Novak Djokovic will play Rafael Nadal in the final of the French Open after beating Roger Federer in straight sets
Afternoon. When Don Draper storms into a meeting with Dow Chemical to tell the board that any happiness garnered from success will only last fleetingly before they’re desperate for the next taste, and more of it, he could easily have been talking to Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. You’re hungry even though you’ve just eaten, says the Mad Man. Success is reality, but the effects are temporary. Happiness? Well, it’s just a moment before you need more happiness. It’s an approach to life that could so easily be applied to these two greats. The hunger for more glory is what sustains them and pushes them on, what drives them to maintain such impeccably high standards, despite already having won the lot – and then some in Federer’s case. Between them, they have won 21 slams, Federer holding a record 16 to Djokovic’s five.
Federer, probably the greatest of all time, could have been forgiven for packing it in by now; he’s won enough and the stark reality is that he will probably never win another slam, not while Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are around. The last time he won a grand slam was the Australian Open in 2010. The wrong side of 30, he’s got a wife, a family, and all the money in the world. The comparison might be with veteran footballers jetting off to America or the Middle East for a big bundle of cash, but still he’s here, refusing to go away, still competing at the pinnacle of a sport in which the level of play has arguably never been higher. Be warned, you ask him about retirement at your own risk.
Both players had to come from behind in their quarter-finals, although Djokovic sailed much closer to the wind than Federer, who had the benefit of being able to mount his comeback from two sets down against a limping Juan Martin del Potro. Whereas Djokovic had to face four match points against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and also fought back from two sets down against Andrea Seppi in the previous round. That’s the thing about Djokovic: you think you’ve got him and then he pulls something extraordinary out of the hat, as Federer will know all too well after his chastening defeat in their US Open semi-final last year. Just like Federer, the thought of folding must surely have crossed his mind from time to time, given that he’s won four of the last five slams. In reality, no chance. Win the French Open for the first time in his career and he’ll be the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four slams at once. You don’t throw away an opportunity like that without a fight. You don’t want most of it, you want all of it.
So who wins today? Well, since that Australian Open win two years ago, Federer has only been in one grand slam final and that was after beating Djokovic in last year’s French Open semi-final. Then, in a truly epic encounter, he ended Djokovic’s astonishing 43-match unbeaten run, before going on to rather predictably lose to Nadal in the final. Despite that victory though, the memory of Flushing Meadows could play a big part at Roland Garros. If it comes down to a test of pure talent, back Federer. If it comes down to a test of durability and nerve, back Djokovic.
Rafael Nadal has demolished David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in the first semi-final and will
retain defend his crown in Sunday’s final. Let’s face it, no one is going to beat this absurd force of nature on clay. Not even these two. Ferrer had only lost one set before today’s match and had been in great form, but was thoroughly outplayed. He had the briefest of chances to break Nadal early on, didn’t manage it and was then blown away. Will we ever see the like of Nadal on clay again?
The first email. “I think it is an absolute disgrace that Hodgson didn’t…….oh, wrong MBM,” parps Peter Corway. “Nadal hasn’t dropped a set throughout the entire tournament, Federer and Djokovic are coming off the back of grueling matches (Djokovic in particular seems to prefer to play 5-set tennis nowadays, he must be finding it too easy to win in 3). Surely this is Nadal’s tournament?” Surely. It will be tighter if Djokovic wins this afternoon, but Nadal looks unbeatable on clay.
Look at Djokovic’s face at the start of this clip. What’s going through his head? “That facial expression, the return and the “are you not entertained?” gesture to the crowd are all hilarious,” says Jamie Davidson. “Such nerve.” It’s as if he’s taken a conscious decision to pull his shorts down and bare all. What you looking at? Yeah. That’s right.
Out come the players. On ITV, John Inverdale says there were shouts of “Roger! Roger!” from the crowd, so Djokovic can’t count on French support today.
Peter Corway again. “I agree,” he says. “If this were on a different surface, I think Djokovic probably has enough in his play to beat any opponent. But this is clay. And the person you are going to face is Nadal, the best clay court player of all time. Even if Djokovic or Federer got through to the final having not dropped a single game throughout the entire tournament, my money would still go on Nadal. It’s rather scary how good he is on clay – I mean, we have the greatest player of all time & one of the most unstoppable players of all time and STILL, they don’t stand a chance against Rafa. Madness.” Wouldn’t it be excellent if Federer was the same age as Nadal and Djokovic? Can that be arranged?
