Federer/Nadal 0, Djokovic/Tsonga 6. Who would have thunk it? Djokovic is in his first Australian Open final, without having lost a single set in the event so far. Tsonga has never won any ATP-level tournament in his career and started the Aussie Open ranked No. 38. According to the ATP website, his career record before the AO was just a mere 19-15. That’s 34 matches on the highest level. Are you kidding me?
Djokovic will like his chances against the inexperienced crowd-favorite, but after sweeping Federer, he couldn’t be more confident against anyone at this point. Their semifinal today was not too different from their US Open final in September. Djokovic again was the better player from the backcourt, only Federer did not play as well as he did in New York (not that he was playing his best there, either). The biggest difference compared to that match though, was how strong Djokovic was on the important points today. Where over the past year Federer has relied many times on his serve to get him through tight spots, Djokovic was the one to come up with the big deliveries at the right moments in this match. Federer didn’t find any rhythm on his serve until the third set, when he started to cruise through his own games. It made for an enticing climax in the tiebreak.
At 3-all in the breaker, Djokovic hit a serve winner down the tee. But Federer didn’t blink, as he produced two winning deliveries of his own to go up 5-4. He pumped himself up, thinking this had sent a mental blow to his opponent, but he was overbluffed by Djokovic, who scored two more winners on his serve, setting up his first match point. The Serb got a play on the next point, and Federer dumped a forehand in the net to end his reign in Melbourne. The way that tiebreaker played out was the ultimate proof that Djokovic possesses the true champion’s mentality.
Of course, things could have been a lot different had Federer stayed cool under pressure serving for the first set at 5-4. But then again, so could they have been at the USO had Djokovic claimed one of his numerous set points in the first two sets. Federer produced three unforced errors off his forehand and was forced into a backhand error to lose the game. His serve couldn’t bail him out in that game, and it abandoned him in the next, as he went from 5-3 up to losing 5-7.
In the second set, Djokovic raced out to a 5-1 lead when for a moment, Federer seemed to get into a groove. He broke back the Serb and had his mind set on doing so again at 5-3. Djokovic knew he really had to win this game to stay on top, or Federer would get a massive boost and probably take over the match. At 0-15, Djokovic made a poor decision in hitting a drop shot (one of his nervous traits from his early days, which on a few occasions surfaced today) which Federer easily got to, but the Swiss followed up with an easy backhand in the net, which should have been a winner. At 30-all, Djokovic powered a semi-ace down the tee. Federer got back to deuce, but two more big serves earned the Djoker a 2 set cushion. We know what happened in the third.
For the first time now, we’ve seen Federer slump in a major. The relatively poor form he displayed against the Djoker today – with his slow movement, frequent errors on his favorite shot, the forehand, and a struggling serve -, I’ve written about many times last year when Fed was vulnerable in a handful of Masters Series events. Think back to his match against Juan Monaco in Hamburg, or his loss to Volandri in Rome during the clay court swing, or his narrow escapes against Baghdatis and Hewitt in Cincinnati for instance, and you’ll realise that his form in Australia hasn’t been that bad. Still, the theory that Fed might have been playing in a lower gear to peak at the majors now seems less likely. More players are starting to believe they can really beat Federer, meaning the Swiss is no longer the routine pick to win a major. Before the season started, I predicted two Slam wins for the Fed. Now, I’m leaning more towards one (Wimby).
Women’s final quick pick: Masha in two.
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