Federer Stops Another Streak

23:57 Fri 03 Jun 2011. Updated: 14:49 04 Jun 2011
[, ]

Way back when, Federer stopped Pete Sampras’ streak of 31 straight Wimbledon wins. He stopped Rafael Nadal’s streak of 81 straight clay court wins. And today he stopped Novak Djokovic’s overall win streak at 43, in a match very few people expected him to win. The story of this French Open was supposed to be whether Nadal could fend off Djokovic in his stronghold—instead, it’s another Federer–Nadal Grand Slam final, their first since the Australian Open final in 2009.

I couldn’t watch all of the Federer–Djokovic match today, but I saw some of it. Federer was playing amazing tennis, and reminded everyone—as I’m sure was his intent—why he has to be regarded as a threat at any Grand Slam. Djokovic was clearly laboring under the pressure of keeping the streak going, but he also played some phenomenal tennis, and seemed surprised when it wasn’t enough to push Federer away.

Federer set the tone by breaking in the very first game, but then played a very poor service game to give away that advantage. Djokovic went ahead 4–2 with a break in the first, and I thought that would be it, that he’d relax and take the set from there, and that Federer had missed his chance to take advantage early. But Federer came right back, and matched Djokovic all the way to the tiebreak, where he held it together better. I didn’t see the second set, but apparently Djokovic was reeling badly in it and not playing too well. In the third, however, Djokovic took advantage of a sloppy service game from Federer to go up early, and from there the set was his. The fourth set was on serve to 4–4, and Federer had been simply untouchable in his service games, but suddenly couldn’t find a first serve and lost a very long, hard-fought, scrappy game to allow Djokovic to serve for the set at 5–4. But Novak couldn’t do it—or Federer wouldn’t let him. Three excellent return points made it three break points, and while Djokovic saved the first two, he lost the third in a rally that might have been emblematic of the entire match.

It was a long rally, and the key moment came with the two players going forehand-to-forehand. They had done this often, and there was clearly a psychological aspect to it, given that the forehand is Federer’s most feared shot; Djokovic was making that point that he could outdo it. Which he did on a number of occasions, although not all. In this case, he was able to get more angle and more pace, and “won” the exchange, forcing Federer off to the right and eliciting a very defensive forehand response to the center of the court. Djokovic then hit that to Federer’s backhand corner and followed it in to the net. Federer ran the width of the court and hit an amazing backhand flick straight down the line to pass him, and get back the break. It was an amazing shot, and an amazing point, and watching it one had the sense that maybe Federer had that shot in his mind even as he was playing the defensive forehand prior.

[Update 14:44 Saturday 04/06/2011: The preceding point I described actually happened at 3-3; the break point at 5–4 was Federer simply unleashing dominant forehands that Djokovic couldn't handle.]

Both players displayed nerves, Federer often seeming to lose focus at critical moments, something that’s been a major weakness for him over the last two years. But today, he always got it back, and was able to recover each time.

Federer’s movement looked as good as it ever was. Djokovic looked uncomfortable on the court, as if he couldn’t quite summon the smooth movement necessary.

There were many excellent rallies; there were also probably a few too many drop shots, particularly by Federer, who missed a critical one at 4–4 in the fourth that would have given him the game.

Federer’s serving was amazing. It went away at times, but he got it back, especially in the final tiebreak, when his last three points were all off his serves, and it bailed him out of trouble repeatedly—this against one of the best returners in the game.

I don’t know if he can get past Nadal, but this win over Djokovic was extremely impressive, and it was a joy to watch him play at the highest level yet again.

Leave a Reply