Djokovic ousted; Federer regains a touch of the old aura

Written by  //  June 4, 2011  //  Sport  //  Comments Off on Djokovic ousted; Federer regains a touch of the old aura

As much as people may try telling you otherwise, no one really saw this coming. Roger Federer, crushed in three straight sets by Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open earlier this year, produced four imperious sets of tennis to defeat the Serb in the semi-finals of Roland Garros and brought to an end one of the most glorious winning streaks in the history of the sport. Djokovic, a victory away from equalling John McEnroe’s record of forty-two consecutive wins at the beginning of a year was pummeled into submission by a display of tennis that was as brutal as it was artistic.

In the first two sets, in particular, Federer was at his liquid best. Every movement of his was as close to perfection as one is likely to see. He defended Djokovic’s blistering groundstrokes with the regal ease of a hungry lion chasing a poor gazelle, ripped his forehands with magical accuracy – almost always finding the most acute of angles – and more than anything else, served like a dream. When Federer is at his best, his serve rarely falters and yesterday almost every time he was in need of a big point, his serve rose to the occasion with a sense of majesty.

Perhaps, Djokovic can be criticized for a failure to launch a concerted attack on the Federer backhand – more than ever before his Achilles heal. But on the slower surface in Paris, the Swiss was able to get inside of those attempts and easily stroke the ball with his forehand. Federer did most things right yesterday. He moved with speed and purpose, mixed the pace of his groundstrokes, never allowing Djokovic to settle into any kind of hitting rhythm and constantly found acute angles on the court, which only a player possessed of supreme nous is capable of. His serves were guileful and were almost always hit with the perfect amalgam of timing and placement.

The match had everything that a spectator could ask for. In terms of pure narrative it was extraordinarily engaging. With Federer’s aura having seemingly dissipated and Djokovic on a winning steak for the ages, the tension in the air could be felt long and far. In terms of the quality of tennis, few sets have been better than the first won by Federer via a tiebreaker. In it, both players had their serves broken once, but the number of times that Djokovic found himself 0-40 on his serve was certainly telling. Nonetheless, the Serb played his part in what was an astonishing set of tennis and was only a point away from securing it. That Federer won the set in the tiebreaker exemplified his ability to play the big points with greater ease and confidence.

Going into the second set, considering the significant exertions up until the point, the prevailing opinion was that Federer would blink first, that his levels were certain to drop. Instead it was Djokovic who faltered. The Serb cut a forlorn figure in the set, constantly whined to his box, and struggled to find depth on  his usually dependent groundstrokes. There was a feeling of resignation as Djokovic simply failed to match the levels of Federer who was thumping his strokes with rare artistic flourish. It is quite conceivable that Federer’s forehand has never reached a more superior level than it did in the second set. He was finding angles of such geometric brilliance, playing like Pythagoras with a tennis racquet. There was, after all, magic still left in the racquet that he brandishes like a wand.

But the new Novak Djokovic does not go without a fight. He gave it all that he could in the third set and expectedly, Federer who had invested so much into the opening phases of the game found himself faltering. A single break of serve sufficed as the Serb closed the set 6-3 even as the light in Paris slowly began to fade. There was, though, time left for another set of stirring tennis.

Both players held serve until Djokovic took the first advantage, gaining the right to serve for the set at 5-4. Federer, however, found a sudden surge of brilliance. True greatness could never have been more palpable. He raised his game, as he so often tends to do in the most trying of circumstances, and leveled the set at five games each. The clock though had been turned and perhaps the last sail was knocked out of Djokovic’s wind. In the tiebreaker played in near darkness, Federer regained a regal rhythm to his groundstrokes and had three match points, the first two of which were saved by Djokovic on his serve. The third, however, had a sense of inevitability about it. Federer produced a majestic, rousing down-the-middle ace and waved his finger in delight. One of the hottest winning steaks had been broken and how!

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