Novak Djokovic: Deliverance ?

Novak Djokovic after winning Federer in Ashe
I noticed something very interesting: One of the biggest advantages in watching a tennis match with no vested interests is to be able to appreciate the game played by both players. In the rare case, where if you watch a match favoring one player to win over another (in my case) ...

Its an enormously stressful situation. You are probably more stressed than the player himself because at least he controls a part of his destiny, you on the other hand can control the remote. I have never understood not watching a match because one is too mindful of the result. I know a number of die hard tennis fans like that, I can never do that because in my mind supporting Nole, or Rodge when they are playing through the ups and downs is the least I can do. As long as I watch each point and live and perish with each point with them, then am fine with the end result. Watching a game after knowing the result is sort of chickening out.

This Saturday morning is one of those rare occasions where I had a vested interest, and going through self-induced stress is something I dont appreciate during the best of times. The last time I watched a match like this was the 2009 OZ final (ironically, I watched it in NY). When you root for someone, you basically take on the role of a coach, and then the fan. What you're really stiriving for is  'perfection', when you know its not realistically possible. You fear the worst and become innately negative, every clean winner is treated like as if that's the least Nole can do for you, and every unforced error or near misses is merciessly berated. And with each miss at the back end of the fifth set, you prepare yourself in pieces on what you would do if he loses, you more often than not convince yourself like, "he pushed the best player of our generation (and possibly best ever) to 4-4 in the fifth on the second Saturday in Ashe ... that's bloody good". You lose count of the Guinness' you've consumed, and here is an interesting part - for those entire three hours and forty four minutes, I probably saw Federer for less than five. As in, he was on TV but he was hardly in my line of sight. I saw Nole, I saw the ball coming off, of Nole's racket and then I saw a racket at the other end of the court hit the ball back (or miss it), but never actually saw Federer, unless the cameras focused on him exclusively. I guess its the second person's sight, Nole had the first hand view of how things went, and I focused on the second hand view. I dont have other words to explain this unique case. One thing am good at is, however tough the match is, I can watch it no matter what. Welcome to the insanity palace of watching tennis, through the years very few have exerted such an effect on myself: Courier, Hingis, Sabatini and Hewitt. I was absolutely on Federer's corner in the 08 London final, but this is different, this one was personal, this one was intimate, this one was passionate, this one was ... raw and innately Visceral, like screamin as loud as you can inside a sound proof basement.

Nole had to win - and there was no other alternative, that's just the way it had to be.

At first I did think Nole was some punk-kid who was another to be pretender, and then he won in OZ. But somewhere during that time, a quiet little elegant tale, got me. I am not sure where I heard it either, but either ESPN or tennis.com (pmac, killer, mary carillo? Bodo, Tignor?). When Nole was six or seven years old he practiced tennis after school. Every single day after practice, he used to go around the gardens, and pick wild flowers. When one day, one of his teachers came about and asked for whom he was indeed picking up those wild flowers, he would respond, "I am picking wild flowers for my mum". I think thats pretty much it, thats the tale that got me.

We all know the mechanics of the match, and hence there isnt any real value in stating, whats been stated a number of times before. Let's look at the lines in between ...

The plot lines were very similar, a break up in the first set to lose the service game, and then lose a close first set. But where Novak Djokovic turned this around was the way he relentlessly attacked even when he was down - and he believed he can win. Those two early service games Federer lost in the second and fouth sets were invaluable, because he let Nole into the match as much as Nole broke the locks open into the match. Federer's strives for more on the serve, when he senses a threat imminent, he pushed, and he pushed more ... and then some to the point of no return. The signs were there early in the match for all of us to see, the high octane rallies off the ground - and this was no Montanes versus Costa, this was Tyson and Ali, two prize fighters going at it with each other from round one, no quarter given, none really asked for either. As Nole's return game reached its culmination point, Federer had no choice but to go for more (with futility) to earn some breathing space. One of the best examples of why Federer - is indeed de'Federer, is that game he played at 6-5 in the third to break Nole, to take a two sets to one lead.

Up until then, he was kind of hangin about holding on to his service games and Djokovic had played the better tennis until then. For the next five minutes, Federer turned the wick up on painting every line he could on Ashe ... (i.e. versus Roddick, London 09 final), his flashes of unparalleled brilliance kept him in the game, but those flashes were a little too few for him to win the entire match. With both men splitting the first four sets, both played well at the same time in the fifth.

