I have no idea how to write this post — what direction to go, how to make this interesting. So many things have already been said, observed, clarified.
Hell, read the comments from some of my astute readers on the last couple of posts. Great insight, articulation, voice, engagement. Thanks always for reading, folks, and for commenting.
I even quote a couple of them below. This match affected a lot of people.
This actually is a good place to start when looking at a match like this. The tennis world, the culture, the discourse as I like to say, you and me, benefit wildly from a match like this. If you’re reading Mcshow Blog, you’re probably neck deep, or three-feet under, in this Big 3 irreversible rising sea-change from which the sport will most likely never recover. We’re alive and watching the place go to pieces, flush with opportunities to get as loquacious and insightful as we can about the meaning of matches like Sunday’s gentlemen’s final.
You think Roger has fun breaking-down this match, how it affects his legacy, what the win does for Djokovic’s trajectory?
But we get to analyze, re-watch, debate, make grandiose allusion to and simply reminisce, celebrate or mourn for years-on-end a match like this.
And what a complicated mess this all is. Or does a match like this actually make such “complication” that much simpler to understand?
So that’s where we’ve begun: this match, regardless of who you root for, does absolute wonders for this tennis conversation that we all have become addicted to. The story of this match led most American news broadcasts.
This is Avengers vs Thanos big.
Alright, so was this match between Federer and Djokovic a spiritual experience, an almost five-hour work of art, tennis played at the highest level, a series of brilliant moves by legendary tennis players in the civilized refinement of the historic eloquence of SW19?
Or was this bout more the latest installment of a kind of blood feud?
The venue certainly supports the former case. Wimbledon is the top major, Centre Court a symbol of tennis divinity. Roger and Novak were the top seeds, represent tennis of the highest order across all surfaces.
We got five sets, dramatically, tested, of course, the new fifth-set TB format.
What about the tennis itself? Yes, Roger was in form, the kind to win a final. I liked him in this match, as I said in my preview. His tennis is certainly graceful on the grass (on any surface), angelic some might say — and he had this description resonating on everyone’s lips, no matter the fan base, no matter the uncontrolled bias.
Federer’s movement and variety are unmatched. I never got around to this particular point, but the Nadal SF showed, for me, how much better of an athlete, of a tennis player, is Roger Federer than Rafael Nadal.
Sure Federer flirted with late fourth and fifth set carnage, but he closed-out the Spaniard and the message was quite clear. Not only is this Federer’s surface, but the movement, the mastery of the classic game between these two is so lop-sided. Federer was flying.
He looked ready during and as a result of his SF match on Friday to ascend to unreachable heights. Indeed, his form and what he was making possible at 2019 Wimbledon looked probably like a spiritual experience for Fedfan, but at least like the coronation of king of the sport, at 37 and 11 months, of beating his two younger rivals, of winning a record extending 9th Wimbledon and 21st major.
You know this hypothetical well. Federer’s brilliant run, brilliant form, fulfilling the godly stereotype, gave him the poise to ascend to the sport’s alter, graciously forgive lost souls, kiss his two pairs of twins, hugging Mirka, his box, thanking Ljubičić and perhaps retiring forever great, ultimately dominant.
Let’s not forget Novak’s role in this spiritual experience. Some are advancing a thesis that claims his spiritual connections give him advanced powers to overcome MPs against him, to break serve at the most opportune moments, to have erected a defense-to-offense style of tennis that is virtually impenetrable, unbeatable, the highest form ever.
In all seriousness (if you picked-up at all a level of sarcasm there), his mental fortitude remains (almost) otherworldly. His poise, along with his advocacy for children, education, plant-based diets, family, his home country, etc., promote a sober genius, a calm, and a kindness and generosity that seem to resemble that of a spiritual messenger on a spiritual journey.
Djokovic, and maybe I didn’t do enough to explain (but I shouldn’t need to since we all know of this man’s commitment to a higher level of tennis and of life, material and spiritual), has become, despite what some may think, a realization of near perfection on the tennis court. The results do not deny this.
Golden Masters, Novak Slam, Career GS and he isn’t quite finished.
He has been chasing Fedal for years. Both in terms of the title count and in the acceptance, the embrace, the love of the crowd. He has had almost zero margin for error throughout his career. This mental preparation, the visualization, the diet, the commitments, etc. , have made him, perhaps, almost machine like. At least warrior-like.
He can’t afford not to be “perfect.” Especially playing another almost perfect tennis player last Sunday with so much at his disposal. So much, but actually not quite enough.
