In light of the sensational year Novak Djokovic is having, this 2015 campaign usurping his legendary tennis of 2011, Roger Federer’s dominant 7th Cincinnati Masters over the weekend reminds us, again, that he is still here and he’s the greatest to ever play the sport. This has never been clearer. Those who disagree, I am eager to weigh your stash.
Yeah, such an opening sounds like a big empty boat on the seas of subjectivity, but if you WATCHED the match, the final, against the world’s #1, against the guy who schooled Federer on the Swiss’ favorite patch of grass a couple of months ago, you should see that the kind of tennis Rog is playing right now, at the age of 34, is the best tennis you will ever see. Suggestions that the Serb was tired are piss poor. Pretending Nole’s dominance couldn’t continue against this great three-setter master, who happens to own this particular event, is unforgivable. Forget statistics, head-to-heads, training and coaching: Roger continually demonstrates how this game can ultimately be played.
I do not want this to miss: go watch the match and observe the differences in championship mettle, in form, in sheer athletic ability and sport acuity.
I am not a Fedhead. I certainly enjoyed his dominance in the aughts and we can all rehash that period of our lives. The previous golden age made way for the age of Roger. He has been marvelous. The interruption of that dominance became an awkward uncle you hate to run into on holidays. You might have wanted to avoid watching as, mainly, Rafael Nadal somehow got into Roger’s head and made a nice career for himself, at the expense of Roger.
But here’s the thing: Rafael Nadal’s tennis, at its peak, is not the show stopper that is Roger Federer. Rafa beat-up opponents and this had as much to do with his physical and mental intimidation as it did his tennis (see how Stan dealt with this at the AO 2014; he met this Nadal intimidation head-on and laughed him off the court – something Magnus Norman has a bit of a read on, mind you). That Fedal H2H is so overblown I am here now to crush every little nonsensical vestige of it that I can find. I would venture to guess that many Federer fans do not like Rafa. On the other hand, I doubt that many Rafa fans dislike Roger. Why is that? Sympathy? I’ll assert that Fed fans feel deep down that Rafa’s dominance of Roger is some kind of freak-show that interrupted the greatest show on court. Rafa fans, conversely, feel deep down that they’re getting away with murder; they might actually thank Roger. They know their clay court prince has made a living out of toppling the monarchy. They rejoice, for their blue collar conspirator owns the Swiss king.
On Sunday, we watched Roger absolutely dominate Novak Djokovic. It wasn’t close. The first set was some of the best tennis I’ve seen that wasn’t in a major. This wasn’t necessarily because world #1 and #2 were trading majestic blows. Roger was asserting a style that completely baffled Novak. His return of serve and net play was devastating. His serve was deadly. Novak hung on for dear life.
Granted, these hard courts favor the Swiss. Why? Because they are, many of us will argue, the most pure and uncorrupted tennis surface. The hard courts help articulate the purest strike of the ball, where footwork is magnified and because of the speed of the game, the fluency of shot making comes to the fore. This is an ideal venue for the game. The U.S. Open in about a week will highlight the accuracy of this argument even though the history of tennis already has.
Of course, Roger’s incredible display over the weekend can be juxtaposed with the fall of the Spaniard. Just mull all of that around in your head for a while, and watch some highlights (or a taped version) of the Cincy 2015 final. The whole Fedal affair drowns now in insignificance. What an embarrassing comparison. Roger at 34 is playing the kind of tennis that men can only dream of playing. His attacking tennis radiating athletic genius and technical brilliance is something to behold and Sunday reminded us of this.
Then there’s Nole. He is #1. His tennis is clinical and special and becoming legendary before our very eyes. But he is no Roger Federer. Just compare their backhands. Roger is so much more athletic and versatile with that stroke. The one-hander, though we know of its vulnerability versus the big kick to that back corner, is just classical and beautiful. Wawrinka and Gasquet remind of this, as well. It’s almost tough to explain, but I’ll leave it at it’s better tennis. I might argue that Nole’s game is safer, perhaps can survive lulls in his game as his defensive style keeps him alive and his devastating forehand and back-hand down the line can be world class effective. But when Roger’s backhand and forehand are working like that, even at 34, get the hell out of here with these comparisons.
And to be clear on Nole’s GOAT consideration: he has so much work to do it’s a little overwhelming. Having said that, I really do want to see him show everyone that these two Masters 1000 results will pale and disappear if he can hoist that U.S. Open trophy. As I have said many times, this is the Djokovic era now and we should all want to see him succeed immensely.
The only concern I have about Novak is his physical stamina. We can recall the early Djokovic who struggled in the heat, with this asthma, etc. He’s much healthier now, stronger and more durable (obviously). People can say all they want about his struggle on these courts, but he’s struggling. He’s looked vulnerable for two weeks now. Roger ran circles around the Serb and if you want to argue that the difference here is simply one played Montreal while the other rested, I say you’re biased and/or delusional. I’m not sure those of us who want Novak to make a case want to highlight his difficulty with these faster courts. Not sure what to say other than I hope he can find a more durable and energetic form. You can imagine what opponents make of this, which only adds to Novak’s legacy as he has been escaping incredibly from near-certain defeats.
Here comes NYC with potentially multiple four and five setters against the best in the world. Again, that’s my only concern; he doesn’t look great physically. And I’m not sure what that was serving at 0-1 in the second set against Roger where he coughed-up three double-faults to forfeit the game, set and match. Yikes. We know five sets is a different animal, and guys like Novak can bounce-back and change the course of a match in those circumstances, but his quality just doesn’t seem near enough to win another major in two weeks. Rest-up, Nole. Bring that clinical, world #1 quality we know and love to the big apple.
Federer faced three breakpoints against Lopez in the QF, but otherwise was almost flawless and did not, in fact, face a single-break point in the SF and F versus the two best returns of serve in the game. Speaking of returns of serve, watching Roger come to net repeatedly on second serves, sneak in to the net during rallies and completely dictate points through out the match was a tennis lesson for all-time. Can he continue to play 1-2 feet in front of the baseline, picking balls cleanly and creating near impossible angles for his foes in Flushing Meadows? You might remember some of Nole’s great passing shots to Roger’s net invasion, but those merely kept the match interesting. Those were few and far between Roger’s efficient and technically brilliant and strategic tennis.
Sure it was only Cincy, a best-of-three format where the Swiss master feels right at home. We shouldn’t be really surprised by this kind of dominance since he’s 7-0 in finals there. I hope we realize for sure that we shouldn’t be surprised either that the sun hasn’t set on Roger Federer. Whether or not he can win a sixth U.S. Open, his eighteenth major, this we do know: his game at its best is the best the game has ever seen.