Has anyone every seen Federer defend better in the fifth ? he did not chip and charge more because when you are under extreme duress you go back to what you know best and what you're most comfortable with. And Federer is still not entirely comfortable at the net, he might come in against Mathieu in round three, but he does not feel comfortable coming in against the Jokester in the semis on Ashe. I am not sure he ever will be completely comfortable.

Clijsters and Zvonareva must have felt like what Chandler would claim as, "its like a routine comedy show you have to sit through, before ---- Pink Floyd comes out'.  (changed a bit for this context), "Its like watching a comedy show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York .... after a three hour audio-visual masterpiece of Pink Floyd"

Deep into the fifth set as you saw Nole work and grunt from the baseline, you cant help wonder but think, he simply isn't going to miss, too much control and conviction. The breaking point was when he was two match points down at 4-5, even as recent as two months before he would have probably played defensive to go down (as he called himself "stupid" for playing so defensive in the London semis earlier this year) ... he pretty much cleaned the lines on the two points, and painted the far corner line with an inside out FH to get out of that game. That ball went screaming past Federer, even as he was on his full skids.

About five minutes later, he would break and serve out the match successfully. With the crowd tied in knots, with delirious disbelief he would look at his mum and dad in the stands before shaking hands at the net with Federer. Salvation from within ...People's Monday has a funny way of delivering romantic tales in the name of big serving Croats.

As I said last time around,

'Some would like Nole to suspend reality for three odd exhilarating hours on Ashe and WHALE his way to a second final, but you would be hard pressed to find punters who are inclined to stack a few chips on him doing the same'.

Punters would be hard pressed to pick Nole against the best player in the world, who is probably the only tougher challenge, after sending the Swiss packing in the semis ...

But then again, when was the last time Nole won or lost, based on what the punters thought ?


--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver


  1. You are egging your way back. This is as good a recap as I have read.

    Yeah I lost sleep yesterday for nothing. So got to get some nap right now to charge the batteries for the midnight vigil.


  2. Control the remote?? The SF match controlled my dreams...but like I told ya on Saturday...I am all for Rafa now...my optimism with Youzhny faded as he faded set by set.

    PS: I do keep repeating that you have a knack of predicting winners, don't I?? Well, I still stand by that.

  3. Thanks for that aM - am incredibly happy for Rafael, a three slam year - wow

    but i do feel a bit empty inside, its a hard ask to knock of Fe-Dal in a slam ...thats why its hard to win one these days

  4. come on roh - you really counted on Mikhael ? ha ha, rafael during the 2nd week of the tournament is so mind bogglingly intense, may be Fed or Mandy can beat him, may be Jokester - no one else

  5. roh - the first final was easy, its the second semi that was tricky

    i still did pick rodge though

  6. juan martin did that last year - but he won the semis 2-2-2

  7. "You are probably more stressed than the player himself because at least he controls a part of his destiny" -- this is so very true. When I went to write the entrance exam for my college, I was perfectly fine. My mom/dad/... were so stressed, it looked as it they are going for the exam. I was like, what the heck? Its just anotehr exam.

    "I have never understood not watching a match because one is too mindful of the result." -- heard many Rog fans not watching his semis 'coz of superstition, and I cry WTF. You like Rog 'coz of his game, or 'coz of the fact that he wins?

    "When you root for someone, you basically take on the role of a coach, and then the fan." -- actually this is something I never do. Never while watching Sachin, nor while watching Nadal. But I do it while watching a Djokovic or a Murray, and even though I like both, I'm a bigger fan of Rafa/Sachin than these two. But I don't know why this happens only with these two.

    "I probably saw Federer for less than five." -- that is very true. I had to make a constant effort to focus on Federer. My attention was totally towards Djokovic.

    "is that game he played at 6-5 in the third to break Nole, to take a two sets to one lead." -- yeah. In the first, Nole crumbled. In the third, Federer grabbed. Had I not known the result, I would have said this was merely a continuation of the last three Open matches b/w the two. Nole playing amazingly well throughout the match, except three games which lost him three sets, and eventually the match.

    "when you are under extreme duress you go back to what you know best and what you're most comfortable with." -- actually not true that day. At 15-40 down Nole went absolutely berserk on his FH. But yeah, I agree this comparison is different. Federer expected Nole to crumble, hence went into his comfort zone. Nole didn't expect Federer to give in, hence he went for broke.

    Cheers, mate. Nicely written. Not for the mechanics (that I already knew), but for the "fan-connection" and fan-psychology.

    PS: Whom were you rooting for in the Oz final?
    PPS: I can understand Hewitt, Hingis, Sabatini .. but what was with Courier that attracted you?