There may be a delay apparently because of rain. The players had knocked up and are now just sitting by the court. So frustrating.
The players are just sitting around now. Tum te tum! Have they got a good crossword?
No, no, they’re off now. Who knows when they’ll return?
Let’s get that time machine whirring.
“I assume I am the only person emailing?” says Peter Corway. Yes. “Everyone else is no doubt reading a Jonathan Wilson blog about the greatest 0-0 of all time back in 1958 in Wroclaw ahead of the Euros. Nadal / Djokovic / Federer – All 25 years of age. As brilliant as Federer is and has been, I still can’t see how a younger Federer would be able to beat Rafa on clay. Although, I don’t think Djokovic would have as many grandslams to his name if Federer was the same age as him. Djokovic is the one player who has benefited the most due to Federer’s age.” Agreed. He tends to run out of puff after starting brilliantly.
“I’ve been wishing that this would be the case for years,” says Jesse Galdston. “Along similar lines of fantasy, I wish we could see a tournament of clay court greats facing off. The one that comes to mind most often, besides the utterly obvious Nadal-Borg is A match-up between Gustavo Kuerten and Rafa. Both seem to have a truly special, almost symbiotic relationshipship with Roland Garros. I realize Rafa is the much better player, but Guga pre-hip injuries was incredible on clay.”
“If they were all the same age, Roger would have at least one more Roland Garros win as those extra couple of years mean he’s knackered by the time he beats beats 2 of Djoko/Murray/Rafa,” says William Hardy. “He would also have won at least one more slam last year. I believe he went 185 (ish) grand slam matches without losing from 2 sets up, then it happened a couple of times in quick succession. Not saying it doesn’t happen to everyone, but younger Fed would have had the stamina to see off Del Potro and Djokovic in New York. Anyway, even though all courts are becoming much of a muchness, clay is too much of a specialist surface for me. Not as much as the Thomas Muster days, though.”
“How about peak ’06 Federer vs current Nadal & current Djokovic,” says Daniel Ampaw. “The peak Federer who used to do things like this. No probably not, Rafa looks more at ease than ever on the Clay, once the ball drops slightly short; the areas that he can hit the forehand are just too wide, particularly with that side spin when he goes cross court…or that side spin when he bends it inside the line…what a monstrous proposition. He looks like he’s added 5kph onto his serve as well!”
Random plug: if you like tennis, I can highly recommend this book on the 2008 Wimbledon final by Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim. It’s brilliant.
More with your weather correspondent. “Does it look like an especially heavy rainstorm?” asks Lara Sandhu. I don’t know, they’re showing Djokovic’s match against Tsonga. Ah, happier times – it was still the Jubilee!
The weather is wreaking havoc everywhere. “The Big Brother audience has been CANCELLED for tonights show due to weather conditions,” according to Twitter. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! There goes Friday night.
Another email. “Assuming it keeps raining, how long will you be here to keep this blog alive?” asks David Hetem. “Will you call it a day after watching the rain for two hours? Or will you stop after they start the first game of Euro 2012…” Until they call it off. I am the consummate professional.
The players are back out. And the sun has got his/her/its hat on. We’re going to have some tennis after all.
First set: Djokovic* 1-0 Federer (*denotes server): Here we go then. It’s Djokovic to start the serving. If this is even half as good as last year, we’re in for a helluva ride. Strong serving and a couple of wayward shots from Federer sees Djokovic hold to love in a rather low-key start. It will be interesting to see how the delay has affected them. “Damn,” says Ellamo. “I wanted it to be cancelled. Because I’m at work right now and I can’t watch it. And I won’t be able to watch the replay tonight either, because I promised my friend that I’d play crazy golf with her on the roof of Selfridges.” Crazy golf on the roof? See you there.
First set: Djokovic 1-1 Federer*: Magnifique. A glorious backhand from left to right gives Federer the first point. Vintage Federer, and the return from Djokovic hadn’t actually been too shabby. A booming serve makes it 40-15, and he seals the game with a clean ace. Only one point has been dropped on serve in the first two games. It’s a respectful but encouraging start.
