For years, Roger Federer has tried to get under Novak Djokovic’s skin. After Novak was a little-known rising Serbian star and beat Federer in a U.S. Open tune-up in 2007, Federer said he “wasn’t that much impressed” and called the win “insignificant.” He has kept this act up. After Federer’s quarterfinal victory on Wednesday, he said, “For the last three or four years, [Novak's] gone through me, and he hasn’t been able to get it done.” Message sent and received!
For the last three years at the Open, Federer has been the Yankees to Novak’s Brooklyn Dodgers–always a win for Roger.
It feels like 1955! For the first time here, Djokovic prevailed. It was an unbelievable 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5, 3 hour, 44 minute match. Take the first four sets and dump them. This was all about a riveting, tight, gotta-close-my-eyes-cause-I-can’t-take-it fifth set. It looked like a YouTube video you’ll watch of Borg and McEnroe. Match points for both players. Leaping well past the dimensions of the court to return a forehand hit at an angle type shots. All the amazing stuff. And then the tension: Roger trying desperately hard to prove he’s not an over-the-hill and deliver the men’s final we all wanted while Rafa lounged on a couch comfortably contemplating the fifth set rules in New York; Djokovic trying to exorcise the Roger demons that have haunted him in Queens. It was, simply, the best men’s match I’ve seen since the 2008 Wimbledon Final.
Novak Djokovic played like his scouting report on steroids. His returns were as good as advertised. He hit to every angle. He played with unbelievable confidence. He saved two match points. He had to deliver a serve, down two match points, at 15-40 at 4-5 in the fifth set. On his second serve! Talk about a hole. And, yet, on that point and the next point, despite having to resort to his second serve both times, he hit two insane forehand winners, the second of which clipped the line on an incredibly low percentage shot. It was Brett Favre type stuff on that shot–he was a gunslinger, went for it, and got it, and that’s why he’s in the Open final. He induced Federer into hitting into 66 unforced errors–not unlike Roger’s performance against Juan Martin del Potro in last year’s Final when he lost as well.
“I had to take the chances when I was down match points,” he said, confidently.
And then later: “Today, I kind of closed my eyes on the forehands in the match points and just went for shots. I was lucky.”
He said the reason he put all on the line is because Roger, like a shark, knows when his opponent is wounded, or nervous. He “uses it,” he said, to lead him to victory. Novak wouldn’t let that happen today. That’s also known as experience.
Novak was elated.
“I think I can compare the feeling with winning a major after I have won this kind of match,” he said.
Though Djokovic won the 2008 Australian Open, he hasn’t done much in the Slams since, and, obviously, ran into Federer for the last three years here. If there’s one obsessing topic when you’re the no. 3 player in the world–clearly behind Rafa and Roger–it’s all about trying to figure how to beat these guys. He’s been talking about it for basically his entire career. When the ATP rankings come out on Monday, we will see Djokovic at no. 2 and Federer at no. 3. Unreal.
What happens to us as the fans? Well, we do not get the Final we’ve all been craving for two weeks. We felt like we may have caught lightning in a bottle this year–Rafa fully healthy and finally happy in New York and Federer still close enough to his prime where it still seems automatic to pencil him for the Final. It’s not happening. And it’s the first time since 2003–when Andy Roddick won to just prove to you how long it’s been–that Federer will not play in the Open men’s final.
In a way, it was predictable. Novak has been incredibly fresh, an unusual statement from him. There are matches here that would have been a struggle for him in the past. This time he breezed through rounds 2 through 5, and came in and won number 6.
He gets his men’s final tomorrow.