Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic: A Rivalry That Sizzles in the Paris Sun

JA AllenSenior Writer IJune 2, 2011

Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic: A Rivalry That Sizzles in the Paris Sun

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    The battle between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for a place in the 2011 French Open final on Sunday will be the ultimate test between the coolest and the hottest players on the men's tour at the moment.

    On the line are the No. 1 ranking, tying John McEnroe's record winning streak of 44 matches and perhaps, Grand Slam No. 17. 

    The semifinal at the French Open on Friday will feature the top four men's seeds––(1) Rafael Nadal, (2) Novak Djokovic, (3) Roger Federer and (4) Andy Murray. It promises to be a blockbuster Friday with the top four men’s seeds in action. 

    For the 12th time in the history of the Open Era of tennis, men ranked first through fourth are appearing in the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament. The last time it happened at the French Open was 2006.

    Two of the men at the top of the men’s game, No. 3 Roger Federer and No. 2 Novak Djokovic, have met 22 times since their first meeting in 2006. Federer leads their head-to-head 13-9 at present, but Djokovic has defeated the Swiss the last three times they met in 2011. 

    Next up on their dance card is the encounter on Friday on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros in the semifinals––for a chance to advance to the French Open finals. The winner will meet the winner of the semifinal contest between No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 4 Andy Murray on Sunday.

    For a resurgent Federer, the chance of winning Slam No. 17 as well as silencing his critics offers a great incentive to do his utmost. 

    For Djokovic, defeating Federer on a surface other than hard courts will add another cup of confidence to the Serb’s recipe for success. Also, achieving the World No. 1 ranking is on the line for the Serb. 

    You can bet that Nadal will be hoping to meet Federer in the 2011 French Open final and you can also bet that Federer hopes to meet Andy Murray in the final. 

    At this point, Djokovic doesn’t really care––he just wants to be standing on Sunday, playing in that match on Court Phillippe Chatrier for that famous trophy.

Matches in 2006: (1) Monte Carlo Masters and (2) Davis Cup World Group Playoff

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    2006 - Rivalry, the Early Years...

    While World No. 1 Roger Federer was in full stretch, dominating men’s tennis in 2006, Novak Djokovic was just beginning to extend his tennis wings.  In 2006, after winning two ATP titles, the young Serb moved into the top 20 for the first time. 

    Part of his initiation into playing “Big Boy” tennis, however, was occasionally meeting the top guns, including the No. 1 player in the world, Roger Federer.

    2006 Monte Carlo Masters:

    In 2006 Federer met teenager Novak Djokovic in the opening round of the 2006 Monte Carlo Masters. The youngster from Serbia had qualified to get into the draw.  Even so, Djokovic extended the World No. 1 to three sets, eventually losing this encounter 3-6, 6-2, 3-6. 

    Federer went the rest of the way, never dropping another set until he met Rafael Nadal in the finals where the Swiss lost 2-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-7. 

    This would become a familiar pattern for the Swiss, losing in the finals to Nadal.

    2006 Davis Cup World Group:

    Djokovic and Federer met again in 2006 during the Davis Cup World Group playoff between Switzerland and Serbia––played in Switzerland on indoor hard courts.  Federer won their second encounter 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. 

    So far, the Swiss managed to keep the rising talent of Djokovic in check. 

    At the end of 2006, Federer led 2-0 in their head to head meetings.

Matches in 2007: (3) Australian Open, (4) Dubai

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    2007- Stirring up the Rivalry

    2007 Australian Open:

    At the Australian Open in 2007, Federer rolled through the men’s draw without dropping a set.

    The Swiss became the second man since Bjorn Borg at the 1980 French Open to win a major championship without dropping a set.

    Federer captured his tenth grand slam title, moving one behind Bjorn Borg who owned 11 grand slam singles titles.

    One of the men Federer rolled over to win this title was the Serb Djokovic. Seeded No. 14, Djokovic came into the match on an eight-game winning streak. Until the Australian Open Djokovic had not lost a match in 2007, winning the title in Adelaide two weeks prior to the Aussie Open. The two men met in the fourth round with the Swiss winning 6-2, 7-5, 6-3.

    So, it was back to the drawing board for the young Serb.

    2007 Dubai:

    After the Australian Open concluded in 2007, the two men headed off to the hard courts of Dubai where they would meet for the fourth time in their careers. 

    In winning the championship in Dubai, Federer won his seventh straight title, remaining on a record-setting pace in 2007.

    The Swiss began the tournament by setting a record for the most consecutive weeks at No. 1 at 161, surpassing Jimmy Connor’s old mark. Federer’s win streak moved to 41 matches.