One of my readers points-out this “resourcefulness” of Novak. It’s a great point. Federer has relied on his pure tennis genius. Nadal was manipulated and savagely trained by Unlce Toni. Novak, much of his tennis stroke is natural, but, quoting a reader’s comment on a recent post: “Djoker is more ‘resourceful’ and open to all kinds of aides – it was the egg, then gluten free, vegan, yoga, visualisation techniques, star coaches, and now, latest, Craig’s strategy stats. He is pulling out all the stops to topple and crush Federer. Always has been his desire. He can’t stand Federer, haha. And vice versa. Federer is too ‘pure’ for a spartan like Djokovic. He is just plain old Seve and Lubicic’ (which in Djoker’s world would be too lame), no gamesmanship, trash talk, whining, no sports psychology, not really into making full use of technical data to help with strategies. He just puts his head down and plays his pure beautiful game; thinking, perhaps too naively that it is all it takes, that his game doesn’t need all the ‘outside’ help. He is stubborn, proud and will live and die by his game” (“Veronica”).
This is the beauty of Novak, a clinician, a devout believer at the the church of chase and crush Fedal.
. . .
So, was this match more brutal than beautiful, more about confrontation and destruction than about the aesthetics of a humane, enlightened contest between two gentleman of the highest personal and tennis character?
Indeed, Novak is not quite finished on his journey, spiritual or record smashing.
On the other hand, Federer may have actually died on Sunday.
I have read accounts that mock the idea that Federer choked in that fifth set, where he was unable to cash-in on the fact that he had two MPs on his racquet. He had just broken Novak for the second time in that tense fifth set. He broke back at 2-4, brought the set square and proceeded to break Novak again at 7-7.
Some people think this kind of statement, that Federer failed massively in this match, is sacrilegious, uncouth, lacking the deeper understanding of the game.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s my argument on this blog, almost always.
Granted, this was the stuff of legend. Federer looked dead in the fifth. Actually, he looked, despite the marvelous form throughout this match, dead in the other big moments, as well. This means that at points in the match where the players were asked by the sport to straighten-up, look alive and play your best damn ball, Roger had looked really pretty bad on those occasions.
None the less, from this bad look in the early stages of the fifth, Novak serving at 4-2 to make the math 5-2 and bring this championship to a close, Roger came back. Sure this was quite auspicious for Fed nation ala a certain fifth set at 2017 Melbourne against his other nemesis.
Federer, looking in trouble again in another big moment in this epic war, broke back, and then broke again, to serve for the championship at 8-7.
Centre Court, as you know, is brimming with anticipation; the pro-Federer world can’t contain itself. Roger is actually going to pull-off the impossible.
This would have consolidated his win over Nadal in the SF. This would have been, as I tried to explain above (which all of you already know from watching and/or reading other accounts of this epic point in this match, in these careers), absolute god-mode, Maestro-esque, classic FedExpress, etc., etc.
At 8-7 there, serving at 40-15, two service breaks to support this execution of Djokovic, Federer tightened, collapsed, choked and for all intents and purposes “died.”
I not only appreciate those who defend the Swiss here (somehow), arguing that this is not a choke, this is sport, Novak had blown his fifth set advantage, had been broken again, etc., I could make that argument, as well — if I felt that such an argument made sense.
I’m not sure if this occurred when Novak brought that game to deuce or after he actually won the NEXT TWO POINTS to break back, but that was it. Federer was all done. The score was 9-9. They traded serves for another six games (Roger had a BP along the way), but I didn’t give him a chance. He was cooked, over cooked.
We had seen this before. Heard those same song birds whistle that same sorrowful hymn.
The truth is that despite all of the beauty of this sport, the nuance of tennis, breaking-down the various match-ups, numbers, histories and characters, this is a sport that involves, in the case of men’s tennis, two dudes going toe-to-toe to see who will come-out the winner and will become the loser. I don’t mean to embellish this point with certain words, or expressions. Right here, right now, I am only reminding us that there is only one winner in these kinds of matches.
Brad Gilbert among many many others who went to the well for Roger’s sake, talking about how great he played at that age, etc., is true and it’s bullshit.
I will perhaps change my tune down the road, but this was as ugly as a bar brawl between bloodstained adversaries. Federer had every reason and every opportunity to finish this fight. To be clear, I see this as an historic choke. I’m sorry.
I don’t think the fifth set clarifies the collapse.
One of my brilliant readers gave us a glimpse of Roger’s statistical argument, that he beat Novak in every meaningful category (or thereabouts). This has been pointed-out by several thousand people on TV and social media.
I heard this analogy: This match, like a soccer match, looked and felt like Novak got outplayed, but won in penalty kicks.
But this analogy doesn’t work, like the one about Federer was the better player throughout and should have won.
