Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Best of 2010: Spoiling for a Fight
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Best of 2010: Spoiling for a Fight 12/17/2010 - 9:49 AM

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer played each other five times over the course of the last four months of the season. Federer won four of those matches; Djokovic won this one, the one we’ll remember. It spoiled a potential Federer-Rafael Nadal final, but it was a classic of its own—No. 6 on my list for 2010. The match was exceptionally up and down through the first four sets, or at least exceptionally up and down from Federer’s point of view. His serve was on track only sporadically, and he lost two sets badly but still kept himself alive for the fifth. That’s when things got good, as the highlight clip above attests.

***

What station is this, or what country? Somewhere excitable, it seems. Whatever you think of the announcer—and he would wear on me after a while—he does bring a soccer-like energy to a tennis match. And his cry of “Djooookoooovic!!!” at the end is perfect.

***

These two played in Toronto the previous month and Djokovic was visibly gassed by the end. Federer even mentioned it in his on-court remarks afterward. And there are times in this set when Djokovic looks weary, but it never quite affects him. By the end, he’s running on adrenalin, swinging for the fences, in some kind of competitive ether beyond tiredness. He stays in that zone even after the match is over. You can see it on his face as he approaches the net for the handshake. Djokovic's eyes are still wide, and a little shellshocked.

***

There’s a reason that Federer is 12-6 against Djokovic. Even in this match, he has the natural upper hand in rallies. It’s Djokovic who plays farther back, and who has to hit bigger than normal to stay on even terms. This time he does it. Even the two match points he saves are with extremely risky shots that he wouldn’t go for at 2-2 in the first set of the second round of Basel. Djokovic has to absorb Federer’s early punch and recalibrate his own game. That’s what happened when they played at the World Tour Finals, where Djokovic was run off the court in the first set before making a match of it, with great effort, in the second.

Still, his shots on these match points here weren’t flukes. I thought he had been the better player for most of the match, and that had started all the way back in the first set, even though he lost it. You can see in these highlights that Federer can’t leave a ball hanging; Djokovic is going to be on it. The Serb won two easy sets, but as with Berdych and Monfils this year, he couldn’t kill the king until he’d gotten down match point and found himself with nothing to lose first. Psychologically, it seems to be easier the second time around.

***

Federer was snakebit in this set; he couldn’t finish a couple points where he had Djokovic dead to rights. At 4-3, 15-30, Federer missed a running backhand pass into the net. On a crucial point later, he hit a running forehand pass crosscourt, right to Djokovic’s racquet. Did he do anything wrong on the match points? He’s out of the first one pretty quickly, even though he still makes Djokovic finish it with an insane inside-out crosscourt swing volley. On the second, Federer does leave his backhand just a little shorter than he wanted, but you can’t blame him for that. Djokovic took a neutral rally ball and hit it on the line. You can only tip your hat there.

***

Reason to love Novak Djokovic: He’s facing match points and looking close to beat. He hauls off and wins those two points, and then wins the next point with another winner. Suddenly he’s beating his chest with his racquet, as if he’s been the man all along.

***

He was the man in the end. You know you’re feeling it when you can thread a forehand pass up the line and past Federer at 5-5 and deuce in the fifth set of the semifinals of the U.S. Open. In London, the Tennis Channel’s Jimmy Arias mentioned that Federer often hits his forehand a little early when he’s tight. That’s what happens here at break point at 5-5. He pulls his forehand into the alley.

***

Then we have the Djokovic's celebration, one of the year’s best. It succeeded in being both genuine (“What just happened? I just beat Roger Federer; I’m in a Slam final again?”) and a little hammy (“I’m going to stand here and soak this in for just a little longer than is absolutely necessary”). Novak: genuinely hammy; hammily genuine. He started this tournament in a mediocre place. He ended it on the rise again. It was a trajectory that took him to two convincing wins in the Davis Cup final. We’ll see if it takes him even higher in 2011.


 
82
Comments
 

Posted by nick 12/17/2010 at 10:05 AM

this was heartbreaking.....but king roger got his revenge thrice since then!!! @ shanghai, @ basel and @ atp tour finals

Posted by Andrew 12/17/2010 at 10:15 AM

Steve: I'm going to look back over any match call notes I have at TW, but I doubt they'll differ in substance from your take. Well put, and astute. From a Federer fan's perspective, the match was a bit infuriating - the fellow who'd seen off Soderling in a near gale, chuckling that he could get up at 2am or 4am to hit serves, just couldn't find his first serve when it counted.

From a Djokovic fan's perspective, the guy was much the better player for the first four sets - so how did he find himself MPs down in the fifth? This was the year that Federer would fail to close out 4 ties with MP, but again you're bang on saying that Djokovic stepped up and won those sudden death points - they weren't handed to him by errors. Of particular note is the way Djokovic handcuffed Federer with his second serve at 15-40: even though he had Federer on the full run, his opponent was putting up strong defense, and that swinging volley may have been one of the bravest shots of the year.

I typically see a great match as one where both guys are playing well at the same time - and they didn't start doing this until set 5. So I wouldn't put this match down as a classic, but it was enjoyable - well, unless you cared a lot about the outcome, from one side of the net....

Posted by wilson75 12/17/2010 at 10:17 AM

Steve: The head to head is 13-6 now.

I was happy Djokovic won because it put an end to the ridiculous hype for the "dream final" that was going on in the media. Poetic justice. I hope that next time there will be a little more restraint.

Posted by dan 12/17/2010 at 10:43 AM

This match was #1 for me this year, though I tend to weigh the drama and the importance of the occasion more highly than the quality of play--Federer looked positively awful for large stretches in this match, but that just added to the plot twists.

