Through the Fall of Federer, the Day of Djokovic Dawns

August 12, 2011 · Print This Article

By: Lyra Pappin

MONTREAL – So it goes. So it goes. The slaughtering of a hero, the changing of the guard, the strangling reality of time: what has been said about Roger Federer that hasn’t already been said? How many times has that question been asked?

Yet no one is willing to put the story to bed. Roger Federer, chief among them.  It still takes some getting used to, hearing Federer discuss what went wrong in his matches versus what went right but in each press conference, as gloomy as he might be feeling, he refuses to accept that his time has come. In his recent, somewhat surprising loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga during the third round of Montreal’s Rogers Cup, Federer didn’t seem too shaken. “I feel good physically… I can tell you I feel good mentally and I’m playing well.” His shield of invincibility might be worn down to a soft glow, but there’s this fascinating mix of quiet determination and calm confidence that manages to unravel what would be the logical argument: that his decline is clear and unavoidable.

There’s a sense that Federer is comforted by a personal belief that he truly is the greatest of all time. He’s been careful not to confuse his self-assurance with arrogance and it seems he takes comfort in all those years at number one, all the slams, all the success, all the glory. There’s still the raw hunger and thirst for victory, but he shows it less often.  When there’s a challenge, he rises to it, seeming to draw from a belief that whoever is beating him now isn’t as good as he once was, and still can be.  Don’t think it didn’t mean something to him that he is the sole person the new kid in town, newly minted number one, Novak Djokovic lost to this year. At the French Open, no less.  The surface Federer’s struggled on the most saw him take Djokovic down in the height of his rise to number one, with an uncharacteristic show of swagger, the much discussed index finger wave that seemed to shout, “Not so fast, kiddo.”

It was an incredible statement, a new kind of win for Federer, who’s seen them all, and a shining moment of triumph against the rumblings that he doesn’t have what it takes anymore. But those moments are going to be coming fewer and farther between, no matter how free from physics he’s seemed in the past.  There is a new kid in town and he’s playing tennis with his own brand of otherworldly command. Djokovic has hit his stride, and with an incredible 50-1 record on the season, he is the man to watch.

Oozing charisma on and off the court, the affectionately nicknamed “Djoker” is coming into his own with admirable aplomb.  He respects the game, respects the past and knows what it means to be number one.  After his first win under the official number one ranking in Montreal’s Rogers Cup, he acknowledged the weight on his shoulders with grace, shifting from his trademark jovial attitude with an endearing sincerity. “[As number one], the world is looking at me a bit differently, which I think is obvious to expect… You represent not just yourself but the game of tennis in general. You need to handle yourself well.”

Djokovic has been dreaming about this time in his life since he was a child and he is now the man for the job. Where others such as Andy Murray and, to some extent Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling, have tried to grab the spotlight and stumbled, Djokovic has proven he has the stamina and mental stability to seal the deal.  The only other player who has shaken Federer’s stronghold on tennis is Rafael Nadal, who, when healthy, remains a formidable opponent and will surely capture future slam titles, but has not proven to be the same immovable obstacle for the fired up Djokovic than the roadblock Federer faced.

Djokovic is playing with a joy and command that is beautiful to see. There’s an actual spring in his step and a maturity has settled into his game that is satisfying not just for him personally, but fans as well. His success means something to him. “I feel great… I achieved the dreams of my childhood. I had a bit of time to enjoy the success I had, but now it’s back to reality, back to the tennis court, back to business.” He’s taking nothing for granted, respecting what he’s achieved, and somehow without taking himself too seriously, he’s taking his game to another level.

What’s ironic is that one of the only things standing in Djokovic’s way from becoming a bona fide superstar is the inescapable fever for Federer and his undeniable continued megawatt presence. Not to mention that the story of Federer’s fall has the power to overshadow the rise of Djokovic. As Federer’s star flickers and fades, Djokovic will have to keep climbing if he ever hopes to eclipse some of the Federer legacy. Something tells me, though, that he’s up for the challenge. And as Djokovic’s love affair with the sport and the crowd continues to evolve, Federer will have to settle for taking a seat farther and farther back to marvel at the view.

So it goes. So it goes.

Lyra Pappin will be covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto and Montreal for TennisConnected. You can follow her on Twitter at @allthatracquet.

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Comments

13 Responses to “Through the Fall of Federer, the Day of Djokovic Dawns”

  1. Braca on August 13th, 2011 8:49 am

    Great article, keep up the good work!

  2. alexa on August 13th, 2011 12:08 pm

    You must be kidding with last few sentences. Federer even as number 20 would be more popular then any other player including Rafa, Djoker, Murray…Roger earns more money then any other athlete in the world according to Forbs and he is number 3. So who is the most popular?
    Speaking about tennis, Roger’s playing style is unique and there is no other player who could achieve it. Such elegance, easiness and not just running all over the court using physical abilities like Djoker.