First set: Djokovic* 2-1 Federer: The serving so far has been exemplary, Djokovic answering Federer’s aces with two of his own. That said, this game features the first return winner, Federer contemptuously batting a poor serve down the line on the forehand for 40-30. He can’t put any more pressure on Djokovic though, misjudging a low volley at the net. “I guess we’re assuming that it’s not possible to beat Rafa at the French, but what style would give the winner of this match the best shot?” says Chris Sloane. “Go for a winner off every point? Hit all fore-hands with backspin? Or confuse him with a bit of Tim Henman 2004 Clay-Court-Serve-&-Volley tactics? What do you reckon?” He makes you play for the lines. If you drop it short either vertically or horizontally, that’s it. Only playing for the lines forces errors, which in turn forces conservatism, which in turn means Nadal wins. I really don’t know.
First set: Djokovic 2-2 Federer*: A beautiful start from Djokovic, on the front foot straight away and then punishing Federer with a smooth forehand into the left corner to make it 0-15. But anything you can do … Federer responds by picking off Djokovic with a forehand winner. And then pulls out exactly the same shot. The standard is already eye-wateringly high. He follows it up with an ace down the middle, which is called out, but Djokovic sportingly points out that it clipped the line, earning a round of applause from the crowd. He polishes off the game with a strong serve that Djokovic can only block beyond the baseline. We could be here for a while. Fair warning. “To the email that asked if it was a very heavy rainstorm… Well, I’m sitting in an office about half a mile away from the court, and yes it was bucketing down,” says David Roy. “Sunny now though, and apparently set to stay that way for at least an hour. (At least according to Meteo France’s “will it rain in the next hour?” thing on their website.)”
First set: Djokovic* 2-3 Federer: At 15-all, the pair of them trade blows from the baseline like two heavyweight boxers pulling out their biggest punches. The crowd is transfixed. After some huge pinpoint forehands from both, Djokovic cracks first and fires into the net. Suddenly there’s danger. A defensive shot from Djokovic sits up invitingly for Federer to run around a forehand and pound it cross-court, the Serb’s backhand going wide to offer up two break points. Djokovic saves the first as Federer is forced to send a backhand down the line off-target, but there’s no reprieve on the second point: a deep backhand to the baseline catches Djokovic flat-footed, allowing Federer to romp forward and batter a classic forehand away. There’s the break. The question is whether Federer can maintain this standard.
First set: Djokovic 3-3 Federer*: Three misses on the forehand give Djokovic an immediate chance to break back. This tends to be the problem for Federer now – he just isn’t quite consistent enough under pressure against the top two. Sure enough, Federer slaps a feeble forehand into the net to level it up again.
First set: Djokovic* 4-3 Federer: Oh yes. Djokovic sends a sublime backhand slice in behind Federer’s backhand. Federer does well to dig it back, but can do nothing with a delicate volley at the net from Djokovic, who holds to love. After being broken in his previous service game, that was a stroll in the park for the world No1. Would the Federer of old have allowed the advantage to have slipped so quickly and carelessly?
First set: Djokovic 4-4 Federer*: The Federer forehand is starting to become ragged, but it’s largely a consequence of having to constantly attack Djokovic. At 15-all, he pounds one to the Djokovic backhand and then incredibly slams the return into the net, drawing a wince from the crowd. Danger for Federer at 15-30 … so he just responds with two aces, easy as you like. What’s the bother? Why fret? He polishes off the game after an excellent rally with a low forehand into the right corner. This time he doesn’t miss. Djokovic offers him a thumbs up. There’s a lot of respect out there.
First set: Djokovic* 5-4 Federer: Djokovic holds to love, with the unforced error count increasing from Federer. Djokovic is just about on top, even if we’re still on serve. “Don’t tell me “playing crazy golf” is another euphenism that had passed me by?” says Jonathan Wood. “Like Alan Partridge’s “tent-peggers”….honestly, I’m in my own little backwater over here.”
