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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fearless Djokovic Defeats Aggressive Federer in Instant Classic

"Fate loves the fearless" - James Russell Lowe

These are the best words I can think of to describe Novak Djokovic's instant classic win over Roger Federer in the US Open semi finals. For the second year in a row Djokovic was down match points to Federer. And, just like 2010 Djokovic went for broke and made it. Novak said this in his post-match interview. He went for a flat out winner on the forehand return and made it. Fate does love the fearless because Djokovic survived a 2 set to 0 deficit and 2 match points. Federer was playing amazingly aggressive tennis, hitting his forehand flat and getting the ball past Novak. Very few players have been able to hit winners like Federer did against Djokovic. Novak took Fed's best punch and delivered his own knock out blow.

I was entirely impressed, as I expected to be, by both players. But this match took it to an all new level of excellence. It was clear Federer was on his game and wanted this Open. The dismantling of Monaco was impressive, but his dominant display of tennis against Tsonga was reminiscent of Fed in his prime. The aggressive play pushed him to a 2 set lead. Unfortunately for Roger, Djokovic mustered his best effort and started to control the points. He started to hit with depth on every shot not allowing Fed to dictate with his forehand as often. And, he was making his first serve. This was an outstanding response from Djokovic; the resiliency he showed despite being down to the greatest player ever only further exhibits his mental toughness. When faced with defeat he picked up his energy and his game. And, because of this conscious effort to turn up his game he will be playing in the Final against Rafael Nadal for the second straight year.

Momentum switched several times in this four hour match. Federer was dominating after getting through a tight first set tiebreak. Up to two sets to love, Federer was immediately broken by Djokovic. Novak turned up the heat and it seemed Roger went in to a lull. Djokovic rolled in the third and fourth set. However, Roger shifted the momentum at a time of the match that at first thought would not seem important. Federer pushed back on Djokovic despite being down two breaks in the fourth set. He held serve and then made Novak serve out a tough game. It was clear to Novak and everyone watching the match that Federer was not done and he was ready to battle in the fifth set. And, battle he did. He battled all the way to 40-15 at 5-3. The crowd was roaring; willing him to victory. A chance at another Grand Slam was on his racket.

Djokovic seemed upset at the crowd for getting behind Federer and was shaking his head at 40-15. At the time I thought he was distracted by the crowd. In response he went for the big shot and made it. The crowd roared for Novak and he raised his arms in celebration and smiled. This seemed to shift the momentum again. Djokovic relaxed a bit. You could also see the determination on his face even prior to the 40-15 point. He locked in and played two big points. Novak returned a great body serve by Federer at 40-30 and Fed went for an inside-out forehand that clipped the net and went out. That close to victory. Instead, for the second straight year Djokovic snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and now for the second straight slam Federer has been ousted after being up 2 sets.

While this will be tough to take for Roger you have to love the approach he took. Federer went for it big time and all but had the match. Impressively, Djokovic stayed committed to the battle, hung in there, and went for it when the opportunity was there. I loved the absolute commitment to the battle, to fight back, to continue to believe despite the outstanding play of the guy across the net. It is a mental victory just to hit out and play at that level for four hours.

Great work fellas and thank you for an instant classic. You both were great examples of mental toughness and going for your shots under big time pressure!

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