The WTF championship came and went, like a little bird flying overhead and dropping a little turd in our way. The analogy suggests the match happened too fast and really wasn’t all that interesting, even left a bad taste in our mouths. I’m not talking about the Federer perspective; I’m referring to fairly predictable, uninspired tennis — pretty anti-climactic. Sorry.
You already saw the final, saw the highlights, read about it, at least. The score, if that’s all you saw, says it all. Djokovic did routine Federer. Never a doubt. Tough to make more out of the affair than that. I’ll certainly give you my thoughts on the match, some of its context and a few more thoughts on where do we go from here. But it was a giant dud, a bit of déjà vu. If you’re a diehard Djokovic fan, you’re suffocating in the confetti commemorating an incredible year. Incredible. But the tennis wasn’t that epic in this final. Not by the standards these players have set. The match was routine.
I didn’t get to see the start of the 2015 U.S. Open final because of the rain delay that ended-up conflicting with my son’s soccer match. I remember sitting there, rooting-on my son while refreshing my phone, quickly discerning Djokovic’s early break at 2-1 in the first set. Not a good sign for Roger. This overlooks that Roger had to save break points in his opening service game.
Same thing in the WTF final. Roger broken in the third game. Like the US Open final, Roger had chances to break back. But he couldn’t. Djokovic, I’m afraid, did not play his most incredible brand of tennis in the final Sunday. He did enough to win, as he usually does. His WTF SF win vs. Nadal was much more “ominous” (mat4), more inspiring, if you ask me. The similarities between the USO F and the WTF F are vast. Roger was brilliant in points, maybe even games, but he’s 2-3 steps behind the Serb. He converts a break and you never know, but this isn’t happening. We don’t really expect it to happen either.
Those two early BP Roger had in this match were practically gifted. He converted, I believe, 4 of 23 at the USO. Djokovic is not impenetrable, but Roger just can not accept such gifts. What about the statistic of Roger on Djokovic’s second serve in Sunday’s final!? Holy shit. This is becoming a lasting characteristic of Roger’s tennis. Tennis with Turrets: bursts of genius but pretty incoherent.
Looking at these two matches, both against Djokovic, I want badly to blame Roger’s box, Stefan Edberg I guess. This is silly on my part, but it seems so mental, so strategic and the coaching has to have a say on that. Roger’s lackadaisical approach should be addressed. I will never be able to overlook this aspect of his game, especially in big matches. Djokovic, Nadal and Sampras have much more committed approaches if you ask me. Avoid the early break, Roger. You have the tennis; you have the ability to convert. The body language is awful. You’re probably not going to reel off too many breaks of serve, so take care of yours early. Stay in the match. Astonishing.
If you look back at my USO posts, you’ll see I wrote about the mental game prior to that match. I realized this was the critical factor. I have watched enough Roger Federer to know that his mental game is the absolute tipping point to his big matches, especially against his rivals, Djokovic and Nadal.
If I was coaching Roger, I would kick his ass. Urgency, Roger. Tighten the form, stay on point, do not give this opponent an inch. Watch Rafa play. There is so much exigency to his tennis argument, the audience (or his opponent) is moved to support on fear alone. Djokovic has this same tonal dominance. You might have to kill them to beat them.
Roger is of a different tribe, different mission. I saw all of this play-out with such clarity on Sunday.
The match was called by Sky Sport. I enjoyed the perspective though they were a bit all over the place. And this erratic call more or less defines Roger’s game. In one breath, after an absolute brilliant shot from Roger, one which draws an applause from Novak, the announcers are beside themselves. Oh, the artistry from the Maestro! Then two games later you’re listening to them explain how Novak is probably the GOAT. A bit of a mess, but I like the enthusiasm and the knowledge of the game.
But here’s the thing: Roger is absolutely brilliant. His shotmaking is untouchable. He can do things with the ball, from different positions, create absurd angles, on any surface that no one else has ever done. HOWEVER, tennis is a sport of games and sets, not just points.
In the final on Sunday, Roger hit some incredible SHBH DTL, or CC FH that drew drool from the announcers, erotic ovations from the crowd, and even applause from his esteemed opponent. But the ledger reads 15-40, not in Roger’s favor. He wins a lot of points, a lot of matches, has won a lot of majors, sure. But against a guy like Djokovic, now, he’s not threatening the Serb. His is a tennis exhibit, something we curate for alien life to show them our sport of tennis. But he’s not the competitor Djokovic is. His game is beauty and lots of it. Ask Djokovic; he’ll agree. But that insanely eloquent backhand, or S&V that garners a 15-15 has much less value than a sloppy hold to keep the set at 2-2 and add pressure to your opponent.