I'm biased, though, because it was also the most heartbreaking match of the year--I was at this match and the final as well, and all I wanted in the world was to (finally!) see Federer-Nadal at the US Open. Given the importance of the match for Rafa's career (and Federer's chance to stop him from completing the career Slam), it was one of the few times when the (massive) anticipation probably wasn't overblown.

Posted by CWATC 12/17/2010 at 10:49 AM

I feel in some ways this match was set up by the toronto match where Fed went up early but didn't seal the deal and then Djoko came back strong despite not quite pulling off the win. I think that put him in a good mindframe for the next match. At least for me the toronto match was a reason I wasn't taking a Fed win for granted at the USO, which it turned out it wasn't.

Fed has given some interviews subsequent to this match saying he was distracted by thinking about his potential fitness in the upcoming final, which may have contributed to his uneven play. Somehow it's nice to know that players for all their stoic demeanors (esp Fed) are often thinking the same sort of stuff during matches that their fans are :)

Whether or not Djoko is on a serious upward trajectory is unclear; the DC win was fab but he wasn't facing top ten players there. Australia should be interesting to gage whether the DC will lift his overall form and make him a strong contender for GS's again.

Posted by mickey 12/17/2010 at 11:06 AM

i would say djoko along with other big 4 are the legitimate contenders for GS in 2011....roddick and del potro minimally.

Posted by ixvnyc 12/17/2010 at 11:08 AM

Yeah, CBS tweeted that Sunday final will be Nadal - Federer before this semi even started. To make it worse, they did not send the correction until it ended, as if if the Federer had won it, it would've made it OK to call him a winner before his match even starts.

I am so glad that their dream final got ruined, and even more, that they eventually had to give it up entirely (to ESPN2 or something) thanks to the rain.

You may think the whole TV ratings fiasco was bad for popularization of tennis, but I disagree: the whole thing may have denied the final it's share of short attention span crowd, but I'm pretty sure it has gained a lot of long term fans to the sport of tennis.

Posted by Michele 12/17/2010 at 11:23 AM

I knew this match was coming on your list and dreading it! I was there, sick with worry, and devastated at Fed's loss. Watching two match points erased with unbelievable winners was gut wrenching. I like the Djoker but damn I wanted Fed to get to the final and take out Nadal. Of course, the idea that Nadal would've beaten Fed in the final might have been much, much worse to witness. So, in retrospect, this loss is easier to swallow somehow.

Posted by Soderling's Scowl 12/17/2010 at 11:48 AM

Had Federer gotten to that final, he would have been beaten by Nadal. I say this as a Fed fan. Simply put: Fed was not in the proper state of mind regarding his rivalry with Rafael at that point. NOW, however, the whole 'mental' aspect of the rivalry between the two is quite different after Fed handed Nadal's ass on a platter at the WTFs.

If they meet in the AUssie Open again....and something tells me they will.....Fed's taking Rafa out in 4 close sets. 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-5

Posted by Andrew 12/17/2010 at 12:20 PM

OK, going to my match call now, from 9/11/2010 at TW. See if it matches my memories at 10:15am:


Not the most convincing set, but still goes in the W column. Djokovic the better player for much of the set, now 0-1.

Federer, playing poorly, DFs twice: Djokovic up 3-0. CBS comms rabbit about 2005 tweener. Just shoot me now.

Federer's feet have gone to sleep, or they're walking the twins. 4-1 Djokovic, with a break.

Errr...OK. Worst set of tennis by Federer this summer. 1 set all.

Typical Federer - Djokovic match: first set Federer, then he loses his way entirely.

Right now you sense Federer's game is hanging by a thread. 2-1 Federer on serve, but Djokovic has the momentum, and Federer's footwork and decision making have been below par all match - plus the 1st serve.

Good defense by Federer at 15-15. Still on serve at 4-3. Djokovic still playing better than the no 2 seed, at least to my eyes.

Tense stuff. Any second now, Federer's going to check under the umpire's chair for his first serve. 6-5 Federer, on serve.

Huh? Where did that come from? Djokovic goes from solid to liquid in four points. I have a sneaking suspicion this will go five, though. Not a frazzle, just watching the play.

Tchah. Federer lifts his foot off Djokovic's throat, and falls a break behind. 2-1 Djokovic, with the break. Federer still troubled by sub par serving and decision making. Djokovic with the benefit of a couple of shanks that dropped in.

Federer holds, but on Djokovic's serve we saw (particularly at 40-0) how discombobulated Federer is. 5-2 Djokovic, with two breaks. It doesn't matter who serves first if you don't serve well.

5 sets it is. I don't think my prediction altered the outcome....Strange match. This should have been Djokovic in straights, or at least in 4 sets. After looking imperious for five matches, Federer today looks very fragile and there to be taken.

Still very tight, but no BPs. Federer 2-1 on serve. Pick the winner.

Still on serve, 3-2 Federer. Federer's footwork still looks all over the show.

Two holds, no BPs. Stonking stuff. Federer 4-3 on serve. A BH CC pass at a vital deuce point. For some reason, Federer doesn't trust his T serve to ad.

Dry mouth time. 5-4 Federer, on serve. Still no BPs this set. Federer had a real opening at 15-30, but chose the wrong BH option. Story of the day.

Rats. But well played Djokovic. Saves two MPs bravely, with his opponent tentative. Then breaks as two Federer I-I FHs hook wide. 6-5 Djokovic, to serve.