First set: Djokovic wins the first set 6-4: Federer, here, serving to stay in the opening set. He doesn’t start too encouragingly either, a mishit forehand skewed past the baseline to give Djokovic an early sniff. Although he drags it back to 15-all, two more dreadful forehands, one long and one wide, give Djokovic two set points. Djokovic’s defensive skills are driving Federer to distraction here. A second serve offers Djokovic the chance to get on the front foot and a booming return leads to Federer sending another forehand long. Since being unable to consolidate that early break, Federer’s game has deflated.
Second set: Djokovic* 6-4, 0-1 Federer: Federer needs to lift himself somehow. A thuddering tackle to get the crowd going maybe. Or maybe just this outrageous rally at 40-30! This is quite ridiculous. It had everything. Great attacking from Federer. Great defending from Djokovic. A superb drop shot from Federer. It looked to have won the point but somehow a sliding Djokovic got there, poking it back. Federer lobs it over him, Djokovic hares back, goes for the tweener – but Federer reads the shot and puts the volley away to make it deuce. From there, he earns himself a break point – he had been 40-0 down – and then puts a smash away to take an early advantage at the start of the second set. What a recovery. Now can he make the most of it? “Crazy Golf most certainly isn’t a euphemism!” says ellamo. Look. This crazy golf is as pure as you can get! And it comes with jelly. Make of that what you will.” Quite.
Second set: Djokovic 6-4, 0-2 Federer*: Just what Federer needed, awkward and varied serving earning him his first love hold. He sealed the game with an ace down the middle on the second serve, as you do. “Update me about the match between noval and federer,” orders Mustafa Deto. I like you. You know what you want and you know how to get it.
Second set: Djokovic* 6-4, 0-3 Federer: Some of the shot-making, particularly on the forehand side, is preposterously good from both players. Djokovic needs to be careful here, because otherwise this second set could run away from him. At 30-15, he tries to outdo Federer with a drop shot, doesn’t get it right and is eventually beaten by an overhead. He had been 30-0 up. It’s his shoulders that are sagging a little now. A weak backhand into the net gives Federer a break point, and strong defence from Federer at the back of the court leads to Djokovic batting a backhand way too long. Federer’s response to losing that first set has been excellent. He’s not won 16 slams for nothing.
Second set: Djokovic 6-4, 1-3 Federer*: What to do when you’re 3-0 down? Come out swinging. Before we’ve had time to settle, Djokovic has three break points and Federer kindly ensures he only requires one, wildly slashing a – yep, you guessed it – forehand long. That’s one break gone. “Beating Nadal on clay is easy – you just have to wait for his knees to give out,” says Gary Naylor. “For all of his skills, the most remarkable aspect of Nadal’s game is his fitness/conditioning. To have his game with its attendant punishment on joints and muscles and everything in between, and to be playing a 16th Slam Final on Sunday is literally unbelievable. He might pay for it when he’s older mind you.” Will he care?
Second set: Djokovic* 6-4, 2-3 Federer: Funny how quickly the complexion changes in tennis. Would you it past Djokovic breaking again? Federer was walking away with it, but now Djokovic has woken up again. Federer may regret his laxness in his previous service game. He only had to switch off for a second: the one thing you can be sure of about Djokovic is that there’s no lost cause. He plays some of his best tennis when it seems he’s beaten.
Second set: Djokovic 6-4, 2-4 Federer*: You’re all watching the football, aren’t you? Dead to me. From 30-0 down, Djokovic manages to haul himself level. Tension rising, an ace out wide gives Federer a 40-30 lead, only for him to double fault to make it deuce. He then gets a little lucky with an overhead smash, fortunate that although it was down the middle and straight at Djokovic, the return went long. He wraps up the game with an ace.
Second set: Djokovic* 6-4, 3-4 Federer: Oh yes. Federer starts with a gorgeous backhand flick down the line having drawn Djokovic to the net. It just kisses the net to give Federer a 0-15 lead. The screw turns. At 15-30, a forehand into the net gives Federer two break points – effectively set points. Djokovic saves the first after an errant line call from a line judge, and then the second, pulling Federer out wide with a careful backhand and then finishing the point off with a swinging forehand. Deuce. It swings to and fro before a third break point for Federer, which he wastes with a backhand into the net. Djokovic scrambles out of the hole and will now get another look at the Federer serve.
