Monday, July 9, 2012

Reports of Roger Federer's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

One may well wonder why we're live blogging the Federer/Djokovic semifinal, rather than waiting for the Wimbledon final.  Well, it all comes back to Federer, as so many things do. It’s crazy to hear Federer talked about as the underdog…though he’s never lost in a Wimbledon semi-final.  In Djokovic’s fourth-round match (against Viktor Troiki, a fellow Serb), a fan implored Troiki to test Djokovic’s backhand, prompting Troiki to offer the fan his racket.  Let’s see if Federer takes the fan’s advice.  The consensus is that this is probably Federer’s last good chance to win a major, grass being his best surface and Nadal having already lost; if he can get past Djokovic today, he’ll likely win.  I love watching these guys warm up…they’re so accurate.  They hit it to each other in certain places to that they can work on certain shots…seemingly without communication.  Here we go.

First set

Nothing evokes “scorched earth” like the baselines in the later rounds of Wimbledon.  It must change play so much to have your footing so tenuous (on grass early, on dirt late) in different ways throughout the tournament.  After three games, we’re 2-1 Federer on serve, no one being challenged too much.  It’s also crazy to hear Federer talked about in terms of his recent back issues.  He’s played for so long with that effortless grace that the cognitive dissonance of him being injured is overpowering.  It’s like LeBron cramping up and needing to be carried off the court in Game 4 of the Finals.  “Wait, what?  LeBron is human?”  I have the same feeling about Federer.

The match has officially begun: Federer breaks Djokovic to go up 4-2.  Djokovic seems uncomfortable; he’s hitting a lot of balls long and into the net.  Federer consolidates: 5-2.  After two easy service games, Federer wins the first set, 6-3.  He looks much better at this point than Djokovic, but one has the impression that Novak just needs to get his feet under him to make this a real match…not a good first set for him.

Second set (Federer 1-0)

Djokovic breaks Federer easily to go up 2-0 in the second.  Federer dumped a couple of balls into the net and hasn’t been in either game so far.  Novak holds at love and leads 3-0.  Federer has won only a single point so far in this set.  Funny, the announcers aren’t talking about how Djokovic isn’t moving very well.  Actually, I don’t see much change in his game, except that his first serves are going in more often and his groundstroke angles are getting sharper.  Good point by Patrick McEnroe: Djokovic is picking up Federer’s ball better, especially on the serve…in other words, he doesn’t have to be moving as well because his anticipation is improving.

I’ve been using the same racket (only restringing it when I break one) for years; Federer and Djolovic will probably use 7-8 between them today.  Chris Fowler just made John McEnroe admit that he’s never been invited to sit in the royal box.  You’ve made a powerful enemy today, Chris…a powerful enemy.

Well.  That was a bravura service performance from Djokovic.  He lost only three points on his serve for the whole set, winning 6-3 on the strength of that break in the second game.  All even, a set apiece.

Third set (1-1)

Federer wins the first service game, 1-0.  They just showed a graphic stating that Federer only has 5 unforced errors to Djokovic’s 8.  Watching the match, you’d never think that was the case.  They must be really generous about what constitutes a Federer “forced” error.  Djokovic giving him the stink-eye must count as forcing the ball into the net that Federer has seemed to love so much.

Big point here. If Federer can break, he can feel good about his chances.  Before the match, Patrick McEnroe was shoveling dirt on the grave of his career if Djokovic wins this match.  But Fed pushes a forehand wide, and we’re at deuce.  After a couple more points, Djokovic finishes out the hold.  It feels like Federer is just holding on now.  We’re still even, but Federer’s shots have to be much better than Novak’s to win.

Can we all agree to be done with Flo, the Progressive Insurance girl?  Man, I’m tired of those ads…she’s lasted longer than the Taco Bell chihuahua at this point.  She’s longer-running than Cheers.

We’re on serve, 3-2 Federer.  Federer has another break chance here…and Chris Fowler says, again, that it “came from nowhere.”  What does that mean?  It didn’t come from nowhere…Federer won points; Djokovic lost them.  Every break opportunity in the match has, according to Fowler, come from nowhere.  Why not every point?  “That backhand to go up 30-15 came from nowhere!”  After the rally of the match…deuce.  Djokovic has started grunting with effort, while Federer is silent, majestic.  Another break point, and Federer has yet to sweat.  And…another deuce, number 4.  This game seems to be a big one to both players…and Djokovic escapes with it, 3-3.

Two easy holds, 4-4.  Federer continues to try to go bigger, deeper, and wider on his shots, feeling that Djokovic has the advantage on longer rallies, and it leads to errors, wide and deep…and it’s led to a break opportunity for Djokovic.  Three big serves by Federer, though, give him the game.  5-4.

A BMW is advertising a warning seat-pulse when there’s a danger you might not see.  I’d never make the connection between a vibrating posterior and stepping on the brake.  Neither, I suspect, would you.

And now, Federer has a double break point for the set.  Maybe Fowler’s right…this does feel sudden.  One saved.  Federer wins the point, the set, and shows discernible human emotion, with a fist-pump and a shout.

Fourth set (Federer 2-1)

Federer opens the fourth set serving, which is a distinct advantage; he’ll be playing from in front.  And, out of nowhere (ht Chris Fowler), Federer is up 0-40 on Djokovic’s serve, up 1-0 in the fourth set.  Does it mean anything that, as I write this, I consistently type “Christ Fowler?”  Maybe I should go a little easy on the guy.  And Federer pulls it out, breaking Djokovic’s first service game.  Remember Djokovic’s wonderful serving in the second set?  Neither does he.  2-0 Federer.

With a not-all-that-easy hold, Federer consolidates the break, and takes an apparently commanding 3-0 lead.  I say “apparently” because it’s still just the one break, but it’s got to be demoralizing for Djokovic to look up at the scoreboard and see himself trailing 3-0.  Fowler made another good point though, that Djokovic is “dangerous when he’s wounded.”  He’s more willing to go for (and make) ridiculous shots, turning that demoralization right back on his opponent.

It’s deuce on Djokovic’s serve, 0-3.  If he’s loses here, he’s done.  He’ll be broken, literally (in the tennis sense) and figuratively (in the Ivan Drago sense).  But he holds it together, now down 3-1.  Federer comes right back, though, holding at love to go up 4-1 and Djokovic is starting to look a little bug-eyed.  I don’t know what that means, psychologically, but it sure looks weird.  Losing the first two points on his serve, Djokovic is beginning to shake his head, shrug, and slump a little bit.  Now it’s 0-40, and this match is juuuuuust about over.  Well…that’s four straight points from Djokovic, and I’m regretting writing that last sentence.  His advantage now…but quickly, a ridiculous forehand by Federer to bring it back to deuce.  Finally, Djokovic holds to bring it to 4-2 Federer.

Federer holds at love in the seventh game of the set to go up 5-2.  It seems like it’s just a matter of time now.  Even if Djokovic can hold, which he’s been struggling mightily to do, Federer’s serve has been untouchable.  Hard to believe Djokovic can win three games in a row.

And there you have it.  After another difficult hold, Djokovic gave Federer a little bit of trouble, but ended up dumping a forehand return into the net to give Federer the match, entry into his eighth Wimbledon final (he’s won seven), and a match against a first-time Wimbledon finalist (either Andy Murray or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga).

One can’t help but feel however, that this match against the number one player in the world, Djokovic, was the one to watch, especially with Federer's almost nonchalant disposal of native son and crowd favorite Andy Murray (who, by the way, played excellently).  It does seem, at least on grass, that reports of Federer’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Oh, and he's number one in the world again.

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