    Federer met Djokovic in the quarterfinals where once again the Serb exerted pressure on Federer––as the Swiss won 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.

    But like everyone else, the Serb remained powerless to derail the World No. 1.

Matches in 2007: (5) Rogers Cup

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    2007- Stirring up the Rivalry, Part 2

    2007 Rogers Cup:

    It took their third meeting in 2007 before the Serb could finally take a match away from the Swiss Maestro. The setting was Montreal, Canada at the Masters Series Tournament where Roger Federer faced the Serb Djokovic in the finals.

    Ranked No. 4 coming into the tournament Djokovic had to send the No. 3 seed Andy Roddick home in the quarterfinals.  The Serb followed that by defeating the No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. 

    That propelled Djokovic into the finals to face a man he had never beaten, Federer. Djokovic attacked the Federer backhand and stunned the tennis world by upsetting the No. 1 seed 7-6, 2-6, 7-6. 

    Remarkably the Serb had defeated the Number 1, 2 and 3 players in the same tournament to win. The last man to do that was Boris Becker in 1994 in Stockholm. 

    Federer now had to mull over the prospect of new rival at the top of the men’s game capable of beating him on hard courts.

    The Serb was growing confident.

Matches in 2007: (6) U.S. Open

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    2007- Stirring up the Rivalry, Part 3

    2007 U.S. Open:

    The last time Federer and Djokovic met during 2007 was at the U.S. Open where once again both men made the finals. 

    Federer was aiming to win his fourth consecutive U.S. Open trophy but the man standing in his way was the same man who had defeated him earlier that summer at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.

    Djokovic became a crowd favorite in New York with his irreverent humor and his style of play. The fans were especially fond of the Serb’s spot-on imitations of his fellow players. 

    Federer, however, was not amused, feeling that the Serb was not taking matters seriously.

    Federer had defeated Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals and Nikolay Davydenko in the semifinals while Djokovic had dispatched Carlos Moya in the quarterfinals and David Ferrer in the semifinals. 

    In the finals, the Serb brought the first two sets to tiebreaks, garnering seven set points in the process only to fall short on all seven, losing 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. 

    The fault was mental. The Serb did not have enough courage to win, to take the great Federer down.

    At the end of 2007 Federer led in their head-to-head 5-1.

Matches in 2008: (7) Australian Open and (8) Monte Carlo Masters

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    2008 - Djokovic Breaks Through...

    2008 Australian Open:

    The tennis landscape began to alter in 2008.  Federer’s impact lessened in intensity––as his iron grip loosened.

    The Serb finally won a major at the 2008 Australian Open. He became the first man not named Federer or Nadal to win a major since Marat Safin won the Australian Open in 2005. 

    The Serb did it by first upsetting the No. 1 seed in the semifinals in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6.  It marked the first time that Federer had missed a grand slam final in nearly three years. 

    Talk of Federer being diagnosed with mononucleosis surfaced and the great Federer seemed a shadow of his former self after this point as he struggled to win his first title of 2008.

    Djokovic went on to defeat Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final of the 2008 Australian Open 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6. 

    Life would never again be the same for the Serb.

    2008 Masters in Monte Carlo:

    It did take Federer some time to recover. The two men met once again in Monte Carlo on the clay––the site of their first match back in 2006. 

    Djokovic seemed on his way to another dominating performance as he dispatched the No. 4 seed Andy Murray 6-0, 6-4 in the third round and American Sam Querry 6-4, 6-0 in the quarterfinals.  The Serb met Federer in the semifinals. 

    Federer had just gotten past his oft-nemesis David Nalbandian in the quarterfinals.  The Swiss won the first set from the Serb 6-3 and was leading, up a break in the second set, when Djokovic suddenly retired, complaining of dizziness.

    A well-balanced Federer would go on to the final where he lost to Nadal 7-5, 7-5.

Matches in 2008: (9) U.S. Open

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    2008 - Djokovic Breaks Through, Part 2

    2008 U.S. Open:

    Federer, after losing the French Open, his beloved Wimbledon and the Olympic Gold Medal in singles, came back to claim his fifth consecutive U.S. Open championship. 

    The final slam chapter in New York saved Federer’s 2008 campaign––that in addition to winning the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal in doubles.

    On a very windy day at Flushing Meadows in New York, Federer defeated Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 to advance to the U.S. Open finals. 

    The Serb was no longer the darling of the New York crowd after lashing out against Andy Roddick’s comments regarding the Serb’s inclination to retire because of illness. 

