The first set of Roger Federer's semifinal against Novak Djokovic at the Sony Ericsson Open showed that it would take a monumental effort by the "Djoker" to get anything out of the match at all.
But as it turns out, the speed at which Roger went from being indestructible to utterly combustible was shocking, to say the least.
Forty-seven unforced errors in a best-of-three-set match?! Is that even possible unless you're ranked outside the top 20 or possess no groundshots whatsoever?
What most people don't know is that during this very match, Roger Federer was paid a visit by a couple of ghosts from the past. They were the ghosts of Marat and Goran, to be exact.
With close observation, we were able to determine just what went on in the Fed's head during the ill-fated encounter with Djokovic. After all, there must be a reason why the "Fed Ex" made a worse landing than Tom Hanks' Fed Ex plane in the Hollywood flick Castaway.
Here's the script of what actually happened:
Fed has just won the first set, and is sitting calmly on his bench, thinking about what he'll be wearing that evening when he takes Mirka and baby Fed out to dinner at their favorite Miami hangout.
"Man, this is a drag," he thinks. "This guy was only good when he did his impressions. But since Rafa and I've complained about that, he just can't seem to play. Hmm...maybe I'll wear a suit from one of my Rolex commercials tonight."
Very soon, Federer's down two breaks in the second set, and a couple of voices begin to raise a din in his head.
"Hey Roger, remember me?" says one voice. "I'm the guy who showed the world you could be beaten way back in 2005."
Then, a distinctly East European accent sounds, "And remember me? I am guy you do huge favor back in 2001 when you knock off Pete, allowing me to win Wimbledon!"
Next Roger hears, "We can see you're in a spot of bother at the moment with this pesky joker (pun intended), so we've decided to come back and try to repay our debts by helping you out today."
Fed thinks to himself, "What? This amateur bunch with a total of three grand slams is going to help me?"
The ghost of Goran then suddenly pipes in, "Careful, Roger, we're in your head, you know. We can hear what you think. Surprise Mirka by wearing purple and yellow pinstripe suit tonight, and by the way, I think that if you sprout pony tail and grow moustache, it greatly help in intimidating your opponents."
Safin then adds, "No, no, no. Shave your head, man. Your opponents will be so distracted and laughing so hard that they will automatically lose."
Federer tries to clear his head, then gets one break back from Djokovic, but still manages to lose the set.
"It's okay, Roger, we've got him where we want him," says Safin's voice, chiming in again. "I beat him last year at Wimbledon and figured him out pretty quickly. At least the heat's to your advantage"
Fed sits on the bench and tells the inner voices, "Okay, guys, let's do this thing. I can already see myself holding the trophy. Not even Rafa can stop me this time around."
Later, in Game Two of the final set with Fed looking to hold serve, Goran suggests, "I tell you what, aim for that service-box line judge, and you'll automatically hit ace."
"Not a bad idea, but I think you should aim for the line judge down the middle," Safin counters.
Fed smacks it straight into the net.
"Okay, guys, calm down. I'll ask for your help when I need it."
While rallying a point with Djokovic, Federer is running full-throttle in an attempt to reach a ball on his forehand. Safin screams, "Lob it, lob it!"
Then Goran shouts, "Blast it cross-court!"
Lo and behold, Fed smacks it straight into the net again. He's broken, so Goran suggests, "I think you switch to two-handed backhand. Your forehand has gone to dogs, along with your one-handed backhand."
Then arrives the fateful moment: Federer's running in towards the net to try to put away a lollipop forehand pass and hears, "Inside out, Roger, inside out!"
Then, almost expectedly, Safin is saying, "Cross-court, cross-court!"
And Fed hits a "nothing" shot right into the tape.
Roger smashes his trusty Wilson onto the Crandon Park Stadium Court.
"Jeez, guys! Let a guy play, will you?!"
Safin has to throw in his two cents and says, "Now that's the way to play. This is what tennis is all about. Nothing like the sound of a racquet hitting the cement."
"Way to go Roger! I give ten out of ten for that racquet," Goran proclaims. "You absolutely killed it. Save it to show to your children; you can tell them how you at least do something right in this match."
Federer is incensed.
"Guys, look, it's all well and good that you're trying to help me, but you're causing me more problems. Can you stay quiet for a couple of games so I can get my rhythm back?"
So Safin and Goran sit back and watch as Fed gets one break back in the final set and then holds serve again.
"I liked it better when you were missing shots," Safin finally offers. "Can I convince you to smash another racquet? I mean, Wilson's paying for them, right?"
"Next time, also try kicking net and swearing at chair umpire and line judges," Goran puts in. "It work for me at Wimbledon. And maybe you also try playing left-handed, no? That work for me as well. I don't think you do any worse than playing right-handed."
Then it's match point for Djokovic, and Roger duly obliges by hitting a forehand long. Safin consoles the loser.
"Sorry Roger, we tried to help you, but you didn't take any of our suggestions seriously."
Goran's parting shot is, "Maybe you only good enough to play Grand Slams. When you walk back to bench don't shake umpire's hand. Then you complete 'bad-boy' transformation."
This time, Fed listens and doesn't shake the chair umpire's hand before taking the lonely walk back to the locker room.
In the meantime, Safin and Goran are contemplating how to "help" Djokovic in the final. They feel sorry for him, considering he's about to lose the No. 3 ranking to Andy Murray in a few weeks' time. And we all know just how that final against Murray went, don't we?
I'm sure he could have equalled, if not surpassed Federer's semifinal unforced error tally had the match gone into a third set.
No smashed racquets there, but that's probably because Djokovic was too tired to even crack the racquet frame.
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