“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss”
-from the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling
Yes I know it’s supposed to be ‘Richard the Lionheart’ but if you saw the match Roger Federer played in the Shanghai SF, you would know why ‘Roger the Lionheart’ fits. If I had to describe Roger in this match in one word, it would be ‘brave’. He played high-risk tennis from beginning to end and didn’t let up even when he was punished for it at times. The end result was a hard-fought yet straight sets win over world #1 Novak Djokovic.
Novak was coming into this match on a 28 match winning streak in China. The Asian swing has been his playground for the past 2 years and this year seemed no different. But somehow, these streaks never faze our champ, maybe because he’s had so many of his own. He famously ended Novak’s insane 43 match winning streak at the 2011 French Open. What is perhaps less widely known is the last time Novak lost in Shanghai, which was way back in 2010. Guess who he lost to then? The Maestro – and in straight sets too.
This SF was the 36th match in their storied rivalry. The H2H was delicately balanced at 18-17 in favour of Roger. With this match they were about to surpass the rivalry of their coaches, Edberg and Becker’s 35 matches. After today they are now tied with the rivalry of Lendl and McEnroe for the 2nd most matches played, behind Novak and Rafa’s 42 match rivalry.
The match started with both players looking ultra focused and tense. Both served well and held for their first two service games to get to 2 all. Roger’s game plan was obvious right away – attack. He hugged the baseline and came to the net probably more times than necessary but it all added to creating pressure on the other end of the court. In Novak’s third service game the Serb went down 15-40 and offered our champ two breakpoints. Novak saved the first but then Roger took the second and boom! We were up 3*-2. But a break isn’t really a break until it is consolidated and Roger got into a bit of difficulty right away. He got pushed to deuce and then Novak hit a great passing shot to get the advantage and a breakpoint of his own. Little did he (or we) know then, that would be the only breakpoint chance Novak would get in the match. Roger saved it and then quickly held to ultimately consolidate the break; he was up 4-2*.
In Novak’s next game he was pushed to deuce by Roger but the world #1 withstood the pressure and held on keeping the score to just one break down at 3-4*. It was Roger’s turn to serve again and I was nervous for another wobbly game like the previous one. Instead the Swiss started with an ace, followed by an almost-ace as Novak got a racquet on it. At 30-0 Roger hit yet another ace down the T followed by an ace out wide to hold to love and go up 5-3*. He gave us a 47 second service game to make up for the stress he caused us in his previous hold 😉 Serving to stay in the set, Novak dug his heels in and held, making our champ serve for the set himself. Roger got a bit nervy and was down 15-30 but he continued to show his bravery and kept up his aggressive play to get to 30 all, then a fantastic volley to get to 40-30. Another ace and he had the game and the set, 6-4 in 38 minutes.
A one set lead would be great against most players but we have learned the hard way that we can never rest when Novak is the opponent. Roger seemed keenly aware of this as he started set 2 with the same level of focus and intensity that we saw in set 1. He didn’t let up on the pressure as Novak served for his first game in the set. That aggressive mentality was rewarded with Roger having 2 breakpoint chances. He missed the first one with a great Novak serve but took the second with a perfectly constructed point that dragged Novak from corner to corner till Roger executed his kill shot with a forehand down the line. He was now up a break at 1*-0. Roger’s service game next saw both players display great skills. Roger was up 40-0 before Novak snuck back in to 40-30. But before it got dangerous, Roger held with a service winner. The score was now 2-0* in favour of our champ.
After that Novak had another difficult service game before he held to get on the board at 1-2*. Roger had a better service game this time as he held to push the score to 3-1*. Back to Novak the Serb continued to have a tough time on court. In his next game, Novak went down 4 breakpoints before he could dig himself out. Even though he held, Novak was shaking his head by then, perhaps annoyed at being made to work so hard. Serving at 3*-2, Roger went down 0-15 and then hit a double fault to go down 0-30. Unfazed, Roger continued to attack and he volleyed, smashed and served his way through a hold to go up 4-2*.
Novak continued to have difficulties of his own as he got pushed to deuce twice before he ultimately held to get to 3*-4. Then came the longest game of the match. Roger was taken to deuce 5 times before he could hold. His inside-out forehand in particular helped him a great deal as Novak was left to scream at his box with each missed opportunity. Interestingly enough, Roger never offered a breakpoint to Novak which was key because Novak never felt he had the upper hand. It was a crucial hold for the Swiss and one that in hindsight sealed the fate of Novak.
At 3*-5 down, Novak served but went down 30-40 to give Roger his first match point. Novak saved it with his own serve and volley tactics but Roger didn’t let up and soon had another match point. This time it was saved by a fantastic serve by the Serbian. Novak finally held and took the score to 4-5* leaving Roger to serve for the match. The Maestro got pushed to 15-30 but stayed true to his attacking style till the end. A wonderful ace brought up match point and then a brilliantly constructed point that culminated in two back-to-back volleys gave him the match 😀 6-4, 6-4 in 1 hour and 35 minutes. Here are the highlights, here is the presser transcript and here are the match stats.This was pure old-school tennis from Roger and it was a sheer joy to watch. I am super impressed with how strong his resolve was in sticking to his game plan despite facing one of the best returners this sports has ever seen. He knew he needed to play the perfect match to defeat an in-form Djokovic on his Chinese streak and Roger certainly brought his best game. The Swiss did everything right, EVERYTHING. He was great at the net, he was great at the baseline, he was great with his returns, he was great with his smashes and he was beyond great with his serves, both first and second.
“I think I did not play too bad. It’s just that he played everything he wanted to play. He played the perfect match. I think he’s going to tell you how he felt, but that’s how I felt he played. He played an amazing match.”
Up next is the tricky Frenchman Gilles Simon. Simon has caused Roger problems in the past. Not only has he won 2 of their 6 matches, but even in the matches he lost, he pushed Roger to the brink. Gilles also has a huge advantage as he is used to the daytime conditions of the court. Apparently the balls fly faster during the day and as you well know, Roger has not had a single day session match this tournament. The same situation happened in the Rogers Cup and in Cincinnati. It affected our champ in Toronto but I am hoping that won’t be the case tomorrow.
- With this win Roger has won his 60th match of the year, the most of any player on tour.
- Roger has also reached his 9th final in the 14 tournaments he has played in 2014.
- With this win Roger now has a staggering 13-4 ratio against Top 10 players in 2014, the most wins of any player on tour.
- Roger has reached his 39th Masters 1000 final and also his 122nd career final.
That’s it from me! Thanks for bearing with this extra-long post from beginning to end 😀 I couldn’t help it; this match was one for the ages and might have been Roger’s most dominant match this year. But we can’t focus on it too much now as there is one more match left to play. Fingers crossed for the Maestro!