    The crowd definitely supported Federer throughout the match.  Whether that had an effect on the outcome of the match is debatable. 

    Federer went on to defeat Andy Murray in the final 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.  The win gave Federer new life as he fought to regain the No. 1 ranking again.

    At the end of 2008 their head to head stood at 7-2.

Matches in 2009: (10) Sony Ericsson Open and (11) Rome

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    2009: Djokovic playing catch-up once again...

    2009 Sony Ericsson Open:

    Roger Federer had won their last two matches as the two men headed to the hard courts in Miami where Djokovic and Federer would face each other for the tenth time during the Sony Ericsson semifinals.

    Federer committed 47 unforced errors in his match with the Serb.  After winning the first set comfortably in 25 minutes with Djokovic spraying the court with errors, Federer seemed to fade away in the second set.

    Wind was a contributing factor in the match as Federer managed to win just 57 percent of his first serve points.

    The Swiss was broken in his first game in set No. 3. While down in the third game of set three, the Swiss hit a forehand long.  Finally the frustration could no longer be contained and Federer uncharacteristically smashed his racket, drawing jeers from the crowd. 

    The Serb defeated Federer in their match, but Djokovic would lose in the final to Murray 6-2, 7-5.

    2009 Rome Masters: 

    A month or so later, Federer would meet Djokovic on the red clay in Rome at the 2009 Italian Open––a Masters Series event. The Serb fell behind early to Federer, losing the first set 4-6.  Federer broke to go up 2-0 in the second set, when rain delayed proceedings. 

    When the players returned to court, Federer held onto his serve to go up 3-1 but then lost the next five games to allow the Serb the chance to level the match.

    In the the third set, Federer again went up 3-1 but once more lost the next five games to give Djokovic his first win over the Swiss on clay.

    It took Djokovic over two hours to come back and defeat the Swiss. 

    Djokovic, however, could not defeat Nadal in the Rome finals and that cost the Serb his No. 3 ranking. 

Matchs in 2009: (12) Cincinnati

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    2009: Djokovic playing catch-up once again, Part 2

    2009 Cincinnati Masters:

    For Roger Federer, 2009 proved to be a very good year.  The Swiss finally managed to win the French Open giving Federer a career Slam. 

    Then, the Swiss returned to Wimbledon to reclaim that trophy after losing it in 2008 to Nadal.  So, far, Federer’s summer was going swimmingly. 

    At the Cincinnati Masters, Federer made his way to another final, facing the man from Serbia, Novak Djokovic.

    Federer had defeated Andy Murray in the semifinals to advance while Djokovic had dismissed Rafael Nadal for the chance to play Federer in the final.

    Federer won the first set easily, helped by winning 89 percent of his first serve points as well as 80 percent on his second serve. The Swiss won the opener 6-1.

    In the second set, the Serb was much more competitive breaking Federer’s serve.  Federer finally broke back to make it 5-5.  Then he broke Djokovic’s serve and served the match out, taking the second set 7-5.

    It marked the third time Federer had won the title in Cincinnati, his 16th Masters Series win.  It was his 61st career singles title.

Matches in 2009: (13) U.S. Open

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    2009: Djokovic playing catch-up once again, Part 3

    2009 U.S. Open:

    By the time the U.S. Open rolled around, Roger Federer was aiming to win his third major of the year and his sixth consecutive U.S. Open trophy in Flushing Meadows. Breaking Pete Sampras’ record, Federer now owned 15 Grand Slam singles titles.

    On hand were the normal cast of players plus one new Argentine giant hovering on the fringe, waiting for his chance in the spotlight.

    Federer had to dispose of Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals, which he did in four sets,  6-0, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6.  It was not an easy match for the Swiss. Djokovic, on the other hand, had to dispatch Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. It also took the Serb four sets as he fought off the No. 10 seed 7-6, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2.

    The two men met once again in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows for a chance to move on to the finals. Federer won in straight sets 7-6, 7-5, 7-5 in a match so closely contested it was hard to judge the Serb a loser.  But Federer held the mental edge during this contest.

    The Swiss was definitely more confident, feeling more in control than he had been in Miami earlier this year.  After winning the French, and surpassing Sampras, the pressure seemed to be off. 

    Unfortunately for the Swiss, his opponent in the final refused to buy into the Swiss aura and Juan Martin del Porto came back from two sets to one to defeat Federer in five sets, capturing the U.S. Open crown, denying Federer a chance to tie Bill Tilden’s record of six consecutive U.S. Open titles.

    Definitely, the Swiss seemed agitated by “Hawkeye,” the electronic line calling device in play that day but his real frustration had to be with his lack of ability to put the Argentine away.  This day did not belong to the Swiss as he saw another opportunity to win “six” pass by the wayside.

