This was the feeling after watching Novak Djokovic finally conquer the demons of Roger Federer at the US Open and won a humdinger ending at 7-5 in the fifth. The match—while it had its low moments (especially the scratchy play by Federer in the even sets)—had more than enough high moments, especially in the fifth set. The quality of the match went to another level with a battle between Federer’s supreme defense—has he ever defended better than he did in that fifth set?—and Djokovic’s offense.
The match was filled with emotions, and Djokovic truly deserves this victory after being the bridesmaid against Federer three consecutive times in New York. Unfortunately for him, this is not the end, although, the way this unfolded makes it worthy of being a Grand Slam final. Djokovic still has a final to play against Rafael Nadal, who is looking to complete his career Slam in less than 21 hours from completing his epic victory.
With little recovery time between the semis and finals, questions will again be raised for the feasibility of Super Saturday, and the extreme temperatures and wind will further enhance the need of a roof at the two show courts at the Flushing Meadows. For now, though, it remains to be seen whether Djokovic has enough left gas in his tank to combat the world No. 1 or is it destiny for Nadal, who only needs this major to complete his tally for a career Golden Slam?
This post deals with the Djokovic’s side of the story, while antiMatter discusses Nadal’s chances in tomorrow’s finals.
Will Win If
Novak Djokovic is unarguably the better hard court player between the two. All seven of his career wins against Nadal have come on hard courts, and winning both of their contests at the North American Deco Turf. He swings through the court better, has better court penetration, with lesser topspin and flatter shots, he can hit more winners than the Spaniard, and is comfortable whether on defense or offense.
In my semifinal preview, I wrote how Novak will have to absolutely go berserk on his forehand, and be solid on the backhand. Novak will again have nothing to lose in the final, as the expectations will be much lower on him with the marathon semi, so he should just “close his eyes, hit his forehand and hope that it would land in,” as he said he did against Federer at match points down.
But most importantly, he should take care of his returns of serve. It was one of the major factors of the low first serve percentage in the semi—Novak won the third set 6-2 even though Federer served at 63 percent in the third. Things will be trickier against Nadal who will probably retort back to his vicious spinning deliveries instead of the flatter, but bigger, serve he has adopted till now. If he does puts pressure with his returns, he can pretty much make Nadal run all over the court with this better offensive game.
Will Lose If
Novak will not only need to recover in less than 24 hours for the final, but he will also have to face a fresher Nadal who not only spent 90 minutes less on the court, but also expended much less from his physical and emotional reserves with a routine victory. Novak, unfortunately, plays the match with a lot of emotions—although he kept them miraculously under check throughout the match—will be spent physically and mentally.
Moreover, Nadal is much more familiar to the Grand Slam final circuit than Djokovic, who played his last major final almost three years ago.
Nobody, except probably himself, expected Novak to win today and people were more or less mentally prepared for a Federer-Nadal final. He came out all guns blazing and proved everybody wrong. Nobody expects Djokovic to win tomorrow again, but this may mean that Djokovic may come out firing on all four cylinders. After all, even though Nadal has more experience in a major final, it is Djokovic who has “more experience of playing in a US Open final”, which he lost to Federer in 2007.
For all the strides that Nadal has made in his hard court prowess, it is Djokovic, who still remains the better of the two on asphalt. And while he may be exhausted, he will also have the rush of adrenaline after this marathon. And if he somehow manages to cruise through the first set entirely on this adrenaline rush, anything can happen.
He has less chance, but he does have a chance. And after his performance today, NYC will certainly be behind him.
Pick: Djokovic in four sets