Ah, well. Much the better player on the day wins the SF. I wish he hadn't, but of course that counts for nothing. Congratulations to Djokovic fans: Djokovic won 163-148, or 52.4% to 47.6%. Commiserations to Federer fans - he almost snuck it out, but it would have been grand larceny. Played two defensive returns at 4-5 MP, and a defensive return at BP 6-5, and paid a deserved price. Paul Annacone, might you have a word with him?

Honestly, that was a match that Djokovic should have won in three or four. Federer's first serve and footwork were ugly all match, although the serve picked up in set 5. Cathleen and Sylvia are back from shopping. Too early for scotches, so I guess it'll have to be a beer.

Posted by CL 12/17/2010 at 12:21 PM

Steve (and Andrew) - yes, I remember being especially ticked about the AWOL serve given Fed's typically honest, if flippant, 4am remark. I think I wrote that, clearly, they should have played this match at 4am.

CWATC is correct about Fed saying in interviews late in the year that the 'second semi mentality' crept in. And that is on him. In the same interview, he also said that he wouldn't make that mistake again. We'll see.

I think IF he had to play Rafa the next day, he would have been a huge underdog. But given the rain out on Sunday for the extra day of rest, I would have like Fed's chances on that fast USO court.

As for the Djoker -with this win he seemed to have redeemed what had been a very, for him, funky season with lots of disappointing losses. Straightened out some of the kinks in his game and his head. He was lucky to get that day of rest before he faced Rafa and he did his best, but Rafa was just too much for him...mentally, even more than physically. I think mentally he was even more drained than Fed would have been.

I thought that after his semi victory, he might really go on a dominant roll himself. But though his fall was MUCH better than his spring and summer, he remains a worthy #3. Be very interesting to see if this DC glory provides that final impetus toward more consistent and consistently bigger wins.

Posted by dr no 12/17/2010 at 12:46 PM

29 years old people....30 this year..........wow

Posted by dr no 12/17/2010 at 12:50 PM

check out photo of nadal; on daily spin, serena into hall o fame...roids any one?????

Posted by wilson75 12/17/2010 at 12:53 PM

CL: Given that it would've been the "dream final" I think CBS would have allowed the USTA to wait out the rain delay on Sunday instead of postponing the match to Monday.

Posted by CL 12/17/2010 at 12:57 PM

wilson 75 - maybe...can't remember CBS programming that night. Was football involved? If so, no way. Also, did it stop that night...can't remember.

Posted by CL 12/17/2010 at 12:58 PM

TWENTY NINE YEARS OLD??!! Gasp! And he's still BREATHING!!??!! I'm, like, stunned!

Posted by wilson75 12/17/2010 at 01:01 PM

CL: No, football was before the final. 60 minutes, undercover boss and CSI Miami were scheduled. Big money spinners for CBS but I think they would've pre-empted those shows for a Rafa-Fed final.

Posted by Andrew 12/17/2010 at 01:47 PM

I think one thing my cut-and-paste job of my match call on the day shows is how poorly I thought Federer was playing for most of the match, particularly given how he'd played up to that point in New York. It was a complete head scratcher. I honestly thought it would have been daylight robbery if Djokovic hadn't saved those MPs in the 5th set.

I think I agree with CL's take - A Monday Federer would have been favorite, a Sunday Federer not (assuming he'd gotten whatever was in his tennis playing system on Saturday out by then). And I was very impressed with the way Nadal checked Djokovic's momentum after set 2 in the F: just as I was how Djokovic checked Federer's momentum in the SF after sets 1 and 3. The impression I had at the time, mind, was that Djokovic was getting help from his opponent in the momentum-killing stakes.

Posted by Anwar 12/17/2010 at 01:55 PM

>

The language seems Arabic, and the emblem at the top right of the screen looks like of al Jazeera

Posted by Todd 12/17/2010 at 02:25 PM

O M G! This match IMO was the best match of 2010. It was a complete shocker to see Nole play the best I've seen in a long long time. I remember I put this match on my iPod and felt very very happy for Djokovic when he won it but sad for Roger.

Posted by Andrew 12/17/2010 at 02:36 PM

Yes, it's Arabic - I think the same announcer who became a viral video sensation when someone cheekily "translated" his commentary for Murray - Federer, WTF London 2009 (the subtitles aren't quite accurate)...

Posted by Moe 12/17/2010 at 02:44 PM

This is Aljazeera Sport from Qatar, the language is arabic.

Posted by Yolita 12/17/2010 at 02:53 PM

Maybe this win, together with his Davis Cup triumph will push Djokovic to break the Federer-Nadal duopoly.

But I'm still a little mystified when people talk about Djokovic underperforming. I think it's agreed that Nadal and Federer are two of the best player to ever play this game. Their dominance is absolutely unbelievable. To break that would be an achievement of almost herculean proportions!

No other player has been better than Novak for the last 4 years. Since he was 20 years old he has been consistently better than every other single player out there (except Fedal). How's that underperforming? How's that inconsistent? He's not so inconsistent if nobody has been able to take the #3 ranking spot from him, for 4 years in a row!

I don't think he has been better than Federer or Nadal. Maybe this year he will be. As far as I can tell, he has performed exactly right: he's no better than Federer or Nadal, and nobody else is better than him!

Posted by tennis2011 12/17/2010 at 02:53 PM

It was a match that Roger should have won in straight sets (4 at most). He is by far the better hardcourt player and has won 5 titles there. He simply started thinking about the final against Rafa and the disadvantage he would have if he did not close Novak out quickly which in turn caused a mental slip and allowed Novak back in the match. He still should have converted one of the match points, but chose to play passive tennis when it mattered and payed the price. Had Roger won in that 5th set and got the extra day of rest because of rain than I have no doubt he would have prevailed against Rafa in that final, but it wasn't to be. This is where Paul Annacone is making a gigantic difference in Roger. Paul is soaking it in Roger's head that he must always look to move forward and be agressive. We should see this in 2011 as we did in the fall of 2010. Look for Roger and Rafa to play more in 2011 than they have in the past 2 years. I see them contesting the final in Australia coming up in 4 and a half weeks time.

