind him how tough the match was.

All that is a given and done in all sports everywhere since the dawn of time.

But over the past 20-odd years in tennis, the winner must also reassure the beaten party that his day is coming. “Hey champ, you’re a winner to me. Just ‘cause you haven’t won anything, don’t let anyone tell you different.”

“That was more than a battle,” Novak Djokovic said Sunday to his defeated Wimbledon final opponent, 25-year-old Italian Matteo Berrettini. “I’m sure there is a great career ahead of you. I am sure this is just the beginning.”

It goes without saying that when Djokovic says “great career,” he doesn’t mean that in the sense that you or I would. He doesn’t mean he expects Berrettini to – ha ha – win anything. He means that he hopes Berrettini makes a lot of money and doesn’t accidentally break his leg in a dozen places when he’s 26.

Novak Djokovic wins Wimbledon to tie Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal with 20 Slams

Djokovic means it in the same sense that Roger Federer once meant it, and in the sense that Rafael Nadal might one day mean it again. But the line is all Djokovic’s now.

The big story out of this year’s iteration of Wimbledon isn’t Djokovic’s Slam total (20, tying Nadal and Federer) or his run to the calendar-year Grand Slam (“I could definitely envision that happening,” Djokovic said).

The big story is the quiet end of the Big Three era.

Nadal took a pass on Wimbledon after “listening to my body.” Maybe his body was mindlessly scrolling on its phone and discovered that, hey, did you know we haven’t won Wimbledon since 2010? So why would we bother this year against this guy on this run?

Will Nadal ever win another Slam that is not the French Open? Maybe. Would you bet on him to do it? Probably not.

Aside from his form on clay and the ’08 Wimbledon final, the greatest achievement of Nadal’s career is that he’s avoided snapping himself in half. Whether he’s the greatest is very arguable, but that he’s the greatest often-injured athlete in history is not. Whether it’s his back or his knees or his wrist or his feet, no one has gone further with a less reliable vehicle to get them there.

Rafael Nadal’s 35 now. An old 35. At some point, that becomes untenable. The point at which you’re taking a pass on Grand Slams despite not having any specific injury might be it.

Then there’s Roger Federer. The 39-year-old did at least make it to Wimbledon, though he probably wishes he hadn’t.

The formerly indisputable-for-now-and-all-time-to-come-greatest-ever got slapped around in the first round. He managed to hang on for a few more. But then in the quarters, he was run over.

It wasn’t that Federer lost. It was that he lost miserably to so inconsequential an opponent on so consequential a stage.

Federer hasn’t exactly been tearing it up recently, but this was the first time he looked like that guy no one in pro sports wants to become. The guy who can’t admit he’s done.

Lesser competitors could play out the string for a couple more seasons. Make a few bucks. Say goodbye on their own terms. Still hold on to some dignity.

But Federer can’t do that. The gap between what he was and what he is now is too enormous. Having seen one, you can’t bear to watch the other. It’s too sad.

Then there’s Djokovic.

At 34, he still seems as spry as a colt. At points in Sunday’s match, Berrettini – aglow with youth when it began – was leaned over sucking wind. His thigh was heavily bandaged. He massaged it often. He went on little walkabouts between long points in order to compose himself.

On the other side of the court, Djokovic was lightly bouncing from foot to foot. For the whole match.

He looked no different at the end of 3 1/2 hours of hard running than he did at the beginning. He didn’t even bother towelling off.

The Big Three is now the Big One.

This is not to say Federer can’t ever be any good again or that Nadal won’t win a major (once again, in France). But neither will ever again be considered in the same class as Djokovic. He’s running the final few laps of this race alone.

Of course, Djokovic won’t say that, any more than he actually wishes his disappointed opponents in Grand Slam finals could get their turn on top. The longer the other two remain theoretically viable as champions, the greater Djokovic seems when he actually is one.

Someone asked him on Sunday what it meant to equal the others with 20 Grand Slams.

“It means that none of us three will stop,” Djokovic said.

Okay. But to differing extents, the other two already have. They’ve graduated out of the aspirational phase. They’re both in the controlled-descent phase (though one of them is in greater danger of a hard landing). Only Djokovic is still rising.

Though he doesn’t quite mean it the way it sounds, Berrettini will have a great career. He is the player sports marketers would design in a computer if they could – urbane, multilingual, self-deprecating and impossibly charming.

Moreso than any of his contemporaries, the Italian could be the next Federer. I’m talking here less about the tennis player than the watch salesman. If things broke exactly right for Berrettini, he might be the biggest deal in the world.

But he probably won’t. Because he lacks the thing Djokovic has. It’s possible he has it more than anyone in tennis has ever had – he doesn’t believe he can win. Djokovic knows he will.

And now there is no one left to tell him different.