(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
After Serena Williams’s heartbreaking loss last Friday, the American fans wanted redemption. They wanted their “very own” to win. Not that Roger Federer is American; he’s as Swiss as Lindt, Rolex, UBS and Nestle. Yet, because he’s old at 34 and he’s won in New York from 2004 to 2008, they’ve grown to call the older statesman as their own.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic thwarted those cheers for Roger. He did it in Wimbledon two months ago when they met in the final and he did it again yesterday in the same fashion: The Serb winning the first set, the Swiss scoring the second, only for the man from Belgrade to win the final two.
Game, set, goodbye, Roger. The most painful part was how Roger squandered his chances. He had 23 break point chances and converted only four times for a depressing 17 percent clip.
“Maybe I haven’t played this offensive for a very long time,” Federer said, “And that’s maybe the reason maybe I was slightly shaky when it comes to the crunch on break points. Who knows?”
This we know: Djokovic is invincible. He’s even “better” than Serena this 2015, winning three majors and reaching the finals at the French Open. (Serena won three but lost in the NYC semis.) This means that Novak was just one win shy of a Grand Slam — an astonishing statistic.
Federer Express? As well as Roger’s been playing this hard court season, this loss was huge. This opportunity was similar to Pete Sampras’ in 2002 when, after not winning a major for a couple of years, he wins the U.S. Open against Andre Agassi.
Roger had not won a major since Wimbledon 2012. That’s more than three years ago. His Grand Slam record of late has been miserable, going 5-8 since 2008 after winning 12 of his first 14 major finals.
Now, Djokovic has 10 majors — just one shy of Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver; Nadal has 14 and Federer owns 17. Given that the Serb is only 28, can he catch the Spaniard and possibly reach the Swiss? I think Rafa’s record is within reach. Novak has no weaknesses. His backhand, especially that down-the-line, may be the all-time best. His defensive skills, sliding all the way left to retrieve a shot, then sprinting right to power a forehand winner — that’s peerless. So is his mind. He thrives on the grand Arthur Ashe stage and, never mind the crowd being against him, he’s able to block all of that and emerge triumphant.
“It’s been an incredible season, next to 2011 the best of my life,” Djokovic said, who also won three majors four years ago. “I’m enjoying this year more than I did any previous one because I’m a husband and a father, and that makes it sweeter.”
Back to Roger: He tried, he really did. He had not lost a set in his first six matches at the Open. Last Sunday, he lost three. At 34, he was attempting to become the oldest champion in 45 years. He retooled his game, taking the ball on the rise on second serves and being very aggressive. “You have to find the right dose of risk,” Federer said. “Sometimes I did it well and other times not as well.”
Roger had to try harder, often eliciting more mistakes. His total unforced errors: 50. This number accounted for more than one-third the total points that Novak won (147). And, speaking of his strongest weapon (forehand), it was from that wing where he elicited the most mistakes (29 errors).
“I knew why I lost the match very clearly the moment I sat down, 5-2, in the fourth or after the match was over,” Federer said.“It was because of the mistakes I made. I have to get better at that. It’s just pretty simple.”
Obviously, it’s not that simple. Djokovic is one of the best defensive players of all time. He’s the Dennis Rodman of lawn tennis, able to rebound from a sure-winner to counterpunch and snatch the point.
The Roger-Novak rivalry is the sport’s most compelling. They’ve met 42 times and the score is tied, 21-all. In major finals, it’s 8-6, in favor of Novak. This RF-ND duel beats the Federer-Nadal rivalry (23-10, in favor of the Spaniard), Sampras-Agassi (they’ve met 34 times) or Borg-McEnroe (22 meetings).