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Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic: Will This Incredible New Rivalry Continue?

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10:  Roger Federer (R) of Switzerland congratulates Novak Djokovic of Serbia after Djokovic won their match during Day Thirteen of the 2011 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 10, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images
SubbaramanContributor IIIJanuary 23, 2012

The two best matches of 2011 were played between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. The best match in terms of sheer quality was the French Open semifinal. The US Open semifinal was probably the most talked about of all matches in 2011.

Roger Federer probably played the best match of his life at the French semis, given that he was the underdog going into that match, and against an opponent who was in top flight and in the best streak of not only his life but in the life of any tennis player. Tennis professionals, but more importantly Nadal, Federer and Murray, realized at some point last year, that if Novak Djokovic played at the peak of his powers, there was not much they could do to stop him. He was invincible.

For me, I am not sure what was more fascinating to watch in 2011, the match between two equals—Federer and Djokovic, or the utter domination and humbling of Rafael Nadal by Djokovic. But they were both awe inspiring.

In the early part of the year, Djokovic tamed Nadal in the spring, and later in the year utterly dominated him so much that Rafa openly admitted that he couldn't beat Djokovic and that he was in his head. In fact, it was Rafa's sheer mental fortitude and resolve that he was even able to take a set both in the Wimbledon final and the US Open final. But at no point in either of those matches was Djokovic in any danger of losing the match. It reflected in the way he approached those matches, in his swagger, in his match play—he wasn't afraid of Nadal.

That was a huge step, in my mind, for Djokovic, from a sense of where he went in his career, because Nadal is always such a factor at the latter stages of Grand Slams.

The Federer-Djokovic rivalry in the years past never quite was a rivalry primarily because Djokovic never truly believed that he would beat Roger, notwithstanding the win in the 2008 Australian Open semifinal, Djokovic's first Grand Slam victory. The turning point came in the 2010 US Open semifinal where Djokovic came from the dead to beat Federer.

To think that he would repeat that in a much better match exactly a year later, in the same arena, was just unbelievable. Federer wants this matchup to make amends for all those close defeats, and he would be happy to do that in the Australian Open final.

For that to happen, Federer would most likely need to beat Nadal, and Djokovic would need to beat Murray. Both feats easier said than done, although I would think Djokovic beating Murray is a far likelier possibility than Federer against Nadal.

I am not sure how many times Federer and Djokovic will play each other going into 2013 and beyond, given that Roger is in the twilight of his career. But one hopes that tennis aficianados  would get the pleasure of watching these two amazing players battle it out at least one time this year, at an appropriate setting.

It is an incredible matchup. A legend who is arguably the best in the sport, who has rediscovered his mojo, playing the best tennis of his life against a man possessed, who hasn't tasted defeat very often in the past year and who has the potential to be the best in the sport.  It is a mouth-watering possibility.

Federer can beat Djokovic as he proved last year at the French Open but he can also lose convincingly to a man who when playing at his peak is, unfortunately, invincible. And these days, that man, unfortunately for Federer, is playing at his peak.

 

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