For a moment there, everything was perfect. The crowd was booming for Roger Federer, just taking a 6-5 lead in the third set of the Indian Wells Masters final over Novak Djokovic, seemingly in control and ready to win the match and the title. And then everything went south – the bad and shaky backhand, and an opponent that most of the time is simply better than him.
Roger Federer was on a role going into the BNP Paribas final, as 2014 shapes out to be not a comeback yet, but a prove he can still win a big one kind of season. Federer was coming off 10 consecutive wins, including against Djokovic himslef, en route to the title in Dubai, coming after a respectable semifinal finish at the Australian Open.
And with Federer’s confidence high, the first set in the match looked to be going in the right direction, Federer’s way. But that’s the problem when facing Djokovic, who has now won four of the last five matches between the two players, as the record between them is now only 17-16 in favor of Federer. He stops holding back, and simply hits with everything he has. He chased down everything Federer tossed at him, and stopped being the one being dragged on in the match. The moment Djokovic started taking initiative, which means looking for Federer’s backhand, the tide turned.
Djokovic took the second set 6-3, and broke Federer’s serve in the third set. Then he once more fell off the horse and allowed Federer, with some sublime hitting which included escaping his backhand and bombarding Djokovic with some massive forehands and tough angled shots, until being on the ropes, or only faking to be. The 12th game in the third set and the subsequent tiebreak came and went too quickly. Federer ran out of juice and made too many bad hits, lazy hits one might say, with his backhand usually pulling him too long into unforced errors.
That’s the most you can ask of Federer these days, especially after such a good run in Dubai and through the two weeks in California, not dropping a single set before running into Djokovic. Grand Slam titles are still possible, but it’s not up to him anymore, and even heading into a two-week tournament healthy and rested aren’t going to be enough with Nadal and Djokovic standing in his way, especially if he has to overcome the both of them en route to making sure history stays on his side.