So here were are, just like we thought. For the third time in their last three events, No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Roger Federer will meet in a tournament final, this for the all the marbles at the biggest hardcourt tennis event on the planet, the US Open.
Looking back, Wimbledon was Federer’s surface and he lost. Cincinnati was Federer’s surface and he won. The US Open is again Federer’s surface, and…Well, I’ll get to the pick in a minute.
As for the semifinals yesterday, let’s face it, they were pretty damn ugly.
Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka basically didn’t show up. Cilic, though, did admit to a foot/ankle injury. Djokovic played well, but from Cilic’s saying he wouldn’t have played were it not for the occasion, it’s hard to read much into Djokovic’s win.
Federer was awfully sharp in crushing Stan. At 34, it is stunning just how well he’s playing and moving. Either that or everything else is just regressing.
Stan kept it close early, then faded away, almost resigned to defeat.
And like Wimbledon, both guys come into the final in form, well-rested and full of confidence and drive. I think.
So to my pick.
Novak Djokovic v Roger Federer
Federer has the slimmest of leads 21-20, but Djokovic’s been ahead 14-8 since going gluten-free full time at the start of 2011. Djokovic has also won their last two meetings at the US Open, both in semifinal thrillers in which he had to save two matchpoints.
But for some reason Novak’s had his struggles in the US Open final, losing four times, to Roger, to Rafa and even to Andy Murray. And I don’t know why that is. Is it the court speed, summer exhaustion, the crowd, the opponent, I don’t know. But there’s something about the US Open that bothers Novak. There’s something stuck there in his head that he’s not sharing.
And to make things worse, if there’s one guy he’s had consistent issues with on the court, it’s Federer. Roger has his number because he keeps him off balance and out of rhythm. He can’t overpower Novak like Stan or Rafa can, but he can mix it enough just enough, using aggression to put a little bit of doubt in Novak’s mind. And Roger beat him on a similar quick court in Dubai and again last month in Cincinnati, both in straight sets.
“We all know how consistent he is and how good he is in the latter stages of a Grand Slams and any other big tournament,” said Djokovic. “He’s always going to perform on a high level. Rarely he drops his level. He always makes you play your best. I know that he’s also lately being very aggressive coming to the net, mixing up, and trying to shorten out the points. I think also he improved his speed. His defensive game is better than it was. Maybe healthier.”
And Federer’s been in that hyper-aggressive attack mode since the French, and he won’t stop tomorrow. He won’t change his tactics.
“I don’t know how it is for him, but I feel like he doesn’t need to adjust his game as much, either. I think it’s just a straight shootout, and I think that’s the cool thing about our rivalry. It’s very athletic.
“I think our matches, it’s very even. That’s it, I think. I don’t need to add more here.”
The key will again come down to Roger and Novak’s serve and Novak’s backhand which I don’t think has been that on-song.
Based on that eye test thing they love talking about on TV, Federer’s been the guy. That’s easy. He’s hasn’t lost a set (28 straight) or a match (11 straight) since turning 34! He’s also serving better than Novak dropping just two service games this summer, moving great like I said, and hitting the ball quite crisply from the backcourt. And there’s the motivation of finally getting to 18, a number he’s been trying to reach for three long years.
Like Murray at Wimbledon, he’s also got the hype!
But Djokovic has motivation as well, losing to both Murray and Roger this summer. Those were tough losses and so too were those losses in four of his five US Open finals. He doesn’t want to drop to 1-5, does he?
Really, all the match numbers – Federer’s record in New York, he’ll have the crowd, streak, serving stats, etc – all point to Roger. What doesn’t is the fact that in best-of-5 Novak just beat Federer on grass at Wimbledon. And he’s won three Slams since Fed last won his in 2012. Novak’s also No. 1 because he’s the best. And he’ll show it Sunday.
The pick: Djokovic in 4
Obviously this is super-tight matchup. Federer could easily blow out Novak who really hasn’t looked all that great of late – I don’t put much stock in the Cilic win.
But what I like about Novak is he recognized he’s not playing good and he vowed to fix it. So there’s that determination. Meanwhile, Federer just seems too at ease. Too confident. Very much like we saw at Wimbledon, and we know how that worked out.
Also, the longer the match goes the more it favors Novak I think. And I don’t expect that newfangled SABR tactic to be much of a factor. I think we’ll see it, but I don’t see that being effective and honestly while it’s fun to watch, it just feels over-discussed.
What we should see is the perfect finish to a long summer. A summer that ends with the same two guys we started with in the Wimbledon final. And I think the result will be the same.
ESPN has the final live at 4pm if the weather holds.
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