Roger and Novak

Roger Federer at 34 is such a unique quality.  Not only is his tennis on fire, but even off the court, one sees he is such a positive source of leadership for the tour.  Listening to players refer to him, through-out the fortnight, with such reverence was a great reminder of this regality and wisdom he has about the sport of tennis.

Think of this recent rivalry between Federer and Djokovic and what affect this is having on Novak.  Does Federer add any class to Djokovic’s recent major championships?  In the end, a championship is a championship, but there’s an obvious historical weight to the affair when it involves even an aging Federer.  The stakes are raised.  Djokovic should thank Federer.  This has so much more meaning than if Novak is beating one of the aspiring ATP undercards.


Federer is, in a way, Djokovic’s mentor.  Djokovic is tested by him; in effect, Roger authenticates Novak’s tennis.  The Serb has been taught, more or less, by the Swiss king how to comport oneself in the limelight of greatness.  Roger is passing the torch.

What about Roger’s ability to age in such a way?  There are people who fashion Djokovic threatening Roger’s 17 majors. To have any chance at this incredible feat (he’s already played in 18 majors), Djokovic has to compete at the GSs for 3-4 more years, maybe even 5 more years.  That’s still only 33 years old.  Hard to imagine Novak competing like this for 6 more years, right?  Challenging the world’s #1 in major finals when he’s 34, six years from now, the year 2021?  Tough to imagine that.  That’s what Roger is doing right now.  Not sure if that’s sunk in yet: Roger is six years older than Novak.

So, there is no doubt that Novak looks up to Roger in these ways and perhaps more.  He actually referred to another aspect (during the trophy ceremony) of Roger that he emulates: Roger’s love of the sport that enables him to continue to compete like this at this age.  Roger is the model of tennis greatness, (some would say perfection) and longevity (two distinct qualities).  Roger has them both.  Given his recent tinkering of his game, with strategy, shot-making and equipment (among other things), think anyone will ever really challenge him as the king of tennis emeritus?

Novak’s greatest coach isn’t necessarily in his box.


I heard an alleged tennis “authority” say that Roger needs to win the Open to stay involved in the sport, to stay interested. Roger saying to the crowd at the trophy ceremony, “See you next year,” was pure refutation of this blindness. Roger is having the time of his life.  Would it be tough to argue that Roger is playing better tennis in ’15 than he was in ’14?  Of course not.  Certainly, this run can’t go on forever, but the Swiss gent is riding years of momentum and championship pedigree.  He’ll continue to hang-around those unpredictable 2nd weeks of majors and who knows: if the sport isn’t careful, he’ll indeed snatch #18.

I made this statement last week: Djokovic needs this major more than Federer.  That is about as obvious as water and wind.  A big time Djokovic fan said no way, Roger needs it to stave off his decline.  That was the end of that conversation.

Djokovic won #10.  He needed to get to that double digit.  He needed his second U.S. Open, arguably the most prestigious tennis major.  He got it done.  I wrote about Novak a bunch after Wimbledon.  He’s consolidated the year, the opportunity he now has to ride this huge summer into 2016 and grab 2-3 more.  He hadn’t won the US Open at the time, but I surmised that for a real chance to catch and surpass Pete and Rafa, he needed 12 by the end of 2016.  He had 9 at the time.  He absolutely needed, imo, this US Open and #10.  12 is in sight.  If he gets there, 14 is coming down.  We’ll all agree that 17 is a big number.  This goes back to his longevity as much as anything; tough to predict the long-term future. But more to the point: can he win 2 in 2016?  At least, probably.  What a fascinating watch is the ATP.  Stay. Tuned.

You’ve probably heard this comparison: Djokovic finished closer to accomplishing the calendar GS in 2015 than Serena. That’s a fact. That’s brilliant.  What bothered me more than anything about the Serena conversation back at the beginning of summer (Wimbledon), was all of the talking heads claiming that she’s the GOAT, end of discussion.  So many unsupported claims and impossible comparisons.  Too much.  How ironic that Djokovic surpasses her in that esteemed run at calendar greatness.  Thanks, Nole.  We all needed that ironic Boom!

Let me know what you think.  A lot going on.  I’ll talk to you soon.

13 thoughts on “Roger and Novak

  1. Nambi

    As usual Very good read Matt…

    “Novak’s greatest coach isn’t necessarily in his box.” –> Very unique perspective and have to agree on that…It really benefits Novak that he has to play in the era of both Roger and Nadal (some extend) ..

    And great to see Roger coming back still regardless how bad his losses are in championship….Lot to learn by that attitude…hard to discount another major as long as he is on that attitude… ..Cheers.


    1. Thanks, Nambi.
      I think in the end, Roger’s role in all of this is very complicated. He may seem too polished, not very tough mentally, loses big matches etc., etc. But he’s such an immense talent, has such insane longevity, remains positive and optimistic and of course there’s the incredibly strong GOAT argument. H2H can add great insight, but can also miss the point. Imagine a team/player has 12 championships but lost often to an inferior opponent – that opponent just had the champ’s number. The opponent is still inferior, doesn’t have the hardware of the champ. H2H is an argument often made by the inferior camp.

      As we move to WTF action, think of Roger’s record there. For some of the guys, that’s the pinnacle of the season, the best v the best, mano a mano. Roger’s done pretty well in that tournament over the years. 🙂


      1. Utsav

        Great post Matt! Enjoyed reading as always!