Let’s go to that first set TB. Federer looks shaky suddenly (looked good through the first twelve games, serving well, holding his own, pushing Novak around, etc.). But he’s down 1-3 with one more serve on his end. I think he goes ace, so it’s 2-3, Djokovic serving. Roger reels-off three straight points to make it 5-3, with one last serve to give himself 6-3, and three set points (which can be seen, in effect, as match points).
Folks, the first set is giant. Don’t miss that. The fifth, with the collapse at 8-7, 40-15, might not have existed if Federer takes care of that serve there at 5-3 in the first set TB.
Novak, of course, sees that as a MP, in effect. Going down 3-6 in the first would have been poisonous. Novak not only wins, gets that mini break back to make it 4-5, but he wins the next three points to take the set. Brutal.
Novak is undefeated at Wimbledon or in all of his finals or whatever, when he wins the first set. Federer is something like 16-2.
Novak is undefeated when gets that lead.
The same passivity happens again in the third set TB.
One of my readers said, “It seems to me that this match was a microcosm of Federer’s entire career, that Roger was, to an extent, the victim of his own success” (“Incondite”). I have believed and talked about this in the past, as have others, but this is perfectly struck by this writer; couldn’t have said it better myself.
However, the thought needs to be extended. This reader made the point in light of Federer’s draw, how in this tourney like throughout his career, he often goes so deep in every draw, so when finally coming face-to-face with one of his one or two surface rivals, they were simply fresher, hungrier.
Federer had a tough SF, no doubt. Did Federer fade there in the fifth?
The collapse in the fifth, what the reader was referring to, and in the first or third set TBs, are reminiscent of Federer’s passivity. I read a quote where Federer actually makes that insinuation, that he perhaps became a little passive in a particular spot, or several.
That doesn’t even compute in my overly competitive brain.
Novak is the opposite. So is Nadal. This has always been the difference between Federer and his two younger rivals. They don’t have the tennis of Federer. The Swiss is the better, more classically styled tennis player, which means a lot in a sport so rich in tradition. But those two have usually made up for this deficiency in their drive, their will to win.
A win here in this match would have been, as we’ve discussed a bit here, monstrous for Federer. The style with which he would have accomplished this feat, in his actual form, flying around the court, at times a devastating offensive machine, and by beating both Nadal and Djokovic, would have reinforced the logical conclusion.
Sure he beat a wounded Cilic in 2017, and that still counts, but imagine the reality and the resonance of this win here. The statement would have been crushing.
I’ve always said that’s how sport works quite often. Federer winning here, beating Novak in what should have been three or four sets, would have been too convincing. Novak would have been six back of Federer in terms of slams and five back of his WB titles count. Would have been too dominant (this is what makes the story of Michael Jordan so intoxicating: he had the most perfect form, like Roger, but also had the most brutal approach to destroying his opponents, like Novak).
Instead, we have a different story.
When Gilbert and the like were talking about how great Federer played, despite his age (that’s what you want to talk about? That’s a massive concession, but I guess that’s where this match took us), and even Federer himself said that he hopes to inspire others to succeed, accomplish great things at this age, Djokovic pointed-out that he is inspired by this development, indeed.
Djokovic makes that point in his WB winner’s speech (below).
Some note his reference to Federer as “One” of the greatest of all time, etc.
Folks, the optics and the reality of these moments remain pretty dark for that eight-time champ.
This is Novak’s charm: his warrior mentality prefers to crush and humiliate his opponents. This makes difficult the desire to embrace the Serb for some fans. At the same time, one shouldn’t discount his class, his athletic elitism and generous humanity (charm).
Here’s the actual quote from Twitter:
I immediately responded to that tweet, to clarify for people what Novak really meant:
In the end, this was a beautiful match, perhaps a spiritual experience. But this match, in the laws of the world in which Djokovic rules, is just another war.
Watching Federer ace-out games at love following his collapse at 8-7 had to make Fedfans vomit a bit. He needed just one in that 40-15 window. One could see how terribly tight he was as he hit that odd inside-in FH to a waiting Djokovic at 40-30 (instead of the inside-out FH first-strike pattern he usually uses). And Federer came-in on that shot!
Dead in the water.
The real question for us tennis fans and especially for you Fedfans: will Federer recover from this? He has in the past. That’s one of his geniuses, to forget these tough losses (yes we know how this is like 2010-2011 US Open against Novak, but this so much worse).
This one seems different; indeed, so much worse. Tough to get around what he had on his racquet (even in the first set TB!).
Using this spiritual or divine theme, then, does Federer rise from the dead?
That’s a very important question. That’s how bad this loss is for the Swiss.