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Forgotten Federer the man to beat Djokovic

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Jonathan Overend | 08:34 UK time, Saturday, 4 June 2011

When Novak Djokovic netted a regulation forehand at 3-3 in the fourth set tie-break, he pulled his shirt over his head, turned his back on the play and went as white as a sheet. He knew full well the significance of the miss.

Roger Federer rifled down two massive first serves to move from 4-3 to 6-3 and, even though Djokovic saved the first two match points, the almighty duel came to a close with another Federer ace.

Paul Annacone, the former coach of that great serve-monger Pete Sampras, must have been thinking, "Where have I seen that before?"

It was devastating stuff, just as it had been in the 5-5 game to save break points, with the serves so accurate the top returner in the game couldn't get close.

Federer wagged his finger like telling off naughty schoolkids, chattering at the back of the class about their over-the-hill teacher.

The subject of numerous "under the radar" stories had been cast as the forgotten man - the gooseberry in the threesome as Nadal and Djokovic battle to be the sport's top man.

As third seed, Federer was even relegated to Court Suzanne Lenglen for two rounds in a row. That must have dented the ego. But he got on with the job, adding straight-sets wins to straight-sets wins, and he now has an incredible victory against Djokovic to add to his numerous career highlights.

And I firmly believe that if he backs up the Djokovic triumph with a first win at Roland Garros over Nadal, at the age of 29, it will be his crowning glory.

Djokovic can reflect with pride on an incredible victory sequence and a stirring comeback in the semi-final which almost forced a fifth set. I have to admit, I thought he was finished at 4-1 down in the second set and I doubt I was alone. But thankfully the fight continued and the match turned into the finest modern day contest since the 2008 Wimbledon final, with all its similar late-night drama.

The player of the season had played his part in the match of the season.

"It was a pleasure to be part of a great match, of course," said Djokovic at the end of an admirable press conference. "The streak had to end, I knew it was coming."

And of course, for all the fanciful thinking and odds of 100-1 against going the entire year unbeaten, we all knew it had to end.

We marvelled at the man from Melbourne to Madrid via Miami - 41 matches played, 41 matches won. Throw in Dubai, Indian Wells, Belgrade and Rome and you have seven tournaments played, seven titles scooped.

One of the great streaks in modern day sport, achieved in an era when his two main rivals are two of the greatest players of all time, systematically assembled by a determined professional at the top of his game.

He came up one match short of equalling John McEnroe's record 42-win start to the 1984 season. Ironically, if Fabio Fognini had dragged himself out of bed to play their quarter-final (the Italian smiled his way through his withdrawal announcement) Djokovic would have beaten him to enter the history books.

But McEnroe has gone on record saying his start wasn't as impressive. He mopped up at indoor tournaments during the spring of '84 and didn't have to play a Grand Slam as the Aussie Open was in December back then.

Novak Djokovic will be long remembered in tennis as the man who, for almost half a season, couldn't be beaten and helped men's tennis hit new heights.

A sensational Paris semi-final day, with seven thrilling sets, provided plenty of evidence to support Andy Murray's assertion that standards are getting better and better. Even during his short career, and the past season in particular, Murray has noticed a definite step up in speed and power and accuracy.

That is why standing still is not an option.

As Djokovic has pressed, coming to within one victory of the top ranking, so Nadal and Federer have needed to respond.

Nadal must still beat Federer on Sunday to keep the world number one ranking, and in doing so he would match Bjorn Borg's record of six French titles. Federer is hoping for a first win in five Roland Garros attempts against his great rival and success would surely confirm his place as the greatest of all-time.

But they both have much to thank Djokovic for.

They would have more titles and better records this year without him, but the Serb has kept the greats of the game on their toes. He has improved his rivals and improved himself. And, as Murray quite rightly suggests, the sport of tennis is at an all-time high as a result.

Hopefully it's a championship match to emphasise the point.


  • Comment number 1.

    How nice to see Djokovic's attitude on court in the face of a partisan crowd. His graciousness in defeat, in my opinion, does a lot for his reputation.