        I agree with you about this bogeyman trend. Great teams do often have a team that they have it really hard against. If you watch football, or soccer as you Americans call it, you’d be aware of how Chelsea is a team that Barcelona finds it incredibly hard to beat. They aren’t the best team in the world by any means, but have been Barca’s only bogey team for the past decade. Nice analysis of the H2H argument in the God-awful GOAT debate.

        As for the WTF, it’s probably one of my favourite tournaments of the year. There’s a kind of purity in indoor tennis wherein the influence of the elements is stripped away and the skills and reactions of the players are allowed a chance to shine. It’s the surface most conducive to attacking, instinctive play.

        That’s the kind of tennis I enjoy most, but to each his/her own obviously. 🙂



    2. Ustav,
      Good analogy with Chelsea and Barca. Happens all the time in sports/in life. Certain match-ups. Roger does have some explaining to do, but I think I’ll be looking at that a bit soon. The H2H v Nadal.

      I agree there is a certain purity to the indoors. Would be quite a statement if Roger wins it. His format.


  2. blackspy

    An interesting and refreshing perspective Matt, as others already commented.

    I agree that in 2016 Djokovic needs to get at least 2 Slams, which at the time being seems an easily achievable goal, to surpass Nadal and of course Federer . But his game depends a lot on running and sliding on asphalt (covers about 40% more distance on average than Federer), and he goes deep in every tournament he plays. For how long can he keep that up? Even if he manages to avoid any injury infinitely (possible?) because of his slender body, his speed will diminish in 2-3 years. His window of opportunity is this couple of years – had he lost that USO final Federer’s Slam record would be nearly unattainable and his own in USO record pretty bad-looking. Now, he has a shot.

    That being said I’d love him to win the FO in 2016, even if it means losing all the other Slams to have a complete resume towards the world to show (I already consider him a great clay player with nothing to prove). Then again, I wouldn’t bet against him in Melbourne- he won the final this year even though his tennis was not the best on the court as in USO. Rope-a-dope is a different(underhand?) method than the more straightforward used in USO, but proved equally effective;in retrospect not taking that medical time-out to prevent Federer from settling in during set 1 was a great tactical move. Which Slams you think he’ll get for sure (crystal ball/wild prediction)? I’d go for Aussie and French.


    1. By winning USO, I think he’s locked in on Rafa and Pete. Winning another 7 is a bit of a stretch. However, if the competition isn’t there, then he might find 7 under the christmas tree. Has to stay healthy though, as you say.

      A lot of pressure to win FO. I would almost see him not winning another AO as a strategic play to bring a hunger to the FO. He had a very busy and successful winter/spring in ’14 – he may have burned-out. I’ll say he wins FO and Wimby next year. Then again, who’s favored to beat him in a bestoffive?


  3. Andy Hall

    Hi Matt,

    I think the discussion regarding Federer’s mentality vs Djokovic/Nadal’s is a rather complicated one. Their respective types of game are influencing their type & extent of mental strength. Federer’s game is predicated on immaculate ball striking, timing, and precise footwork. At the top of his game, as we all know…this is the ultimate brand of tennis as the types of shots that can be produced is incredibly vast & varied. But the factors his game is predicated on is by nature, involves taking higher risks. These are very subtle factors that can go off more easily. Meanwhile for Djokovic & to greater extent Nadal (with the insane spin), while all those mentioned factors are still at play, they don’t rely on them so much and their emphasis is more on producing consistent, reliable, solid strokes, and of course exceptional retrieving. It’s more like Hewitt on steroids (no pun intended) but with more arsenal.

    Given the natures of their games, Djokovic & Nadal will have more assurances that their shots will not fail them as they are relatively lower risk than the brand of tennis Roger is playing. Having these assurances likely augments their mental strength, especially when playing the big points. It is this extra mental strength, that their games helped laid foundations on, that gives them edge over Federer in the big points. Their types of game essentially gives way for them to play warrior-like mental games.

    Federer himself, still has a lot of mental strength. One does not win 17 slams without great amounts of mental fortitude. I think to evaluate how strong Federer is mentally, it will be more accurate if we compare it to, for example, Sampras’s mental strength. Sampras arguably has more killer instinct, but it is also open to debate as we didn’t have such prolific retrievers during his era.


    1. I agree it’s complicated, Andy. And I totally agree that his game is naturally a higher risk tennis, so he operates with almost different parameters. You bring up an interesting point about style and greatness – some in the tennis institution give Roger lots of credit for that attacking, aesthetically remarkable game vs. the more defensive style. Part of me agrees with this artsy fartsy argument!

      But back to the big points, big match. Roger has an advantage with his tennis. He should have become (evolution) more defensive in matches, games, points in order to survive, wait for the opportunity and pull trigger on shots no one has ever been able to hit. But sticking stubbornly with that greatest shot in the world style on nearly every point didn’t work against those younger, tougher defensive ball retrievers. That’s mental, imo. This is macro mental.

      If we look at specific big points, we get into the micro mental game; he had to win some of those moments through out his career. Last weekend’s final v. Nole was a great crystalization of this issue. The BPs were HUGE. I’m arguing that wasn’t tennis at that point. The tennis is comparable. That was: who’s going to blink here. Roger blinks.

      You’re right, part of it is style. But Roger has to adjust, or has to hit a winner using that attacking high risk tennis at those critical moments.


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