Novak Djokovic came up clutch when it mattered most against Roger Federer at the U.S. Open, Richard Evans says.
By Richard EvansFoxSports
The excitement built and came rolling down the high terraces of Arthur Ashe Stadium like a tidal wave of drama and emotion. The match the 2010 U.S. Open had been waiting for unfolded before our eyes as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer produced one devastating shot after the next, stretching nerve and sinew as spectators bit fingers, covered eyes and occasionally jumped up to dance little jigs of joy.
But the majority were for Federer, and their joy was not fulfilled because Djokovic, the 23-year-old Serb who had lost to Federer three times in the final stages of these championships in the past three years, hit his way out of two match points to claim the best victory of his career by 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in a duel that lasted 3 hours, 44 minutes.
Federer lost because his opponent was fearless at the end and because the Swiss could not quite maintain the consistency on the serve and the sure-footed certainty off the ground that he had shown in his previous matches. A total of 66 so-called unforced errors told a tale of a man who had actually made fewer errors against the dangerous Robin Soderling when the wind was swirling.
Conditions were much less of a factor on a sunny day that began with Rafael Nadal making it to a U.S. Open final for the first time in his storied career by defeating the 12th seeded Russian, Mikhail Youzhny, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 in a match that lasted just 2 hours, 13 minutes.
The very fact that Nadal played first and was off court so quickly would certainly have given Nadal a huge advantage when Sunday afternoon's final began — Djokovic was still fulfilling his media obligations at 9 p.m. on Saturday night. But rain intervened, postponing the men's final to Monday and giving Djokovic a much appreciated breather.
The difference at the tough end of a long two weeks is considerable, but it has always been that way because the USTA insists on playing both men’s semifinals on the penultimate day to create Super Saturday, rather than on Friday, as is the case in all the other Grand Slams.
All one can hope is that the Serb, who has been known to suffer from stamina problems, can live up to the occasion and produce his best tennis — something that extra rest will surely help — because, frankly, it will not be the occasion that so many tennis fans worldwide were hoping to see. They wanted another round of the classic Federer-Nadal rivalry which, oddly, has never been played out at the U.S. Open.
Remarking on that after his match, Federer said, “I did my hard yards the last six years making it to the finals here, and he was, unfortunately, never there.”
Federer managed a smile and admitted that the defeat did not hurt him as much as it would have done if it had been in a final.
“I lost a couple more with match points this year (at Indian Wells and Miami), so they feel somewhat empty at the end because you tried everything and maybe it was luck,” he said. “Maybe it was he played well. Maybe you didn’t pick the right shot, maybe he did. It’s a tough loss for me, but it’s only going to fuel me with more motivation to practice hard and get back to more Grand Slam finals, which I haven’t been in for the last three Slams. Novak has the shot. I wish him the best.”
But, later Federer admitted he would rather see a different winner. Asked about Nadal’s attempt to draw alongside him as one of that small coterie of players who have won all four Grand Slam titles in their careers, Federer said, “Fantastic. It’s great for tennis. The chances are good for him now that Novak is so tired and Rafa has been playing so well. It’s exciting for tennis that we’re doing something exciting at the same time. I won’t watch, but I hope he wins.”
The pattern of the match was strange. Djokovic led 4-2 in the first set only to jeopardize his lead with a double fault and then see Federer break him for a second successive time with a drive volley. But then it was Federer’s turn to allow a double fault to change the flow of the match when he produced one at 40-15 in the second game of the second set.
“That game was a tough one to take because I thought the momentum was completely on my side,” Federer admitted. “I tried to play aggressive, not to give him too much rhythm, and it all came back at me. I let him back into the match like that.”
The second set turned into a rout for the Serb, as did the fourth after Federer had seemingly taken charge again by breaking in the last game of the third, winning eight of the last nine points with some glorious ground strokes.
The seventh game of the fifth was extraordinary. Federer, serving, never faced a break point, but he was taken to deuce four times as the intensity of the rallies grew ever greater, the speed of the shot-making ever faster and the noise of the crowd taking on deafening proportions. Pulled one way and then the other, Djokovic made some unbelievable gets as the Swiss ground strokes sent him flying all over court. But it was a huge psychological plus for Federer that he came through it unscathed.
Up to the 10th game, Djokovic’s serve had been keeping him in it because he had served 24 times in that set and put in 21 first serves. Federer could never approach that ratio and, overall, ended up with just 53 percent of his first serves made.
But the Swiss kept up the pressure on the return and, at 4-5, forced enough errors on the Djokovic backhand to reach two match points at 15-40. Another great rally developed as people literally held their breath, and Djokovic saved the first one with a deathless drive forehand volley. On the second, yet another rally, and with Federer playing a little safe, as he admitted, the Serb went for a big, deep forehand and scored. The game went to deuce three more times, but the former champion’s chance had gone.
From the moment he faced match point, Djokovic’s forehand became a lethal weapon.
“I was just closing my eyes and hitting my forehand as hard as I can,” the Joker joked on court afterwards when asked about the match points.
Yes, as he admitted, they could have gone anywhere, but they didn’t, and, in the final stages of this pulsating contest, that forehand carried him through a remarkable and thoroughly deserved victory.