  • Comment number 2.

    Excellent blog, but what a topic to write about.
    I cannot actually wait for tomorrow.The magnitude of tomorrow's final can't be over-stated, it's bigger than anything.Devout as I am to football and England in any tournament even my boyhood love of cricket, and affections for golf, rugby, the Olympics and much more besides nothing compares to tomorrow.
    Nadal-Federer, irrelevant of the result is the most compelling narrative in the world of sport

  • Comment number 3.

    What a fantastic match. I had a feeling it would be the legend that would end Djokovic's rein. The top three in the game are all sportsman, gracious in defeat. Great ambassadors.

    As for Murray's match - I thought he was quite unlucky to be honest. In the first two sets, I didn't think he played badly AT ALL. It was just the break points where he suffered - just like in Wimbledon last year. In my opinion he needs a top psyhcologist to get is mind in gear. If he stops moaning to his camp, and concentrates on using the talent he has, I'm sure he'll win a grand slam some day.

  • Comment number 4.

    Something else to add - Federer's reaction at the end of the match was priceless. Pure joy.

  • Comment number 5.

    Even watching the coverage at home, it was clear that the power with which the ball was being struck was incredible, even compared to what we were watching only a few years ago. What I find most impressive is that Federer, the oldest of the three titans at the top, has found it within himself to raise his games to ever greater heights.

    The shaking of his index finger was less "telling off naughty school children" more reminding the world that of all those individuals around the world who have ever picket up a tennis racquet, he is/will be considered the best of all time. But how typical of Federer that his moment of self-indulgence only lasted a few seconds.

    It has been noticeable that the media have been making much of Djokovic's form and the fact that perhaps Nadal hasn't hit the heady heights of his previous appearances at the French. All the while, Federer has sailed serenely through, the lack of reporting really leaving us none the wiser as to his form - until yesterday, of course. I too am hoping for a final of 2008-proportions and with Federer having captured his French Open title, will he now look at a Nadal final on Chatrier in a different frame of mind?

  • Comment number 6.

    Two terrific semi finals with a mouthwatering final to follow -tennis has thrown up some giants of sport, supremely fit, dedicated and with well developed social consciences.

    Nadal & Djok. have their own admirable qualities their sheer gusto and daring is awesome but only Federer possesses the flair and artistry of the beautiful game last seen in Stefan Edberg, where power does not eclipse the placement and variety of shots.

    Should be a great final Nadal may well win though he does not look invincible - there won't be many more dream finals so it is an event to savour.

  • Comment number 7.

    what joy these modern greats of the game bring us. Just reading these comments made me feel happy and tells us alot about how even in today's overly competitive world, there should always be room for great sportsmanship. I had the pleasure of meeting Federer in Dubai and he was an absolute gent.

  • Comment number 8.

    great blog mr.overend,the match was unreal i stood up waiting for fed to win when he had 3 match points i could barely stand up with the nerves and tension(imagine how they felt).but i think ultimatly nadal will win with 2 presents for his birthday(murray's miserable break point conversion rate and fed'win over his recent owner)

    how do you fellow comment givers feel towards murray,i for one was so frustrated with him .he was constantly putting the ball in the middle of the court to rafas forehand which is a death wish in the important points,plus is forehand again was easy meat for rafa,murray has no ability to attack with his forehand,it is weak and spinny,you cannot win a slam with his forehand end of story and erratic serving.his mental capacity was shockingly terrible.basic shots in the middle of the net,ranting for nothing,weak big match temperment

    if he is to win a slam it has to be against anyone but the top 3

    on the womens final hope fran wins has she has the natural talent without the choking and plays to enjoy the moment,in australia i was stunned how well li na was playing only when the winning line appeared she choked horribly and handed the title to IMO a average player who got lucky to win her 4 slam

  • Comment number 9.

