Sunday, September 13, 2015

Roger Federer. Baffling

Unlike the ladies' side of the tournament, where two not in the Top 25 Italians made it to the Finals, the men's side wound up featuring #1 against #2. Novac Djokovic vs Roger Federer in a highly anticipated match-up. A Serb and a Swiss.

Few would doubt Federer has been playing fantastic tennis of late. In the apparent twilight of a legendary career, Roger has seen a resurgence of greatness. His serve is better than ever, the foot speed is still there, and he still has all the shots in his repertoire. To boot, he rolled through the first six rounds of this year's US Open. Dominant play indeed.

But then there's Djokovic. He's the #1 player in the world for a reason. The man has a formidable tennis game. Some have playfully dubbed him the Joker, but there's nothing comical once he takes the court. He trashed the competition along the way and rolled into the Finals as well.

And then something very strange happened. While Novac played his usual cyborg brand of tennis, Roger appeared to come unglued. Being the consummate pro he is, Federer would never give it away with facial expressions, screaming, official berating, racket throwing, and other childish tantrums many others have exhibited on the court. But it had to be driving him crazy.

Over and over again, he missed shots that are normally gimmes for a player of his stature. There goes one wide left, another wide right, and another long. And not by just a little -- they weren't even close. He ham-fisted relatively simple volleys into the net. It wasn't like Djokovic was running him ragged and repeatedly getting him out of position, but more like Roger's game had suddenly deserted him on the highest of stages.

Errant shots and unforced errors galore. This won't work against a top caliber opponent and is certainly a recipe for disaster against the likes of Djokovic. Novac played well, like he always does, but was hardly magnificent. It seemed all he had to do was keep the ball in play and wait for Roger to make another bad shot.

True, the final score might not reflect it. Djokovic bested Federer 3-1 in four hard-fought sets to win his tenth major and is a worthy champion indeed.

But deep down, Roger knows he blew it. So many gimmes he muffed. So many decidedly unFedererish mental errors along the way. So many routine strokes that went horribly awry. Novac wasn't at his best, and it was there for the taking for Federer. The Swiss had played so magnificently of late -- and then the wheels fell off.

Very baffling indeed.

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