Roger’s numbers are absurd. But what’s happening now (still playing, going on 35) is true to what I described months ago. Roger is on a long farewell tour. He’s pretty much done. His lack of clutch to which I speak has, we all know, been around and has marked his shield, so to speak. One has to acknowledge this sort of approach or style that I’m highlighting here. His beautiful game is almost tainted by this lack of competitive edge. Djokovic could have been had, at least forced to raise his level, but the consistency, the lack of vulnerability is easily overcoming Roger’s erratic brilliance. I heard someone say recently that Novak just plays an 8 (on a scale of 1-10), non-stop. Roger goes from 1-10 throughout the match.
Even Roger after the match made reference to some of the points, the fun of it all. He knows he’s brilliant. But that’s not enough. And part of me does think it’s coaching. Toughen the fuck up, pal. If you’ve played competitive sports, you know how this works. There are points in a competition where the opponent presses. That has to be met. Djokovic will press early. I just illustrated such a strategy in two big recent matches between these two. If you think Djokovic does this in every game, you haven’t competed. Such an approach is unsustainable. You have to feel the flow of the match, seize opportunity, reinforce the defenses during a surge, etc. Djokovic wants to break early in the match, while it’s young, while his opponent is vulnerable. Coach that, Edberg. Or is Roger uncoachable?
This match was so routine, so uninspiring. The bird overhead taking a shit analogy is perfect. Take cover.
The Nole clan is on a good one. They are deservedly quite excited about 2015. 2015 is better than 2006, he is in control of the tour, of Nadal and Federer, etc. These are all pretty accurate statements. Djokovic is unbelievably consistent at this point, playing such solid tennis, competing and playing so well, so smart. His depth, his strength from both wings, his serve, his coaching, his family life. The man is in control, representing the sport with a lot of class. Men’s tennis is in good hands at this point. The new Emirates/ATP deal is evidence of this.
At the same time, let’s keep things in perspective with Nole. He is beating the crap out of an older, softened Roger Federer, and the Spaniard is cooked turkey at this point. Whether it’s the biological passport, or just his own wear and tear, Nadal, imho, is done. He’ll continue to advance in draws because of his nature, but his tennis is absurdly inferior for such a “great” champion.
And the Roger age issue. He is a great player. He continues to find finals throughout the year, in big events. Off the top of my head he lost to Novak in the final at Indian Wells, Rome, Wimby, USO, and WTF. Could have been quite a year for the Swiss, indeed. But this debate over his “greatness” at 34 is going to distract people from his actual age. He is not playing better than ever at this age. He’s #3 in the world. You think he’d be flirting with Murray if he was in his peak form? No. Novak is dominating a washed-up Nadal, a clinically depressed Murray (or you come up with a diagnosis), an old(er) Federer, and a guy named Stan, who is tough but very inconsistent (I saw a comparison of Fed’s 2006 to Djok’s 2015 and the deciding factor on which was best kinda boiled down to Djok’s loss to Stan at FO. That was pretty much a choke it argued. Have to pretty much agree there).
There is so much hyperbole with sports fans. Nole’s year has been absolutely dominant. It puts him in that class of players who own the sport, dominate their eras. But here’s the thing these Nole-is-the-GOAT proponents have to understand: he has to dominate for 2-3 more years. Another 3-major year would be insane, and bring him even with Roger’s 3 3-major years. But then he needs another year or two of that kind of quality to really move the mark.
Living in a little cave and saying what Nole has done through 2015 makes him GOAT is ridiculous (the whole GOAT discussion is pretty ridiculous). Here’s how ridiculous this all is: the current guy who is dominating the sport, beating regularly Rafa and Roger, who are not the same players they were (and a pretty weak field beyond that), has 10 majors. Rafa, who is pretty much done at 29, has 14 majors, 2/3 of them on clay and some of his legacy is under suspicion. Roger has 17 majors, but has shown a ton of vulnerability playing big matches against Rafa and Nole. Is anything definitive here?
Where do we go from here?
I’ll tell you where. We enjoy the off-season and get ready for some January ATP 250-level tennis to preface the carnage of 2016 Melbourne.