    With all due respect to Federer and his play (although Federer did hit lines more then ever in his career- believe or not!), I can't help but notice that there's envy impregnated in your comment's. Who ever is realistic will see this as obvious truth...and all you others...well, I guess you just keep on exulting.

  • Comment number 10.

    With all due respect to Federer and his play (although Federer did hit lines more then ever in his career- believe or not!), I can't help but notice that there's envy impregnated in your comment's. Who ever is realistic will see this as an obvious truth...and all you others...well, I guess you just keep on exulting.

  • Comment number 11.

    Especially the first set took the level of tennis on clay to new heights; what accuracy,
    pace, and artistry on show, by two players on top of their game. The seemingly effortless elegance of some of Federers shots were poetry in motion. I agree with some other comments that the sportsmanship Djokovic showed in and after the match should deservedly enhance his popularity with the wider audience. After this classic in my view Federer deserves to win the title, especially since Nadal is not quite on top of his game; then again he did not need to be, against a Murray who gets bogged down in complaining about all sorts. The deep heavy topspin of Nadal will prove perhaps an even sterner test to Federer, than the fast, but relatively flat
    groundstrokes of Djokovic. Let's hope for another classic tomorrow, with Federer
    winning it 9-7 in the fifth. That way Djokovic could still be crowned the new no. 1
    after this tournament; how is that for a consolation ?

  • Comment number 12.

    Nobody saw it, but the other guy pumping his fist and shouting 'YES' when Federer won that semi, was Nadal! This year, Djo had made Nadal look ordinary and I dare suggest had Djo gone through, Djo would have won the title. Nadal has not been mentally right against Djo this year. But with Federer - against whom Nadal has the mental edge in Roland Garros - in the final, I think Nadal will take it. I'm a Federer fan mind you, but he'll have to be something special to overcome this bogey in his career.

    By the way, I am officially Federer's biggest nemesis. Whenever I watch him play, he does badly. Even yesterday, when I watched, Djo won most of the points;I walk away and come back in 5 minutes, Federer is thumping Djo; I stick around he messes up again. It's been that way for years. So sadly, I'll be READING about the final. You're welcome Federer!

  • Comment number 13.

    My Đonatan Novak Djokovic in the rabbit as athletic races , which serves to improve the results of large already and he is great and what will you have a chance to quickly convince

  • Comment number 14.

    Quite interestingly, I just watched Senna last night (needs no saying how brilliant that film is) and of course a big theme of that was his rivalry with Prost. I may have not actually been born to see the majority of their rivalry through the late 80s, it was nevertheless between two amazing talents, certainly analagous to Federer and Nadal. Whereas the former duo's battles often hinged on distain for each other and their values, Federer and Nadal, and you can add most tennis players in this, have such a high respect and admiration for each other and I don't think you can overstate this enough. It is a brilliant example of how to compete at the highest level where the stakes are the biggest and fight the hardest yet still at the end of the day and say Roger or Rafa, you are amazing and deserved the win.

    Regarding the final tomorrow, even though I am most certainly team Federer, I don't think he will beat Nadal, even with some of Nadal's lacklustre performances at RG this year and the seemingly faster conditions this year.

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm going to put my hands up and say I now know how Federer fans feel about Nadal after the pasting Rafa has been given by Nole this year, and it hurts, alot!! Congratulations to both Rog and Nole for an amazing tennis match, although comparing it to Wimby 2008 final is a tad dramatic.

    I think the match will be closer tomorrow than the last time Fed and Nadal met in the final at RG, but Fed needs to watch out - the looser Nadal's strings are becoming the more top spin he's generating, and that's the achilles heel for Federer..........

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm sure people in the know would have realised Federer had a good chance to beat Djokovic. Their matches are usually close and Federer does play better in Grand Slams than he does in the Masters tournaments. However, I would agree that Djokovic was a slight favourite for the match.

    As for the final, Nadal is certainly the big favourite. Federer will have to play even better than yesterday (which was his best performance for some time) to even win a set against Nadal. I would love to see Federer win tomorrow as it will be a very special performance if he does achieve a 17th Grand Slam title.

