This IS Federer
It was a steamy afternoon in New York, and as Novak Djokovic pushed the semifinal to five sets coming back from two sets down against a rampant Federer, it looked like his comeback would be neutralized as Federer stood at two match points (at 5 – 3 in the fifth). In the midst of almost a carnival atmosphere that is Arthur Ashe, Federer gave the crowd an additional moment to settle in, as he bounced the ball more, and meticulously adjusted the strands of his hair.
What followed was almost a reckless forehand return winner from Djokovic, slapped with absolute consummate disdain. Djokovic would berate the crowd (in a quasi-friendly way) to let them know that he too, has been playing his heart out the entire afternoon. Djokovic looked the part that day, and his body language was not that of a hunter, but of the hunted. He knew on that afternoon, he owned Arthur Ashe as much as his celebrated opponent on the other side of the net. Federer would lose the game, surrender the break and go on to lose the set 5 – 7. It was almost a painful Dejavu, as he lost at the same stage, on the same court to the same opponent, after being two match points up the previous year.
The process started on that warm afternoon in New York. After that, Federer has defined consistency which has predominantly been responsible for him getting back to the pinnacle again. His semifinal losses to Nadal (Melbourne 2012), and Djokovic (Paris 2012) now withstanding, you always knew he needed a couple of breaks along the way before he gets back into the winners circle. After all, this is DA’Federer we are talking about.
Murray played incredibly aggressive earlier this afternoon. There isn’t another blue print to defeat Federer in grand slams. Murray played an impeccable first set, after which he had break points to serve for the second set. In hindsight, that was the stage when Murray should have pressed more, but this was never a case of him losing the match, as much as Federer wrestling it out his hands. As Murray stepped onto serve at 5 – 6 (30-0) in the second, Federer as I would like to call it – ‘took a small trip into “Fed’Town”. The vintage forehand drop volley would have made Rafter proud, and he opened the match wide open with an artisan like touch backhand volley winner, to win the second set. There was nothing Murray could do, not when Federer ventures into “Fed’Town”. The Beckhams, David Cameron, Kate and Pippa Middleton looked startled in gaze.
The rains came down, and the roof closed, which favors Federer more than Murray.
Murray, with his Spartan like training regime was in no mood to go away, and he never did. But with the liberation of winning the second set, Federer found his range in the next two sets. He had his teeth into the match and from this point on, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Murray. Federer’s serve was rock solid, as he time and again painted chalk to get himself out of trouble. With each passing game in the fourth you can sense time running out for Murray, and the last grain of sand did run out of the Aztec clock when Federer closed it out in four. Customary celebration ensued, as he fell on to the most hallowed turf in the world in tears.
Nadal has always embraced the role of a hunter, rather than being the one hunted. Djokovic loves to swing freely when he has nothing to lose as well, as he has seen the landscape in tennis transition at a demonic pace. Barely three weeks before he was two sets away from attaining ‘NOLE-SLAM’, and now he has been deposed from the pinnacle of the sport? This provides him all the motivation he needs, as we move onto probably his most favorite part of the tennis circus, the North American hard courts (after Olympics).
Murray’s response to Sue Barker on court was all vintage elegance and class. FOUR grand slam final losses are hard to accept, for anyone, leave alone someone who carries the entire hopes of a nation each time he steps on to the court. As tears flowed during his speech and afterwards, the grace and incredible poise he displayed during the ceremony was endearing. You almost wanted to say, ‘We wanted you to win Andy, we REALLY did’. As Federer points out quite often, with the tears come the realization that Andy deeply cares about the game.
My only response to how this can happen, when someone who lost the world number one ranking got it back on the wrong side of thirty? – ‘This is Federer’. As Federer’s twins watched dad win on his most favorite court, one could only hope that they remember this moment when they grow up. It feels enchantingly odd, but has a certain sense of normalcy prevailed with the number ‘1’ preceding the name ‘Roger Federer?’