  3. Harry Buerkle on August 13th, 2011 12:21 pm

    We were so used to Federers greatness, that we wrongly think as Ms Pappin, that his star has faded. His star of beating everyone without a blink may have weakened but he remains a strong #3 in the world, made the final of a grand slam this year (on his least favorite surface) and won a tournament. It is far off from what Ms Pappin calls “the slaughtering of a hero”.
    Federer for me is still a top favorite to win the US Open.

  4. Charlie on August 13th, 2011 3:27 pm

    Federer is the greatest of all time. He likely will win another slam and he will certainly win a few Masters events win the next couple of years.

    That being said, all the Federer fan boys and girls need to face the fact that he is very much on the decline, and stop trolling the net trying defending him whenever a negative article appears. Who cares if sponsors like Rolex and other companies make him one of the highest paid athletes, that means less than nothing and is in no way a valid argument when talking tennis. Times change and champions do too, deal with it people.

  5. Lou on August 13th, 2011 6:28 pm

    Federer is the only one that can defeat Novak-Simply because he is an attacking player and was able to get through the defense of Novak! Nadal has not been able to defeat him because his game is more suited like a wall where he makes people commit errors but Djokovic recently has mastered that part of his game!

    I still dont belive that all is lost for federer and can still go on to win more GS. Will Roger Federer Bounce Back And The Myth of Age 30?http://bit.ly/mUlKHO

    He will bounce back !

  6. Lou on August 13th, 2011 6:29 pm

    Federer is the only one that can defeat Novak-Simply because he is an attacking player and was able to get through the defense of Novak! Nadal has not been able to defeat him because his game is more suited like a wall where he makes people commit errors but Djokovic recently has mastered that part of his game!
    I still dont belive that all is lost for federer and can still go on to win more GS. Will Roger Federer Bounce Back And The Myth of Age 30?
    http://bit.ly/mUlKHO
    He will bounce back !

  7. Lou on August 13th, 2011 6:29 pm

    Federer is the only one that can defeat Novak-Simply because he is an attacking player and was able to get through the defense of Novak! Nadal has not been able to defeat him because his game is more suited like a wall where he makes people commit errors but Djokovic recently has mastered that part of his game!
    I still dont belive that all is lost for federer and can still go on to win more GS. Will Roger Federer Bounce Back And The Myth of Age 30?
    http://bit.ly/mUlKHO
    He will bounce back !

  8. Brian Clarke on August 13th, 2011 9:46 pm

    Superbly written article clearly by someone who understands the power of words and takes pride in what she writes. Well done!

  9. Cahillgal on August 14th, 2011 1:16 am

    Disagree. federer beats djok who beats nadal who beats fed. It’s all about matchups. There has never been a player like federer. His records will stand the test of time.

  10. Calin on August 14th, 2011 4:58 pm

    If Fed, as Brad Gilbert calls him :) , said he is feeling good on both sides we must trust him so your doubts about his statement is a bit too harsh. On the other hand, I am curious if Djoker will come up closer to Roger’s achievements in titles and longevity.

  11. Brian on August 18th, 2011 12:51 am

    An astonishingly good piece of writing. A joy to read. Fed and Djoker are both stars with a racquet and Ms. Pappin is a star with words.

  12. Rick Devereux on August 18th, 2011 4:30 pm

    Feeling good and playing well are different than dominating, which Fed will never do again for more than an interim when others may be injured. If not to Joker or Rafa, he will lose to others – he’s 30, and while he may not even have lost a step, he is no longer capable of gaining one, as Rafa did and now Joker has done (and others will). The game at the top is about movement, and that bar keeps getting higher. Ten years ago movers like #4 Murray, #6 Ferrer, # 8 Monfils, and #11 Simon would have been #1 (like Hewitt). But there is a cost to those who ratchet it up a notch in movement, and that is injury. We’ve seen it with Rafa and Clijsters, and Joker’s movement mimes theirs. He WILL have lower body problems that no amount of training and rehab can prevent for enough years for him (or Rafa) to rival Rog or Pete in the W column for majors. The game is too competitive now, also.
    Joker is a terrific talent doing what no one else has done quite so well – yet – and we should enjoy this while it lasts and see what it begets. Rog and Rafa and others will continue to have a role in his career. I’ve been a huge Rog fan since ‘03, and I still am, but I also like Joker and admire Rafa as the greatest competitor I’ve seen.
    These are GREAT times for men’s tennis. I only wish the women’s game had something like this going on. Serena is the same old story, hanging on and in as Martina did. Only in the ‘87 to ‘07 period did the women’s game approach (and surpass) the excitement of the men’s game, with Graf, Seles, Hingis, Clijsters, Henin, Sharapova AND both Williams. They are playing on left-overs (great ones, in Serena’s case, and sometimes Clijsters) and never-beens.
    Rick

  13. Tennis. | Milquetoast. on December 22nd, 2011 8:10 pm

    [...] season nearly being spun out by the collective giddiness for Roger Federer can be read here: Through the fall of Federer, the day of Djokovic dawns. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

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