  • Comment number 17.

    The quality of tennis in this match was nothing short of phenomenal. It reminded me of Henman being interviewed shortly before he retired, and him admitting that with the power and athleticism involved in the game at that time, it was getting harder and harder for him to compete. Well, things have stepped up a further notch since then. Even playing this supremely powerful, on-the-edge tennis, they seem to make so few errors as well.

    I hope the final tomorrow is worthy of the expectation, as the Barcelona CL final performance was. I can't bet against Nadal on clay, but I would love to see Federer win it. That would certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons for Wimbledon, which is going to be wide-open whatever happens. Well, it's hard to see anyone winning outside of the top four, so I'm not sure that quite qualifies as being wide-open, but it is certainly going to be close to call between the top three.

  • Comment number 18.

    All credit to Roger, I havent seen the forehand stay that good for a few years now, maybe the coach has added something to his game. I felt he was trying to hit the like of Del Potro & Berdych off the court instead of playing to his strengths which is his ability to construct his points so majestically.

    Of course his serve was exceptional, around 18 aces on the clay against Nole is a tremendous effort. I have not seen much of Nadal as Roland Garros this year but what I witnessed in the build up was a player who's level seems to have come down slightly. Federer pushed him close in their semi final a few weeks back Of Djokovic has made him look human at times so I would write off Fed going in to tomorrow.

    What does come out of it was the amazing tennis both Federer & Djokovic played and also with Roger hitting the ball well again that we have 3 players who could all beat each other during the remainder of the season. Murray needs to step up, clearly miles ahaed of the other players in the top 20 but still a way behind these 3 & that will hurt him as he seemed to have gone past Novak 2 years back.

  • Comment number 19.

    'Nadal, over best of five, as multiple champion, remains favourite in my eyes and Andy Murray is enjoying some rich clay court form to suggest a best French Open performance is possible, but it's in Djokovic's hands. If he continues his form he can win again and topple Nadal for a fifth time inside three months.'

    Two out of three - not bad. But no mention of Federer at all in that blog... must be feeling pretty silly now! :P

  • Comment number 20.

    sirHellsBells.. Regarding the comment "clearly miles ahead of the other players in the top 20 but still a way behind these 3". i agree with later but he is not far ahead Juan Martín del Potro or Robin Söderling.

    I hope federer win tomorrow but not very hopeful but nadal is incredible guy. He says he is not at his best then dispatches bothe Soderling and Murray in straight sets.

  • Comment number 21.

    Testament to Murray that he's reached the French semis and no-one bats an eyelash. Testament to Federer that even as he ages he has that ice cool mentality to push through to the Final like a 24 year old. He'll be annihilated in the final because Nadal has his number on clay, but let's hope he makes a game of it.

  • Comment number 22.

    I am sure Federer has grand slams to come. With Djokovic, Nadal, Murray andd Del Porto all vulnerable to injuries with their intensive play, Federer just has to keep arriving at tournaments fresh and fit. He is not finished but by playing less he can no doubt maintain the desire

  • Comment number 23.

    Being a Federer fan I really hope he can pull it off tomorrow, it would be one of the most defining victories of his career, the way Nadal won Wimbledon in 2008 by beating a great grass court player in Federer, it would be fantastic if Federer could do it against the best clay court player of all time. I just feel that Nadal has his number on clay, he will continue to pepper the backhand and beat Fed into frustration.

  • Comment number 24.

    Federer is a living god.

  • Comment number 25.

    I'm happy Federer won, however his continuous fist pumping throughout the match became quite irritating. Curiously Corretja, the former coach of Andy, got all results right. He said Nadal would beat Andy in straights, Federer would beat Nole although Nole would beat Rafa and Rafa would beat Federer in straights. Nole is unable to put enough spin on the ball to Roger's BH so the Swiss gets a big chance to win if he serves well -as he did yesterday-. Nadal will play with a lot of spin, Federer has simply no answer to that. I'm confident the final will not be so one-sided as in 2008, I can't see Federer winning a single set though

  • Comment number 26.