Posted by tennis2011 12/17/2010 at 02:56 PM

Goodluck to both Roger and Rafa as I personally think they are the two best players of all-time.

Posted by noleisthebest 12/17/2010 at 02:57 PM

Every time I see these highlights I have my own hammy fan heartbeat-stop eyes-wide-open celebration.
Being a Novak's fan really costs you.
After one of those Nadal Djokovic final matches in 2009 (I think it was Queens) I developed my first ever boil on the face (and not knowing what it was I ended up on a 2 week course of antibiotics) and had a Bono black sunglasses look (come rain or shine...)
Then there are those jetlag sleepless weeks where I feel like a zombie, utterly drained both physically and emotionally.
I often suffer from minor headaches from all the passionate cheering, an let me tell you I didn't even watch half of the USO final against Nadal because it was simply too much form me. Nadal's brutal force and hitting were just unbearable...
But for those beautiful clean hit forehands and bakchands, for those moments of madness and wide eyes it's worth it....BIG TIME.
During TMC final when Federer served in the first game of the third set I shouted Nole is the best! Federer went on to demolish Nadal. Did he hear me?
P.S.
Now and then I am already being sad for the times when he'll have stopped playing. I'd like to be at his last match, just to let out one last roar.

Posted by tennis2011 12/17/2010 at 02:58 PM

Just for fun here are my 2011 predictions.

AO- Federer
FO- Nadal
Sw19- Federer or Nadal (to tough to call)
UO- Djokovic

Posted by chany 12/17/2010 at 03:49 PM

Just for the fun of it also...

AO - Djoker
FO - Rafa
SW19 - Rafa
UO - Federer

Posted by Eva 12/17/2010 at 03:50 PM

Steve you nail it here with Djokovic. I think you are one of the few that can understand his complex personality.

Posted by Corrie 12/17/2010 at 04:09 PM

I don't blame Federer for distracting himself by worrying about how he'd pull up the next day in the final. How could you not think thoughts like that? About having to play a fresh Nadal? Especially as he'd faded in the fifth set in the final the previous year, after having, yet again, the second semi the previous day.

The real problem is the scheduling. I still find it hard to believe that this dreadful schedule is allowed to go on year afer year. I'm just glad our AO is more functional.

I remember Agassi in his book said he went on bended knees to the organisers and begged them to let the old guy have the first semi final. Maybe as Federer becomes the old guy he should do the same.

Posted by kurt lang 12/17/2010 at 04:22 PM

well i'll join in. lol


2011:
AO - Fed
FO - Rafa
Wimby - Fed
USO - Toss-up bet. Fed/Djoko/Murray

Btw, we all know Fed should have won that and we all know why he did not as other already mentioned.

Posted by thinking the unthinkable 12/17/2010 at 04:34 PM

i wonder if fed half-wanted to lose or was sorta relieved to lose knowing very well (as most of us assumed) that nadal would have most likely won due to rest-adv. and this would have worsened fed's h2h w/ rafa. as others pointed out his passivity at crucial times was rather uncharacteristic and sets 2 & 4 were atypically poor by fed's standards.

Posted by new yorker 12/17/2010 at 05:34 PM

i have a (sad) feeling that the sod/fed qf @ rg and fed/monfils sf @ paris will make it here. thAT would make at least four heartbreakers (including the llodra/sod bercy one) on this list that i find virtually impossible to re-watch.

Posted by noleisthebest 12/17/2010 at 05:38 PM

And may I add (before I go to bed) that I do hope Novak lets rip in 2011 and 2012. I really want to see him go for it. Now that he has got Davis Cup (read patriotic desire fulfiled) out of his system and Serbian Open ticking over without him having to win it every year (this year he pulled out during an early round match due to allergy), the serve reasonably reliable, now that he has had his eyes literally repopened during that celebration, I think his time has come.
I know Federer is sublime, I know Nadal is merciless, but I know that Nole is the best and I really hope his dad and all the other mini burdens and distractions will get off his back once and for all and let him be free and unshackled. GO NOLE, FLYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!

Posted by noleisthebest 12/17/2010 at 05:41 PM

And last but not Steve, I'd really be grateful if you could let me know how you see Novak's chances at Wimbledon this year.

Posted by noleisthebest 12/17/2010 at 05:42 PM

I mean NEXT year..(oh dear, I've really lost it after only half a glass of wine)

Posted by Soderling's Scowl 12/17/2010 at 05:50 PM

Nole will go down in the quarterfinals to ROBIN SODERLING! AHAHAHAHAH!

Posted by Northernboy 12/17/2010 at 06:36 PM

There is a reason Djokovic has losing records against both Fed and Nadal even though he has, for the better part of their head to heads, been able to outplay both of them from the baseline. He plays poorly on serve. Nole takes very unnecessary risks and plays low percentage tennis quite often, esp when on serve, so he often breaks and gets broken back.

We saw it in this match, which he should have won in no more than 4 sets, we saw it in the finals, where he broke Nadal but played poorly on his own serve to lose the first, pretty much ending his chances. Nadal ended up going only 4/26 or something ridiculous like that for break points (how can you play badly enough to give you opponent that many BPs but play good enough to save almost all of them) while Djoker was 3/3. We saw it in Paris when he was up 2 sets and a break but lost to Melzer. We saw it in Toronto where he was outplaying Fed for the 2nd and 3rd set but still lost.

