. . .Or: I sure nailed that one. This morning, I was somehow moved to sit down with my coffee and jot down the bona fide playbook, provide a sketch of the real map of this evening’s men’s U.S. Open Championship.
Excerpt (still warm from this morning’s printing press):
But what is likely to happen today if Djokovic’s steady workman-like tennis stonewalls the Swiss’ swell of court genius (form)? He will get loose with his shots, his unforced errors will prevail, Roger will sag and the Serb will straighten-up and advance, quite easily perhaps.
Roger has to borrow a page from Nadal or Djokovic (or Pete) with regards to his mental approach today (attitude). He will face tremendous pressure, have to handle big momentum shifts, etc. How he handles these mentally will be the key. Look beyond the brilliant shots, the SABR non-sense. . .
This attitude is the key (and again his current HC form that has developed since Cincy helps). Roger can’t be too at ease, too aware of his crowd endorsement, his history at the U.S. Open, his win at Cincy, etc. This is going to be a war and only his fierce attention to minor details, to every point, will enable him to hit those BH down-the-lines that assert lethal blows to his opponent’s game. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Roger’s brilliant championship form or his championship mettle?
Damn. I drink really strong coffee, so that might explain some of that, not to mention I spend a good chunk of my day talking, reading and writing about tennis (between job and family and extracurriculars).
This match HINGED on the difference between these players’ mental fortitude. That simple. The tennis was secondary. A quick recap of the tennis which clarifies what happened today as well as what will be written in the historical discourses regarding these mens’ games: Djokovic is as steady and efficient as cutting-edge war craft; stealth technology. Federer dazzles and blitzes his opponents and his audience with a game that resembles art (he dazzles himself, too, which is a problem). The tennis is comparable though most of us take Djoker in this five-set format because of his youth and consistency. But that’s it. In a 2 of 3, it’s more even probably. That’s just a difference in style. At 27 or 28 years of age, Roger’s tennis is a level or two tighter and more consistent than it is now. The difference in this match was not going to be much in the way of swinging a racquet at a ball.
What separates these men, as I said this morning, is the mental game, the attitude. The third set of tonight’s match is a perfect example of Nole’s insane mental strength and clutch, and Roger’s uncanny, bewildering ability to whiff in these incredibly pivotal points in a huge match (at least what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in majors with Roger, especially vs. Novak). I mean, holy shit.
Pick it up at about the 13:50 mark. Roger is holding serve at love in the 7th game of this third set. Remember, he’s just won the second set, finally, at 7-5, has evened the match, and he’s rolling right now. Again, he holds serve at love to make it 4-3. Then comes the most pivotal part of this match, the 8th game of the third set. We’re at a set a piece and Roger is back in it, flying around the court, throwing a little SABR at Nole, hitting winners, serve is blowing-up, coming to the net, the momentum is all Rog: Fed Express ready to leave the station.
In the 8th, Roger goes down 0-40. Whatever. Djokovic serving. One thinks this set is going deep, like the 2nd, pressure building, etc. But then Roger battles from 0-40 to force deuce. He has a look at 2 break points. This is the match right here. No doubt. Roger fights back to force Nole to dig, to fight for his USO life. If Federer converts one of these, he’s serving 5-3 for the 3rd set, to go 2-1 and then the Serb is, indeed, scrambling for his life. That was it. Roger can’t come-up with the critical winner, and Nole plays unreal pressure packed tennis and holds serve. 4-4. Unreal.
What’s the first thing I say to my TV? “He’s going to break Roger right here.” That’s how this shit works. That’s how Novak Djokovic works. He’s on the edge of a cliff, but pulls-off an amazing feat of clutch, breath-taking and flexibly balanced tennis genius (and Roger fails to deliver, to seize the match). This was a no brainer.
In the 9th, Rog is serving 40-15. Right on. Go Rog. But, of course, I was right. I’ve seen this puppet show a million times. Nole breaks to go 5-4 and serve for the set (game over); yes, he battles from 15-40 and breaks the guy with all of the momentum, which was sucked out of Arthur Ashe Stadium during that 8th game. The hysteria doesn’t end there. Djokovic serving for the set in the 10th faces 2 more BP. Roger has pushed him to 15-40. Crowd is going crazy. You know the story. I think Roger saw 23 break chances on Novak’s serve. He converted 3 or 4.
I will have a lot more to say about this. A lot. Watch the whole high-light reel, or toggle down to about 13:50 and there you have it.