    It's going to be ugly for Fed tomorrow. A repeat of the 1-3-0 final would not be surprising.

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree that Nadal is probably the happiest that Fed beat Djoko. As Djoko has scared Nadal mentally this year not once but 4 times. In doing so though, he has made Nadal appear more “human” and very beatable, just as the Mono did for Fed (which precipitated is loss of superhuman ability). Isner should have beaten Nadal, but didn’t. Murray could have beaten Nadal, but didn’t. Nadal’s ability to hang in is his tremendous self belief.

    I think Fed hasn’t beaten Nadal on clay (which the odd except like Madrid) out of mutal respect for Nadal. Deep down Fed knows Nadal is the better clay court player and probably prevents Fed overcoming his own personal “monkey on his back” re: Nadal’s ability. Which is of course reinforced by the constant losses at the hand of Nadal on Clay…and subsequently backed up ion other surfaces.

    But this year is different. Fed has accepted I think now, he is no longer world No.1 I also think he has accepted that he will be beaten more than before….perhaps Anacone has made him realise, just as with Pistol Pete, that you’re going old, you’re slower and those young guns are playing differently. Saying it and believing it are two different mental issues. I think Fed is more at peace with himself now.

    This is probably the reason why, as noted above, Fed would try and hit his forehand as hard as JDP, but with very limited success. Fed’s forehand was as wild and inconsistent as a teenagers attitude to life. Fed still believed he was No.1 and still believed he could blow his opponents off the court, which of course he no longer could.

    He eluded to this new “calm” in his last press conference.

    So, despite the previous history of Nadal dominating Fed and all over him like a cheap suit at RG, this year, the pressure is more on Nadal than Fed.

    Nadal needs to win to remain No.1 He is also expected to win against Nadal, despite his current up and down form. Given the previous lack of success of Fed against Nadal at RG, no one eblives that Fed could overturn Nadal. So, for these reasons, I suggest that Nadal has far more pressure and expectations on his shoulders than Fed who, if he loses everyone will say, Jolly well done, no big surprise. But for Nadal…well…it is his to lose. This could play into Fed’s hands…his new “calm” and if he looses “so what, that’s what you expected”.

    It’s gonna be a classic fight%E

  • Comment number 28.

    Obviously I'm delighted by Fed's win ... which to be honest, I thought would be really hard for him to pull off. A fantastic match - esp the 1st and 4th sets. Very close - it could have gone either way but its been quite a long time since I've seen him so "up" for a match ... no doubt the extra motivation (if he needed any) was so he could wag that finger at the media who seem desperate to write his tennis obituary. It'll be a very tough ask for him to come out and play like that again against Nadal. Have to laugh at one of the posters who said that Fed's fist pumps got on their nerves ... ever seen Nadal during his matches??? Fed's are gentle by comparison. By the way, Federer also beat Nadal at Hamburg in 2007 - ending his 81 consec clay match win streak.

    I read somewhere or other that some tennis commentators were almost in tears of joy watching Fed at times during that match - perhaps because at almost 30, no one expected to see him reach that level of play again. It won't happen too often these days, sadly.

  • Comment number 29.

    Not quite a classic but a tense match, with fortunes switching throughout.

    Federer showed glimpses of his elegant game but fell just short - the unforced errors did for him. Neither player was at their very best but best man won on the day.

  • Comment number 30.

    Both Fereder and Djokovic are two great tennis players. The battle between these two legends was epic. They did a great show on the tennis field. Hope to see more games like this. [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 31.

    look at the Stats Roger 16 GS Nadel 10 Nole 2...who the best! yep Federer! live with it you Nadel Fan's!

  • Comment number 32.

    Novak Djokovic is providing terrific challenges to Roger and Nadal. The upcoming Serb looks set to scale dizzy heights. In victory or defeat Novak has been a marvelous ambassador of the game. Good for tennis and sports.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho


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