Federer and a Historic F&*^ Up

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Roger Federer messed up, in crunch time, against Novak Djokovic, once again. Dropping a two set lead, not being able to convert multiple match points. Novak Djokovic came out swinging like crazy in the third set and even wilder in the fifth, on the verge of elimination. And the greatest of all time didn’t rise to the occasion, once again. Murray, well we hardlyexpected him to actually beat Nadal.

Three stories to the match, as a good script or regular suspense book needs. The first two sets were more proof of how Federer, past 30, can still produce magical tennis. The backhand, yes, the backhand, withstood anything Djokovic threw at it. Federer was pretty much sublime, nothing less. Complete control, brilliant serving, vintage Federer. Novak looked helpless against the shot making, against the a player fighting to prove his relevance among the best in the world.

But the first game of the third set changed everything. Federer began to slip away, with his usual frailties that have been ailing his matches in recent years. Djokovic grew stonger and more confident, and before you knew it, it was 2-2.

Fifth set – Federer gets the break, and serves for the match. Djokovic, on the return, manages an out-of-this-world forehand return and crushes Federer, heart, soul and body. The five time US Open champions didn’t recover and Novak was on to his third Grand Slam final in 2011 with 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.

And we’ve been here before. Tsonga came back from two sets down against Federer at Wimbledon. Djokovic survived in 2010, US Open, Semi Final, with Federer on the verge of victory. Federer wasn’t the most gracious of losers in the press conference, but whatever he thinks of Novak, his style and the way this match turned out – He messed up. Again. This is the first year since 2002 without Federer winning a grand slam title. I guess he’ll have to be happy with One Final (Roland Garros), two more Semis and one Quarter Final.

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On the Spanish end, there’s Rafael Nadal. The usual victim – Andy Murray. Murray talked after the four set loss, saying he made tactical errors during the first two sets. Wrong – Murray made unforced errors, 30 to be exact, in those two sets. Nadal? 13 or 12. Some were brought on him by fantastic shot making from Nadal. Many of them, like in later sets, came out of nowhere, making simple situation complicated for himself.

As Murray put it, it’s easier criticizing than actually playing Nadal. You can’t beat him with two shots. You have to enter long rallies nearly every point, and the longer they go, it usually means Nadal has the edge. Murray wasn’t able to dominate from the baseline too often during the match, a tactic that usually gains his most of his limited success against the 2010 US Open champion.

Exactly one year ago...
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So on to No.1 against No.2. The final that was expected. Has Nadal gotten over that mental barrier Djokovic proves to be for him this year again and again? In terms of who has played better this tournament – Nadal has to be the favorite. Djokovic has struggled during opening sets, but always finds away to dig deep and win. Usually in tie breaks. Nadal started slow, but has been fantastic from the third round onwards.

Mental strength – Where the game will be decided. And Djokovic has the edge. This is where Federer failed yesterday. Failing to push himself to finish off the game, to seize the moment. Djokovic was the one who found that extra something, unleashing everything he had left, to get another win, advancing to another final. Nadal didn’t face such a test against Murray who provides different, but probably more managable challenges.

Last year Nadal entered as a big favorite to the final, and didn’t disappoint. It was almost as if Djokovic was happy with just making it that far. This couldn’t be further from the truth this year. It’s either a split of the crown in 2011 (2-2 in