Second set: Djokovic 6-4, 4-4 Federer*: My fellow game-by-game reporter Katy Murrells strolls over to see how things are going and we both conclude that Federer is going to tighten up. And this is a magnificently edgy period of play. At 0-15, Federer sends down a light second serve, but is let off the hook as Djokovic nets a forehand. The Serb lets out a huge scream of frustration, but doesn’t let it affect him, winning the next point after some fearsome forehands. A Djokovic lob then threatens to earn him two break points, but Federer steams back and manages to hook the ball all the way to the baseline, eventually winning the point once it became a baseline rally. And yet still he can’t wriggle clear, as Djokovic makes it 30-40 and Federer tamely nets a backhand. So predictable. Federer took a step back and Djokovic pounced.
Second set: Djokovic* 6-4, 4-5 Federer: And just like that, Federer has two break points with a storming backhand down the line! Djokovic batters a backhand long, Federer lets out a primal roar and he’ll now serve for the second set. No pressure, Roger. “Toliko volim Nole – mora da pobedi… Finally, being the only ginger kid in Manchester to study Serbian pays off…” says Kimberley Taylor. I checked on Google Translate, it’s nothing a family website wouldn’t publish. I think.
Second set: Djokovic 6-4, 5-5 Federer*: Djokovic. Will. Not. Lie. Down. He takes no time to race into a 0-30 lead to immediately make Federer feel the heat. An ace from Federer offers a way back into the match, but he then spanks a forehand into the net to give Djokovic two break points. Federer saves one with some punchy tennis, but then whacks a forehand long and we’re all square again. It’s becoming clear that Djokovic has the mental hold over Federer.
Second set: Djokovic* 6-4, 6-5 Federer: Everything keeps coming back over the net with interest for Federer now. An ace sees Djokovic hold to 15 and from 3-0 down, he now leads this set 6-5. Federer will have to hold to take it to a tie-break, else he’ll be two sets down. That will surely be too big a mountain for him to climb, even after after his comeback against Del Potro on Tuesday.
Second set: Djokovic wins the second set 7-5 to lead 2-0 in sets: A disastrous start to a huge game from Federer as he double-faults. Dear me. A bad bounce then catches him out to give Djokovic a 0-30 lead and although he gets it back to 15-30, a wayward backhand gives Djokovic two set points. It only takes one. Fine defence from Djokovic forces Federer to push his luck and ultimately he blazes a forehand long to drop his serve and, with it, the set. Djokovic has never lost from two sets up. He’s not going to lose this, unless Federer can come up with something remarkable. The sad truth is that in a five-set match, he can produce those moments in bits and parts, but not often enough to win.
Third set: Djokovic* 6-4, 7-5, 1-0 Federer: A perfect start to the third set from Djokovic. Federer currently cuts a forlorn figure. “I’m worried I might be a curse on Federer,” self-loathes Matt Dony. “I’m flicking between football and tennis. Every time I flick the tennis on, Federer seems to be a break up, but as soon as I start watching, he dumps nonsense shots into the net. Oh, Roger, I remember the beauty of just a few years ago. Why does age have to take one so pure?” He really isn’t going to win another slam, is he? You have to wonder if he’ll quit at the end of this season.
Third set: Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 1-1 Federer*: With a potential final to come on Sunday, Djokovic has no interest in this going to five sets and is now dominating the rallies, even if the wind is threatening to throw him off course. He’s quickly into a 0-30 lead, but Federer digs deep to make it 30-all with the aid of two wide backhands from Djokovic. A clever combination tees up the smash to make it 40-30 and he wraps up the game with a firm serve. Boy did he need that. With a potential final to come on Sunday, Djokovic has no interest in this going to five sets and is now dominating the rallies, even if the wind is threatening to throw him off course. He’s quickly into a 0-30 lead, but Federer digs deep to make it 30-all with the aid of two wide backhands from Djokovic. A clever combination tees up the smash to make it 40-30 and he wraps up the game with a firm serve. Boy did he need that.