Djokovic is far aand away my fave ATP player but yeah being a fan of his is painful. Hope he remains more focused and plays intelligently, as he can beat any of Fed, Nadal or Murray if he does.

Posted by geellis 12/17/2010 at 07:07 PM

@ ixvnyc
You're wrong about what will lead to the growth of the fan-base of the sport. Like any sport, it's the stars that drive the attention and help expand the fan-base. That is no less true in tennis as it is in say Futbol as it is in the NBA. To wit, the more times the big two play, the better, by far, it is for the sport. Tennis is 10xs the sport when it has a globally compelling rivalry thaan it is when it does not.

Posted by holland 12/17/2010 at 09:05 PM

good point, geellis. in general big stars (that win!) draw fans. if it were not for serena and king roger i wouldn't have been following tennis like i do now (if at all). even when they gone i will still follow but alot of folks won't.

Posted by Amit 12/17/2010 at 09:12 PM

Djokovic was the better player on this day - no question. Like several other fans, I was very surprised at how Federer's game (especially serve and backhand) completely went off the rails during this match. Reminded me of the early 2009 (Miami/Rome) matches against Djokovic. That's not to say that Djokovic cannot beat a Federer playing well on hardcourts - clearly he has and can.

This loss, partly caused by careless tennis, may have been a bigger wake-up call for Federer than Wimbledon. He was playing shoddily in the summer and losing (grass included). By contrast, Toronto/Cinci went well and he played 5 very good matches in New York. His game does really assume a life of its own on decoturf; Fed has played some truly imperious tennis here over the last 5-6 years. This must've hurt enough to take a serious look at the state of his game.

Posted by MindyM 12/17/2010 at 10:00 PM

CWATC,

I completely agree with you about Toronto setting up this great win for Nole. I didn't tune in to that semifinal match until Nole was down 6-1, 2-0 in the second set. I didn't get to see how awful he played in that first set, but from what the commentators on the tennis channel said, it was pretty horrendous. How this guy can just go from being absymal to being absolutely brilliant, I have no idea.

It's like a switch flipped inside his head and he suddenly remembered - yes, I can really play great tennis against Fed! His powerful groundstrokes were impressive and he gave Fed all he could handle for the rest of the second set, which he won, until the battle to make it into a third set tiebreak. Nole played a few bad points and that was all it took for Fed to get the win. However, I felt at the time that this match sowed the seeds of belief in Nole, belief that would become crucial in this exhilarating semifinal match at the USO.

In the key moments, when Nole should have crumbled, he held his nerve and just went for his shots. As I watched him fight off those two match points, I almost couldn't believe what I was seeing. Was this really Nole? He showed some nerve and guts when it counted and it paid off. It was wonderful to see him get that win and his reaction was totally Nole.

CL,

You wish that the extra day of rest would have made Fed the favorite to win the final! Let me tell you something. There is NO way, I mean NO way, that Rafa was going to lose that final once he made it there. It's a good thing that Fed didn't get there, because I think it would have been a very unpleasant loss for him. Rafa was playing like a man possessed. Underdog, favorite, it doesn't really matter when it's Rafa. He was the clear underdog at the 2009 AO and look what happened! I am not even sure that he would have been considered the favorite against Nole, who has given him fits on hardcourt in the past. Rafa was not going to be denied the career grand slam.

Posted by Tuulia 12/17/2010 at 11:12 PM

MindyM - I agree. Personally I was more worried about Nole, he's a worse match up for Rafa. Either way Rafa would have won almost certainly, but as it was we probably got a better match and we definitely got nicer post-match and trophy ceremony scenes, the guys were adorable with each other, Nole was extremely gracious and generous both on court and in presser. - I still want to hug him whenever I see him. I expect it will wear off eventually, but won't be forgotten. :)

Posted by jita65 12/18/2010 at 01:03 AM

Only No.6 on Steve's list, but it's No.1 on mine.
That's because, after watching Roger beat Novak 3 years in a row in USO, to see Novak finally getting it right, was just great. Still, though Novak looked the better player most of the match, he could have lost. That I guess is the painful part of being Novak's fan, but thankfully not on this day.
Thanks for the highlights 'best set ever..!' :)

Posted by susan 12/18/2010 at 01:18 AM

ha, ha: Best set EVER. GOAT set?

Possibly a column devoted to the best sets of 2010, instead of the best matches?

Might be useful for a year like this one.

Posted by jita65 12/18/2010 at 01:33 AM

BTW, it's not me saying this was 'best set ever..'; it is stated so on the top of youtube Video clip :)
It shows up if you pause the clip.

Posted by Amit 12/18/2010 at 02:09 AM

MindyM/Tuulia,

"Let me tell you something. There is NO way, I mean NO way, that Rafa was going to lose that final once he made it there."

Any particular reason that Federer would not be able to beat Nadal, with absolute certainty, on a fast hard court? I assume he knows how to play a bit on this surface; having won it and all.

Posted by Corrie 12/18/2010 at 04:32 AM

Agreed Amit, their comments simply showed their bias,including the bits about the ceremony being "nicer" because they happen to find the players "adorable". It's certainly impossible to realistically and objectively state that there's no way Nadal could lose that final.

Is it possible to have comments above the level of drooling fan girls here?

Posted by serge-ant 12/18/2010 at 05:37 AM

No drooling fangirl myself, but Djokovic most certainly made post-match proceedings much nicer: instead of spoiling it with sulking and self-pity, he treated that other Impostor with dignity.

