Today started like any other day, and come match time, I got my usual pre-match nerves but not as much as the past two days because I was already content with Roger Federer’s Dubai journey thus far. He had reached the SFs and has looked to be in good form, which bode well for the next tournaments coming up on the schedule. I hoped he would give Novak one hell of a fight and at least take a set. However, as the match started to unfold I realized, Roger and I, were not on the same page.
But I didn’t pick up on this right away; because just like the past two matches, he got broken in his first service game today too. After that blip though, Roger dialed it up several notches and started playing beautiful tennis. However, Novak is no ordinary opponent and he had started the match playing well right from the beginning and continued to maintain the lead. Despite some scintillating shots from the Swiss like this shot of the day, Novak took the first set 6-3. I wasn’t too discouraged however because I could see Roger was really pushing him and had high hopes of Roger playing a better second set.
Lo and behold, the second set started with a love hold for our champ. Novak responded with a good hold himself and so it continued till 2 all. In Roger’s third service game he got into a bit of trouble and Novak had a break point. A fantastic forehand winner saved it and Roger ultimately held to go up 3-2*. In Novak’s next service game, two quick errors from the Serb gave Roger a 0-30 score. Just then, would you believe it, there was the most random of all rain delays. The first time Roger has even a peek at the Novak serve and this happens. You don’t want to know what colourful language I was using just then, staring angrily at my laptop screen. I was worried that Roger would come back and lose that momentum or Novak would regroup.
First point after the rain delay went to Roger however and he had 3 break points. Novak saved 2 of them with fantastic serves but ultimately Roger converted the third and he had the lead, 4*-2. Serving to consolidate Roger was pushed to 30 all before saving the game with two great serves of his own. At 2*-5 down, Novak held to love to force Roger to serve it out. However, this was not the Roger from yesterday or the day before. He was in an aggressive and confident mood and he took the set with ease. One set a piece and the match headed into the deciding set.
The momentum was clearly on Roger’s side but of course the most dangerous thing to do is count Novak out. We have learned this the hard way from past matches so I fully expected him to come back with a vengeance. Instead what happened next took me completely by surprise. 3 errors from Novak in a row in the first game of the set gave Roger 3 break points. Novak saved one with a great serve but another error and boom! He was broken. But a break isn’t really a break until it’s consolidated and Novak flipped the tables to get two break points on Roger’s next service game. Roger then took his game up to an even more ridiculous level and took the next four points to get the crucial hold. Novak got in trouble in his next game too getting pushed to deuce but he still held to get on the board and the score was 2*-1 with Roger to serve.
Novak pushed Roger to 30 all but couldn’t halt the FedExpress and Roger was up 4-1*. By then Roger was in untouchable form and Novak’s next service game turned out to be the longest of the match. Roger pushed the Serb to 4 deuces, missed one break point and finally took the second to get the double-break! To add salt to the wound, Roger then held to 15 to take the score to 5-1* and Novak had to serve to stay in the match. The Serb responded well by holding to love and forcing the Maestro to serve it out. The nerves we’ve seen lately from Federer while trying to close out matches reappeared again as Novak had 2 break points. But then, Roger refocused and hit two unbelievable clutch serves to get to deuce. A backhand winner down the line followed by a service winner sealed the deal. Game, set, match Federer!
This was a fantastic match and those of you who didn’t watch it, you really should. The level of tennis was ridiculously good; it was on a whole other level that happens only when the Big 4 play each other, and even then it’s not always guaranteed. It was one of those matches where not only the winner won, but tennis won too. The match was high adrenaline from the start and kept getting better and better. The hot shot from the match was honestly just one of at least 8 other similarly jaw-dropping shots.
Despite Novak’s great start, when he got broken in the second set, he looked thrown off. As the match went on he looked more lost at the intense attack that was coming from the other side of the net. This was a match where Federer’s tactics were spot-on. But it wasn’t just the plan that was perfect; it was the execution as well. He was very aggressive, serving and volleying, chipping and charging and his serves were clutch when he needed them to be. He also returned much better than I had seen him do recently. He played an all-court game, kept the points short and took time away from Novak. While Novak displayed his great returning abilities, the Maestro put on a master class of how to play offense.
But perhaps what was most impressive was Roger’s mentality. He was clearly the underdog going into this match. And yet, you wouldn’t have known that if you saw the audacity of his tennis today. Maybe someone forgot to remind him that he lost his previous three matches to Novak, or that the last time he had a win over Novak was Cincinnati 2012. He seemed to have forgotten that Novak was the defending champion. He must not have heard the commentators talk about how old he is and how his opponent was in his prime. He played like he didn’t realize he was ranked world #8 with the world #2 on the other side of the net. Roger didn’t pay heed to the stats, the experts or the recent history. He knew what we all should have remembered but didn’t: that in sports, like in life, there is no script, and anything can happen.
I know this was just a SF. I know he still hasn’t won the title and he very well might not. Maybe he has used up the entire magic quota for Dubai in this one match. If we see his Berdych, his opponent in the final, hold that trophy up, we will feel gutted for sure. But today taught me a few lessons:
- Federer is still the most amazing shot-maker ever.
- He’s already gone farther in Dubai than anyone expected.
- This win will give him a huge confidence boost for the rest of the year regardless of what happens tomorrow.
- He has the mind of a champion who never gives up.
- In sports, like in life, there is no script, and anything can happen.
Forever your fan Maestro, Forever and Always.