There has been so much talk about the potential final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, that Roger Federer has been under the radar for the most part. However, the upcoming match between Novak and Roger could be the most exciting match of the championship, and very likely will be.
Let's look at Roger first. Roger's serve has been working really well; he is fully match fit, hasn't had any tough matches and is looking forward to this contest. Roger badly wants to avenge the defeats he suffered at Novak's hands in the US Open last year, and then again at the Australian this year, both in the same stages as their meeting here.
If Roger is able to (it's a big If) beat Novak, and potentially Rafa in the final, this would be the most important Grand Slam victory of his career. Not only would he have answered some of his critics about his record in Grand Slam finals against Rafa, but he would also restore some pride and place to his legacy.
He would have beaten the hottest player in the world (Novak) in the prime of his career, and just when everyone thinks Roger is in terminal decline and is in the twilight of his career. The timing of this victory is very important to Roger, in the context of where his game is right now, and his legacy.
On the contrary, if Roger does lose to Novak (more likely scenario), I think this would hasten his retirement. Roger is not someone who likes to settle for second place, and the fact that he would have lost to Novak three times in a row, at the grand stage, can't be coincidence, and would probably tell Roger that his game is likely not going to get the better of Novak in the longer run. This very likely may be his last hurrah.
For Novak, regardless of the streak and the fact that he has been playing unbelievably, he would be making a huge mistake if he were to be thinking of the final and Rafa before playing this match. But something tells me Novak is taking this match seriously and knows Roger can hurt him.
In some ways, Novak is probably more worried about this match than the potential final against Rafa, specially given the fact that Rafa has not been playing that well in this championship. It also appears that Rafa seems to be more mentally disturbed about his defeats against Novak, than what Roger is about his losses to Novak.
Tactically, I think this match hinges on how well Roger is able to serve throughout the match. Roger has been serving unbelievably well in this championship, probably better than he has been serving for a long time, at least as far as Roland Garros is concerned.
Roger's first serve and how Novak, the world's greatest returner, is able to handle those serves, will likely hold the keys to this match. Novak needs to get into Roger's service games at the early part of the match,and dent Roger's confidence. If he is able to do that, Roger's service is likely to falter.
If Novak is not able to do that initially, he can get into trouble with his own service games, because Roger is likely to relax. Granted that Roger's return game is not what the other three in the quartet possess (Rafa, Novak and Andy Murray), he can still win crucial breaks if he is able to hold his own serve comfortably.
That's why Novak needs to focus and keep his errors to the minimum. He needs to go for his shots and be aggressive, without being too cute and paint the lines. If Novak plays his normal aggressive self and is able to get into Roger's service games, this match is really his to lose. In such delicately balanced matches, the first strike is important and is likely to be crucial in this match too.
On the mental side, notwithstanding Novak's recent record, I would give the edge to Roger. When it comes to key moments in the match, the man from Switzerland almost always steps it up, except when playing Rafa perhaps. Novak can crack mentally, if Roger is able to impose himself early in the match.
As is always the case in such matches, the start is always crucial and the aggressor usually comes on top.