He must have been bitterly disappointed, losing to Nadal whom he had regulalry beaten on hard court the whole year, yet he kept his cool and even managed to be magnanimous towards the victor.

Posted by susan 12/18/2010 at 08:20 AM

jita65

i didn't see your post when I wrote mine.

I was actually referring to the title on the video clip. That's why I capitalized EVER. It's written that way by the person who uploaded the clip to YouTube.

I still think a post on the 10 best sets of the year is not a bad idea. like favorite movements of musical works. different tempo, etc. but this one is included largely because of the fifth set.

Posted by Freddy M. 12/18/2010 at 11:30 AM

I watched the match again a few days ago (I have it on my VR) just to be sure it was really the best match of the year and I was thrilled again like I was watching it for the first time. Federer played well, but Djokovic was brave and lucky and showed energy that he did not show in four other matches against Federer. Novak is a better player than he was in 2008, but it is all about hunger and wish. However, Federer (BH) and Nadal (serve) are also better, especially Nadal

Posted by CWATC 12/18/2010 at 12:58 PM

Obviously no one can say for sure what would have happened in a match that was never played. Personally I don't think Roger's confidence had recovered enough after his summer slump for him to have beaten Nadal. That he was still a bit shaky is obvious from the way that he played against Djoko after all.

And had Roger lost the press knives would have been vicious and Roger was well aware of that. He mentioned in the PC that if he had to lose he was glad to lose in the semi and not the final. So no I don't think he'd have been a particularly happy camper in the ceremony tho' he might have kept it together publically.

Djoker on the other hand was just glad to be back in a GS final. He was the underdog and received nothing but praise for his performance.

As a Roger fan I definately enjoyed the Nadal/Djoker postmatch ceremony more than I would have a Nadal/Roger one!

Posted by Andrew 12/18/2010 at 01:14 PM

I thought the first set of Federer-Djokovic Shanghai SF 2010 was cracking stuff: again, for most of the set, I thought Djokovic had the upper hand, but Federer put in a kick (or Djokovic dropped his level) for about fifteen minutes and the match was done and dusted.

One thing about great sets is that they're a bit like great ingredients in a casserole - you need to have them, but it's how they come together in the whole that matters. Sometimes, for example, a mid ranking player redlines against a Nadal or a Federer for a set, but the mental and physical effort means they're toast after that.

Having rewatched the YouTube clip, the must see moment comes at 4:45 - in the middle of the 15-40, 4-5 point. Federer, at a dead run to deuce, cracks a vicious DTL FH. A lesser player might have panicked or bunted, but Djokovic plays a full cross court drive - one example of the kind of play that, to me, makes Djokovic the best controller of angles in the ATP. Federer has to sprint back over to ad and throw up a desperate sliced BH, and Djokovic hits the brilliant I-O CC FH swinging volley winner. We remember the swinging volley, but that BH drive which set it up was one of the shots of the year: it was at least as good, if not as flashy, as Federer's infamous tweener the previous year.

Posted by CL 12/18/2010 at 02:15 PM

Tuulia and Mindy M - I'm with Amit. Yup, things would have been looking dicey for the old codger going into that match. And yes, Rafa was primed and ready. But Rafa didn't exactly play perfect, unbeatable tennis in the final. And until he hit the bump named Novak in the road, Fed had been playing beautifully. And Fed loves that USO court. Might have played like a faster, even lower bouncing O2 court.

So Fed would have had his chances in the delayed final. And so would Rafa. Probably would have been a really good match. (Though I also suspect that both would have been super nervous at the beginning and the first set would have been a right mess.)

Posted by wilson75 12/18/2010 at 03:14 PM

I don't get this need for warm and fuzzy trophy ceremonies. Players should be allowed to express their feelings regardless of the outcome. If one player's sad and the other happy, so what. It's not normal to demand that players be lovey dovey with each other in the post-match proceedings.

Posted by CL 12/18/2010 at 03:54 PM

wilson - well, frankly, we have 'Fedal' to blame for much, though not all, of that. all that bromance is just dreadful...ask Pspace and Sherlock. ;-)

I wonder if there is any YouTube's of Wimby/USO ceremonies involving JMac and Bjorg; JMac/Connors, et al. ? I think there has always been a 'stiff upper lip/try not to stare daggers at the winner' tradition in tennis. But it is true, that only recently have we demanded 100% graciousness, 100% of the time from both winner and loser. AND demand that they BE gracious in the barely cooled aftermath of a competition that is both physically and emotionally draining. In front of a huge live and tv audience.

Next thing you know, they will be like Oscar winners and pull a little crib sheet of notes out so they remember to thank, praise, and praise some more, all the right people. And hey, even the Oscars' don't make the losers cough up a hair ball 'good loser' statement at such a moment.

Posted by MindyM 12/18/2010 at 04:30 PM

Amit and CF,

You are free to think what you wish, but no one will ever make me believe that Rafa would have lost to Fed, had they met in the final. Rafa was playing some of the best hardcourt tennis I have ever seen him play. His serving was fantastic and his stats were out of this world. When Rafa sets his mind on something, he has a way of making it happen.

In the fourth set of the USO final, Rafa simply went to another level. Even Nole could only stand back and watch in wonder and amazement. Rafa was in the zone, as I like to say. He wasn't able to match that incredible level of tennis in the months that followed. However, I would love to see him find it again just in time for the 2011 AO. We all know what is at stake with a possible win for Rafa.

I won't argue Fed's excellence on the hardcourts of the USO. His results speak for themselves. I don't think he was playing his best tennis at this year's USO. Losing two sets 6-1 and 6-2 is not vintage Fed. In that fifth set with two match points, you would have to bet money that Fed would close it out for the win. He just doesn't blow those opportunities. I do have to give credit to Nole for just letting it rip and going for winners. If only he could manage to have that kind of mental focus more often, he could get another slam win.