Third set: Djokovic* 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 Federer: A change of racquet from Federer before the start of this game. It still doesn’t make a difference against that stretched two-handed backhand from Djokovic. That shot is so hard to deal with; Federer’s certainly struggling with it. “I sympathize with Matt,” says Alan Pennington. “I love to root for Roger. He seems to have flashes of brilliance but he just can’t keep his head in the game or maybe his body just won’t respond like it used to. I’m flipping between reviewing forms, liability projections and tennis. I was so pumped and now I just feel like a flat tire. Sad day. I know its not over til the fat lady sings but it appears she’s sitting on Roger at the moment.” Yes. This has become rather flat. All a bit disappointing.
Third set: Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 2-2 Federer*: A comfortable enough hold for Federer. “After reading my previous comment, I realised Federer is in fact only 2 weeks older than me. Suddenly, he doesn’t seem that old,” says Matt Dony. “Surely he could play on for years. Don’t know what he’s playing at with all this going-downhill nonsense. Come on, man, pull yourself together and give Novak a good seeing to.”
Third set: Djokovic* 6-4, 7-5, 3-2 Federer: There are no free gifts on the Djokovic serve any more. But plenty coming from Federer’s side. The unforced error count is way too high.
Third set: Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 4-2 Federer*: Federer has almost been neutralised in the baseline rallies. There doesn’t seem to be much he hits that Djokovic can’t get back. A double fault hands an opening to Djokovic at 15-30, before a loose backhand goes long, offering Djokovic two break points. But finally Federer rediscovers his attacking touch and saves both, bringing it back to deuce. It’s a momentary reprieve though. A backhand into the net leads to a third break point and Federer punches a forehand into the net. The end is night. “It may be disappointing now but Novak vs Rafa certainly looks more promising final,” says Ashishkumar Singh. Indeed. Nadal will be the hot favourite, but Djokovic’s relentlessness will give him a big chance.
Third set: Djokovic* 6-4, 7-5, 5-2 Federer: It’s ruthless stuff from Djokovic now he’s in the ascendancy. Federer thumps a forehand long and Djokovic is one game away from his first ever final in the French Open. Forget any notions of a miracle. This one is over.”My friends and I maintain that Federer hasn’t been the same since he got married and had children,” says Sally Conor. “His focus died when he gained something else to care about apart from tennis – something modern tennis players can’t afford. But I don’t see him retiring this season – he’s still number three in the world for pete’s sake! And he still plays sublime tennis against anyone else except Nadal and Djokovic, both of whom are ravenous tennis machines.” Hmmm. But given what you said at the top of your email, will the repeated disappointments in the slams against the same two players eventually prove too much? Unlike, say, Andy Murray, he has nothing left to win, so what’s it all for?
Third set: Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 5-3 Federer*: This sums it all up for Federer. It’s just not going his way. A hopeful prod from Djokovic sails over the net, Federer judges it’s drifting long and leaves it, only for it to agonisingly drop inside the baseline to make it 0-15. He keeps fighting though and seals the game with a glorious backhand lob. Delaying the inevitable? Djokovic will now serve for a place in the final. Can Federer stop him?
Djokovic wins 6-4, 7-5, 6-3: Well, an inauspicious start from Djokovic as Federer takes a 0-15 lead. But any hopes of an unlikely comeback are ruthlessly squashed by Djokovic. A crisp forehand winner and a careful overhead gives him a 30-15 lead. Federer then tries to catch him out with a drop shot but Djokovic is there, kneels down and cushions a splendid passing backhand past him. Genius. Two match points. He can’t take the first, hitting long, but Djokovic isn’t about to let this go. Federer is unable to do anything with a firm serve from Djokovic, and that’s that, a suitably underwhelming end to what turned out to be a rather flat match in the end. The applause is disappointed but respectful from the crowd. But Djokovic won’t care. He has a French Open final on Sunday against Rafael Nadal to think about.
What next for Roger Federer? Well, Wimbledon next for Roger Federer. But it’s hard to shake off the suspicion that his time is coming to an end – or, at the very least, his time winning grand slams. The painful truth for him is that Novak Djkokovic and Rafael Nadal are too strong for him now. If he beats one, another lies in wait and as we saw today, the old genius is still there, but the consistency isn’t. Djokovic did not exactly play a great game. But he knew that he only really needed to unsettle Federer, get inside his head and he would eventually have too many weapons for him to handle. Beating Nadal on clay, though, is an entirely different story. Even so, Djokovic stands on the cusp of history now. You’d hardly put it past him.