Roger Federer: Can He Pull the Double Upset and Win His Second French Open?
As all the attention has been focused on Novak Djokovic' and his 43-match winning streak, the old Maestro has gone quietly about his business, expanding a little streak of his own by reaching his 28th consecutive quarterfinal at a Slam.
That means, Federer has been in the quarters or better for the past seven years in every single Slam. That's one more than the great Jimmy Connors and double the amount of the second best on the list, Ivan Lendl.
Roger Federer is yet to lose a set and has been serving impeccably well, winning 84 percent of his first serves. The Djoker has won as high a percentage and admittedly, he will be the favourite against Fed.
For one thing, he's beaten him the last three times they've met. For another, he hasn't lost since Federer beat him at the World Tour Finals in London, and with a quarterfinal lay-off, he will be well rested if Federer makes it past France's Gael Monfils.
I think he will. He's 5-1 against Monfils and lost the only match in a triple tie-breaker last fall. He's beaten Monfils at the 2008 and 2009 French Open. Federer's looked the best he's been all year since the Australian Open. When Federer is on, Monfils is hardly the player capable of derailing him.
Djokovic, as he has already proven, is more than capable of doing just that.
Nevertheless, we should know better than to count Federer out beforehand. Last year, Djokovic beat Roger in the semis of the US Open, a win that has been considered as something that made Djokovic believe that he could compete with and beat the two all-time greats.
Yet Roger went on to beat Novak three times in the fall and ended 2010 with a 4-1 record against the Serb. When he gave Djoko a tennis lesson at the World Tour Finals in London, the last time Djokovic lost, Djokovic admitted that no one had played better tennis than that the entire season.
Wouldn't it be fitting if Roger, the old man in tennis, was the one to end his young successor's streak? And wouldn't it be ironic if that turned out to pave the wave for his nemesis and friend, Rafael Nadal, to secure himself his sixth French Open crown and enter the double digits in Slams won?
It surely would.
Yet, Roger does have the variety to throw off Djokovic and pull what we are now forced to call a slight upset. He can't beat him on baseline consistency, but if he can serve at his best, keep his errors in check, throw in some slices, some junk balls and keep the rallies short, he just might end the streak.
And if he does and faces anyone but Nadal in the final, he will be the clear favourite to win it.
Yet, even if he faces Nadal, he does have more than a puncher's chance.
Rafa will inevitably always be the favourite against Roger on clay. The high-kicking top-spin cross-court forehand to the one-handed Federer backhand provides a puzzle with no clear answers.
Yet Nadal hasn't been his normal clay-court self since Djokovic entered the clay draw in Madrid. He's shaken, but not out. And this level of insecurity might be just what Roger needs to pull the upset.
Admittedly, one can imagine that the clouds will clear from Rafa's head once it is no longer the insolvable challenge of Novak or Djokovic, but familiar 11-2 on clay friend, foe and pounding ball Roger Federer on the other side of the net.
But if Roger manages a head-start might those clouds not re-enter any minute as they appear to be these months, whenever Rafa is broken?
And this in turn would pave the way for what would be one of Roger's sweetest Slam victories, beating No. 1 and 2 in the process and silencing all of us who doubt him and believe it is more rational to think Djokovic will win it all.
What a trick that would be for the old, but not quite out.
He is the odd pick, but we would be foolish to count him out.
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