I think Nole earned his spot in the final. He played some of the best pure tennis I have seen him play in a long time. I think he was the only one who could have challenged Rafa and had a shot at beating him. He did get a set off Rafa. The way Rafa was playing, that was an accomplishment.

Fed seems to have found his game and should be primed and ready to go at the 2011 AO. It can't come soon enough for me!

Posted by wilson75 12/18/2010 at 05:17 PM

CL: According to some on this thread, Fedal trophy ceremonies are not as nice as others and the less there are the better so I don't know how much blame can be actually put on Rafa and Roger.

Posted by AO OPEN 12/18/2010 at 05:41 PM

DJOKO!!!

Posted by tennis2011 12/18/2010 at 06:08 PM

2011 Australian Open Predictions:

Semifinals-
Nadal def. Djokovic
Federer def. Roddick
Finals-
Federer def. Nadal

You heard it here first.

Posted by Nam1 12/18/2010 at 07:54 PM

"You heard it here first."

Wish I had a dollar for everytime someone says this on this site before a Grand slam!!

Posted by Nam1 12/18/2010 at 07:58 PM

"I don't get this need for warm and fuzzy trophy ceremonies. Players should be allowed to express their feelings regardless of the outcome."

I agree, everyone should be allowed to act as they wish after a match, whether it is sobbing pitifully or rolling around on the court or quietly sitting in their chair.

It is up to us to decide which is the reaction we want our young people to emulate when they win or lose a match in any sports.

Posted by serge-ant 12/18/2010 at 09:10 PM

It's not about craving for lovey-dovey postmatch happenings. It's about avoiding unsporting behavior ranging from long faces to hysterics when losing and from flippancy to strutting smugness when winning.

And it's not about pretending either. It's about control. See Murray at 2009 AO: disappointed and teary, but dignified, even witty. See also Roddick at any of his losses in big finals: devastated, but composed and fully present at the trophy ceremony.

Federer is almost always over the top in both defeat (Insulted Greatness statue) and in victory (Ebullient Smugness winding toy). Both can be really embarassing to watch, because he makes everything about him and him alone in either case. Djokovic shows empathy towards his opponent by having much more self control. He is sad, not sulking after his losses. He is happy, not gloating once he's done with his on-court celebrations after his victories. In short, Novak is a better sport.

Posted by wilson75 12/18/2010 at 09:22 PM

serge-ant: If it's real emotion, it can't be controlled. Controlled emotions always makes the person come off as fake. I don't have a problem with how Federer reacts to wins or losses, as he's always real and does give congratulations to the winner or loser at trophy ceremony. If you're not a fan you will see him as being smug or ungracious. I still remember the days when tennis players did not acknowledge their opponents in their speeches. As for Djokovic, it would be nice if sometimes he would appear to be disappointed when he loses sometimes. It always looks like he's happy to be the loser.

Posted by susan 12/18/2010 at 10:19 PM

i still think sets are at least another way of making yet another list, and providing even more column material for steve. ha. how does he churn it out week by week?!? i'm convinced he has special software that has had access to his brain, and thus can automatically produce posts with only minor input.

yeah, they are parts of a whole and the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

but, still, they move to their own rhythm within a structure. sure, it's not the same fixed score/notes to take the feeble music analogy further, but they do have their own discrete value. so what if one guy redlined? it was a good set on its own, even though it doesn't illustrate the core principle of a win in tennis-- a minimum number of sets. it highlights the peak effort of one player, nothing more. it doesn't illustrate who is necessarily best overall. i think i am now not making sense...

how about best point of the year....endless top 10 (top 5) lists = more columns.

Posted by jita65 12/18/2010 at 11:53 PM

Wilson75: I don't think Novak is happy to be a loser at all. On the contrary, he can take really long to recover from tough loses. At Olympics SF, after very graciously congratulating the winner, he left the court literally in tears and wasn't quiet himself for weeks on afterwards. Similar thing happened after the Madrid loss last year. Summer this year, I remember reading his coach's interview that Novak was depressed after his loss at FO against Meltzer and he did not fully recover until the Davis cup in Split when he got to spend some time with his Serbian team mates.

I think it would be hard for someone to really fake after these big and close matches though some are better at keeping their composure. Djokovic is gracious because that is his nature I think, same with Murray.

Posted by kohler sinks 12/19/2010 at 12:56 AM

Can we have just one thread where Fedal wars don't start?

It's seriously getting inane and only shows the lack of class of some fans that these two champions showcase.

The commentator is the best, love, love, love him!

Posted by susan 12/19/2010 at 04:25 AM

i love the announcer. have no idea what he's saying.

sounds like a very excited call to prayer.

Posted by Amit 12/19/2010 at 04:48 AM

MindyM,

"Rafa was playing some of the best hardcourt tennis I have ever seen him play. His serving was fantastic and his stats were out of this world."

Really? I am almost certain Nadal played better hardcourt tennis in summer/Fall 2008. He did win the USO, but that doesn't mean he was playing the sort of tennis you are alluding to. The same way I think Federer played better clay court tennis in 2006, even though the FO win came in 2009.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 12/19/2010 at 11:45 AM

I think I watched this, although I can't remember much of it. Advanced frazzle for the next day probably had something to do with that. :)

Seems silly to me to take a win over Federer (or anyone really but particularly Federer) for granted.

I don't think Roger was thinking about the final at all, or wanted to lose so he didn't have to play Rafa; hasn't he had sets and patches of sloppy play all year?

