Federer beats Djokovic 75 62 to reach fourth Monte Carlo final. He’ll aim for his first title there against Wawrinka Sunday. #ESPNTennis— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) April 19, 2014
With the loss, Djokovic was prevented from winning the prestigious clay-court title for the second year in a row. Also, Federer improved his career record against Djokovic to 18-16 in the process.
It is always a spectacle when Djokovic and Federer lock horns, since they are two of the greatest tennis players today and of all time. It isn't difficult to find an interesting narrative, but Djokovic provided one regardless.
During a tough three-set win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the quarterfinals, Djoker apparently injured his wrist or perhaps aggravated a previous ailment. After the victory, Djokovic had his wrist tended to. Via Carole Bouchard of L'Equipe:
Djokovic directly off to treatment for his wrist after the match, for a good hour apparently.— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) April 18, 2014
According to tennis photographer Adeline Auger, it became quite clear during his practice prior to Saturday's meeting with Fed that Djokovic was very much in pain:
Grimaces of pain for Djokovic. Trainer putting a tape on his right wrist a few minutes after the practice started. pic.twitter.com/d4MZ9zJvu5— Adeline Auger (@adel1609) April 19, 2014
That resulted in the decision to heavily tape Djokovic's wrist and forearm:
Heavy tape for Djokovic. From wrist to elbow pic.twitter.com/fyILOjfIs0— Adeline Auger (@adel1609) April 19, 2014
Despite the precaution, Djokovic seemed to be in dire straits. He cut practice well short and retreated to the locker room for potential pain injections, per Barry Flatman of The Sunday Times:
Very worrying news Djokovic curtailed practice after 10 minutes & just 5 serves. Rumours of injections into right wrist. Not looking good— Barry Flatman (@Barry_FlatmanST) April 19, 2014
There was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding Djokovic's status, and there was naturally plenty of speculation regarding whether or not he might opt to withdraw in an effort to preserve himself for next month's French Open.
Djokovic displayed the heart of a champion as he so often does, though, and decided to play through the discomfort.
It was blatantly obvious during warm-ups that Djokovic was far from 100 percent, and nobody would have blamed him if he had decided to live to fight another day. Djoker pressed on, however, and turned in a gutsy performance.
Even prior to the injury being made public, Djokovic knew that he would have his hands full against one of the all-time greats, per the Monte-Carlo Masters' official website:
"(Federer) has been playing really good tennis in the last couple of months... much better than he did all of last season," Djokovic said. "I'm going to have to be on top of my game."
Djokovic and Federer put on a fantastic display of shot-making as they traded hold after hold throughout the first set. Even at an obvious disadvantage, Djokovic put himself in position to potentially win the set with a break, per Tennis TV:
Djoker had Federer on the ropes in the ensuing service game with two set points in his pocket, but Fed was able to stave them off and execute his toughest hold of the match, via We Are Tennis:
The failure to close out the set didn't initially seem to bother Djokovic as he went up 40-0 on serve, but the Serbian star imploded thereafter, allowing Federer to battle all the way back and steal the first break of the match. Per Josh Meiseles of ATPWorldTour.com:
Djoko's footwork all over the place in that game. Federer get's the break and will serve for the opening set. #MC14— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) April 19, 2014
Federer made the most of the break and managed to hold once again to take the first set 7-5.
As seen in this graphic courtesy of Tennis TV, Fed certainly earned the one-set advantage:
With Djokovic laboring, well-known tennis coach Patrick Mouratoglou had a difficult time believing that he would be able to play out the remainder of the contest:
I don't feel that #Novak will finish that match. He looks like suffering a lot from his wrist.— Coach Mouratoglou (@pmouratoglou) April 19, 2014
Although Djokovic refused to quit and go down without a fight, he simply didn't have much left after the deflating first-set loss.
Djokovic and Federer traded holds of serve, but Fed was able to break for a 2-1 lead:
The wounded Serb was unable to recover as Federer ripped off three consecutive games after that to seize a 5-1 advantage. Djokovic made one last-ditch effort with his second hold of the match, but he was simply delaying the inevitable as Federer closed it out 6-2 in the second.
With the win, Fed will face countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in the final. Wawrinka is ranked ahead of Federer at No. 3 in the world, and he is undoubtedly enjoying the best season of his career.
He easily took care of David Ferrer in the Monte-Carlo Masters semis, and he already has the 2014 Australian Open title to his credit.
Did Djokovic make the right decision to face Federer despite his injury?
Federer has played some solid tennis this year, and he has a title under his belt as well, but it can certainly be argued that Wawrinka is the favorite.
The two Swiss stars know each other well, as they won doubles gold together at the 2008 Summer Olympics. That familiarity essentially takes away any type of advantage from either player, so Wawrinka is the likely winner with all things being equal.
As for Djokovic, the focus now shifts toward getting healthy in time for the French Open. Perhaps he now regrets playing against Federer since it may very well have worsened his injury, but there is nothing he can do about that now.
Don't expect to see Djokovic in the next tournament or two; however, it is still important for him to get a tuneup match in prior to Roland Garros.
Djokovic played extremely well in the first set even with a bad wrist, and there is no doubt that he will be a factor in the French Open if he is closer to full health.
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