It’s over. Novak Djokovic’s incredible 43-match win streak was snapped in dramatic fashion just a few hours ago by Roger Federer who beat the Serb 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 in a French Open semifinal classic.
Federer, who was left for dead by many – myself included – now moves on to face his familiar rival Rafael Nadal in the final on Sunday. Nadal was a straight set 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 winner over Andy Murray the earlier semifinal.
The real action on the day came in the second match, and Federer-Djokovic lived up to the hype.
Going in I really didn’t give Federer much of a chance with the way Djokovic had been playing. But Serb came out extremely sluggish and uneven, almost like the old Djokovic.
On the other side of the net, Federer sensed it and went on the attack immediately pounding his forehand and playing some spectacular defense.
Despite his poor start, Djokovic wouldn’t relent. And after going down two sets the Serb suddenly sprung back to life taking the third.
The 29-year-old Federer began looking weary while Djokovic gained strength through the third set and into the fourth. With the light fading it seemed inevitable Djokovic would get the break and force fifth set on Saturday. And sure enough at 4-4 he got it.
But Federer fought right back to level. And in the near darkness he found his serve in the breaker smashing an ace to clinch the match in a very nervy, high-tension finish.
What a performance from Roger, and one of the best matches of Federer’s career when you consider the circumstances and what was on the line.
“I was really happy the way I played,” Federer said. “I thought at the end it was also quite mental, you know, both of us know that whoever is going to win the set, either it’s over or we have to come back tomorrow, which makes it more tricky. So for this reason obviously I’m somewhat relieved that I don’t have to come back tomorrow, even that would have been no problem. I thought it was a great match from both sides, really.”
For me, the key was Djokovic’s slow start. For whatever reason he just did not look right early on and with a few exceptions he never played the brand of tennis we saw from him last month.
Djokovic’s looked slow on his feet, his shots didn’t have that same zip to them and the confidence to go for the lines just wasn’t there for much of the match.
Did the pressure of the streak and playing for No. 1 finally get to him? Probably. Did having four days off hurt him? Maybe. Was it facing Federer? Oh yeah.
“He played really good in the important moments,” Djokovic said. “I congratulate him for a great performance. He really played well. We were, I think, part of a very good match, and feels bad losing.”
Said Federer, “There was a lot on the line for Novak, a lot of pressure obviously going in, and I thought he handled it great, really.”
Credit to Roger who came into the the semifinals without losing a set but was almost an afterthought by most critics for the title. He sizzled.
I thought Federer played great tennis, especially off the backhand side which really held up nicely against the brunt of the Djokovic attack. He also served well and was very offensive with his forehand. And as I said his defense was incredible.
Federer’s a champion and he showed it again today. While he rose to the challenge, Novak simply couldn’t get his game together.
“It was a great tournament,” said Djokovic. “It was best five months of my life, my tennis career. I cannot complain. It was definitely an incredible period. It had to end somewhere. I knew it’s coming. Unfortunately, it came in the bad moment. It was a big match today. But, look, you know, it’s sport. I will keep on working hard.”
Djokovic also announced that he will forego the Queen’s grass tournament.
Federer advances to his 23rd Grand Slam final and his first since winning the 2010 Australian Open when he beat Murray.
As for Sunday’s finale, Nadal, who turned 25 today, seems to close to form and with Federer in the crosshairs instead of Djokovic, I think Rafa’s going to be that much more determined to win.
“Being in the final of Roland Garros you can’t have problems,” said Nadal who leads Federer 16-8. “You cannot have doubts. If you compare from now to one week ago, [my form and confidence] is completely different.”
But as he showed, maybe can conjure up some more magic like he did today and surprise us one more time. What a show. What a great time to be a tennis fan!
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