Posted by CL 12/19/2010 at 12:28 PM

jewell - well, the thing is, Roger admitted in an interview this fall that the idea of a final after playing the second semi did get to him - and as soon as he got in trouble in the second set it weighed on him even more. He admitted letting it get to him was a real mistake on his part, and that he wouldn't let that, "tsk, tsk, its a pity" (;-)) ,sort of thing happen again. I guess we will see.

As to your other point, indeed, Roger had played many sloppy matches all that spring and summer. But he did seem to be, finally, rounding into form at the USO. His match against Soderling, played in the midst of a near hurricane, was a master class of playing in the wind. ** But it is certainly possible, given the state of his game, he might have 'gone off the boil' vs Novak no matter what the circumstances.

**If he had served half as well against the Djoker, in near perfect conditions, as he had against Robin, in warp factor 5 winds, the results of that semi might have been a lot different. **sigh**

Speaking of hurricanes, how's the weather? :-)

jita65- I'll grant you Muzz is usually pretty gracious at the trophy ceremonies...win or lose. Other than that? No so much.

Posted by CWATC 12/19/2010 at 12:38 PM

jewell, from the horse's mouth:

"I think I had too much of my mind focusing maybe already on the upcoming match I had to play the next day if I were to win. I think just mentally, it wasn't just Rafa who won that match before us, I just think the short recovery time made it hard on both of us to focus on what we really had to do.
I think I maybe let a game here or there go a bit too quick and next thing you know, it's the second or fourth set went by in a hurry. That at the end came back to haunt me."

AND:

"But as I mentioned once before, I thought it was quite tricky mentally to prepare for that kind of a tough match knowing it was best-of-five sets and Rafa had an easy run through to the finals, that he was going to be completely fresh on Sunday. I didn't know rain was going to come on Sunday. I didn't plan with that. Maybe that's why the second and fourth sets kind of were over in a hurry. That's one thing that's never going to happen to me again. You live and you learn."

Posted by CWATC 12/19/2010 at 12:47 PM

About trophy ceremony conduct, I do want to note that Fed got praise from several old-timers after Wimby 2003 for resisting the Pat Cash tradition of clamboring into the player's box after a win. Fed said at the time he thought it was more respectful to the loser to "stay on court with my opponant" and that's what he did then and ever since.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 12/19/2010 at 01:12 PM

Cheers CL and CWATC, didn't know that. :)

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 12/19/2010 at 01:15 PM

Weather-wise, more snow...I miss the days when it was all magical, and not just an annoying nuisance that means my feet are always cold. ;-)

Posted by CL 12/19/2010 at 02:14 PM

CWATC- just a personal preference, having nothing to do with any individual player's 'graciousness' or lack thereof, I REALLY dislike...may I say loathe?...this 'new tradition' of players clambering up into the stands to hug one and all. I mean, I get it...clearly, especially at the slams, it is a moment that you want to share with your nearest and dearest. Problem is, right at that moment, while they well may be your 'dearest,' they are not your 'nearest. Lots of body checking, right and left, gets done along the way by sweaty players. Because of the way the players' boxes are set up it is the worst at Wimby. Now, at Wimby and elsewhere, they often have security people clearing a path for them which somehow makes it look even more like a 'show.' At least to my eyes. And I quite understand that this is a purely personal preference.

(If Fed every does it, I'll just have to shut my eyes.)

jewell - oh dear...sorry about that. We are sort of pining for snow here. As for tootsies...may I recommend silk socks - if you have to wear hose, they go over the hose and under the boot and left in the boot when you change into shoes. But if you can wear socks, they go under the socks. Very thin and warm.

Posted by jita65 12/19/2010 at 07:38 PM

CL& CWATC
Thanks for that quiet interesting insight into Fed's thought process during the match. Though I am not quiet sure what this means, is Roger implying that he tanked set 2 and set 4, because that seems rather awful.
My opinion is that Fed underestimates Novak in a way that he would not do with Nadal and Murray. It's almost like ...I have figured out this guy and I can take a set from him anytime I really want to.., not without some justification I suppose, as was shown in the way Fed won set 1 and 3. And he did have match points in set 5, so if that was really his strategy, it wasn't without some merit either. I am just glad that it didn't work.

Posted by Hassan 12/19/2010 at 10:49 PM

LOL! The announcer and the tv channel are from Qatar; so this is Arabic and they really do try to make it sound exciting! :D

Posted by Amit 12/20/2010 at 03:30 AM

Jita65,

I have started to enjoy Federer-Djokovic matches a lot, and this has nothing to do with Federer's superior H2H. Look at the final of Basel this year - right off the bat, they both start playing ridiculously high-level tennis. They know each others games very well, and there isn't a palpable hype/tension that accompanies Fed's meetings with Nadal or Murray. We get to watch a very good quality match typically.

I don't think Federer underestimates Djokovic - I'd be surprised if any of the players at that level do.

Posted by RubyP 12/20/2010 at 08:07 AM

CWATC -Thanks! I would rather see Roger cry after a loss to Nadal at AO 09 than clamber over the spectators to get to his box after his 2009 SW19 win over Roddick - the famous #15 Jacketgate, for which he was unjustly castigated. Totally out of character, I know. However, I was disappointed the twins did not make to the court after the Basel win. Anyone watching the 2 pm Fedal Exo today on ESPN2?

Posted by Master Ace 12/20/2010 at 09:32 AM

RubyP,
The Fedal exo starts tomorrow at that time on ESPN2.

Posted by skin cancer treatments Los Angeles 12/21/2010 at 04:53 AM

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