Novak Djokovic goes “all in” and takes out Roger Federer
September 11, 2011 · Print This Article
NEW YORK – Facing match point from Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic slashed a crosscourt forehand return winner that ripped across the edge of the line to keep his remarkable journey to the US Open final alive. The crowd roared. The press gasped. Federer scowled.
When asked what the world number three Federer thought motivated the daring shot by the number one Djokovic – was it luck, risk, confidence? – Federer cut off the reporter and balked, “Confidence? Are you kidding me?”.
In Federer’s mind, he just lost a high-stakes poker game with a pair of aces, against a guy who went all in with an off-suit 7, 2 and hit a full house. You’re just not supposed to play that way. You’re not supposed to win that way. And you’re certainly not supposed to beat Roger Federer that way.
“I never played that way. I believe in hard work’s gonna pay off kinda thing, because early on maybe I didn’t always work at my hardest. So for me, this is very hard to understand how can you play a shot like that on match point.”
In a season filled with disappointment for Federer and his fans alike, it’s another dent in the armour to hear disdain and a stodgy sense of entitlement creep into his rationalizations for losing. “To lose against someone like that, it’s very disappointing, because you feel like he was mentally out of it already. Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go.”
Federer just wasn’t going to give it to Djokovic, instead pinning an incredible fight to one moment. A moment, he in fact, should have capitalized on, not the other way around. Call it a lucky shot if that sits better, but facts are facts. Who was actually more mentally out of it? The guy was up two sets to love, and couldn’t close it out. The guy had two match points, and couldn’t close it out. “The guy” also happens to be Roger Federer, a five-time winner of the US Open, with 11 additional major titles, plus the unofficial but widely accepted Greatest Of All Time distinction. No one should know better than he that games aren’t won or lost on one shot.
And here’s where the trouble lies; not on that shot, but back at the start of the third set. Federer never should have gone to sleep for two sets. That is old school tennis at its grandest. A quick look back at US Open scores, shows a bevy of mid-match sets in the 6-0, 6-1 ranges. Players saw the writing on the wall, accepted the loss of a set, with the mentality that they could shelve that blip, brush it aside and power through the next set. It’s still a common theme from reporters and commentators, “Better just leave this set and focus on the next”.
There is, of course, certain logic behind it. Weighing the risk-reward of trying to break someone twice and win four straight games to take a set might not be worth the energy. Might as well ease up and shift effort into overdrive for the fourth or fifth set. It’s a strategy. It’s safe. It’s sensible. It’s obviously what was on the Swiss champion’s mind.
But the game has changed. Players are stronger, fitter and more aggressive. Federer is either too stubborn to see it, or too stubborn to stray from his plan. As he said, “I set it all up perfect”. The set up isn’t what counts, it’s the finish.
Federer was up two sets to love. If he thought that there was no way Djokovic was going to lose in straight sets and wanted to wait it out and take it to the fourth, it’s slightly more acceptable than letting it go to five. But if Federer wanted four, he should have made absolutely sure it was going to end in four. Instead, that was his most sluggish set and he even more clearly just let it fade into five. Though, in the fifth game of the fourth, he showed a blast of energy to hold serve and “send a message”. If he still had it in the reserves, what sense is there in letting a fourth set slide and thinking it’s possible to play in top form after turning the volume way down for over an hour? You can’t intentionally walk four batters and think you’re going to strike out the fifth.
Federer might think his fourth set hold of serve was meant to be a warning, but the signals aren’t coming through. Players like Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (who he lost to in five sets after being up 2-0 in Wimbledon this year) and Tomas Berdych, to name a few, are playing a new brand of the sport. It’s fast, powerful and aggressive tennis. Each point. Each game. Each set. They’re not afraid to go five sets and they’re not going to bow down to the unwritten rules of the Federer legacy. Entitlement doesn’t get you titles. Federer’s stranglehold on the game made players find new ways to win, and they’ve done it. Federer is still an unbelievably talented, graceful, beautiful athlete who is not fading nearly as fast as those guys would like. But if he’s not going to go away, neither should they.
Follow Lyra Pappin on Twitter at @allthatracquet.