Matches in 2009: (14) Basel

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    2009: Djokovic playing catch-up once again, Part 4

    2009 Basel:

    To add insult to injury, after losing the 2009 U.S. Open, Djokovic entered and won Federer’s hometown tournament in Basel, Switzerland. 

    Federer had won the tournament for three consecutive years on a court where he had served as a ball boy growing up. 

    On serve in the first set until the ninth game when Federer’s serve was broken, Djokovic  served for the opening set. 

    In order to secure the set, however,  the Serb had to save 5 break points during a game that lasted 24 minutes. For the Serb, winning that unending game was the turning point of the match. 

    The Swiss turning things around momentarily by winning the second set, engaging the crowd. But when Djokovic broke out to a 4-0 lead in the third and final set, Federer could not find a way back, losing 4-6, 6-4, 2-6.

    Djokovic earned his fourth title of the season and improved to 3-2 against Federer in 2009. Federer tallied 59-9 for the year, having lost only three times since May.

    At the end of 2009 their head to head stood at 9-5.

Matches in 2010: (15) Rogers Cup and (16) U.S. Open

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    2010: Federer Dominates Again

    2010 Rogers Cup:

    Roger Federer did not meet Novak Djokovic until the American Hard Court Season in the summer in 2010 in Toronto at the Rogers Cup.

    After turning back Czech Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, Federer found himself facing the Serb in the semifinals.  Djokovic had to get by Frenchman Jeremy Chardy to make the semifinals.

    The winner of their match would advance to the finals to meet Andy Murray, who had quelled the hope of Rafael Nadal to win a hard court title prior to the U.S.Open. 

    The match between Federer and Djokovic was another close encounter of the serious kind with Federer coming out on top 6-1, 3-6, 7-5.

    Federer sailed through the first set without too many problems. But, as usual, Federer seemed unable to maintain his dominance and the Serb took the second set. 

    Late in the third set, Djokovic held break points but could not covert.  Federer did, however, and he went on to win the match.

    Federer then faced Andy Murray in the final, losing 7-5, 7-5.

    2010 U.S. Open:

    After meeting and losing to Federer in 2007, 2008 and 2009 at the U.S. Open, Djokovic finally defeated Federer in 2010 at Flushing Meadows. 

    The match was the semifinals. Djokovic and Federer dueled for five long sets before the man from Switzerland lost 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in three hours and 43 minutes.

    The Serb, seeded No. 3, managed to save two match points before securing a victory in the final set. It left Djokovic feeling fulfilled and Federer feeling empty after losing a match he felt he should win.

    During the match Federer compiled 65 unforced errors while Djokovic owned 38. 

    After being dismissed from the Open for three straight years, the Serb made it to the final where he faced Rafael Nadal. The Majorcan was looking to win his third consecutive slam title after winning the French Open and Wimbledon earlier in the summer.

    Nadal won in the final over Djokovic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.  It was the Majorcan’s “Year of Destiny.”

Matches in 2010: (17) Shanghai, and (18) Basel

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    2010: Federer Dominates Again, Part 2

    2010 Masters 1000 Shanghai:

    After his loss during the semifinals of the 2009 U.S. Open, Federer fell back to the No. 3 ranking.  When the Swiss defeated Djokovic 7-5, 6-4 during the semifinals of the Shanghai Masters, Federer regained his No. 2 ranking.

    Not many of their matches have been “easy” for either player. Federer appeared to be under pressure immediately out of the blocks, fighting off four break points in the third game before he was able to exert control and hold.

    To counter the strength of the Serb, Federer began attacking the net. Federer broke at 5-5 and then served it out, winning the first set. After that, Federer was able to break Djokovic twice in the second set, winning the match.

    Federer, however, was not able to extend his winning ways. 

    The Swiss lost in the final the next day to Scot Andy Murray.

    2010 Basel

    Losing his home town tournament to Djokovic in 2009 was embarrassing and Federer sought to avenge his loss to the Serb as they met in the Basel final in 2010.

    Needless to say, Federer got right down to business breaking Djokovic’s serve early in the first set and then twice in the last set on his way to winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in just under two hours.

    It looked a little in doubt after the Serb fought his way back to win the second set. But Federer quickly reestablished control in the third.

    At that point in 2010, Federer was 4-4 in finals after winning the Australian Open, the Cincinnati Masters and the tournament in Stockholm.

    Djokovic continued to find himself in a bit of slump throughout 2010.

Matches in 2010: (19) Barclays World Tour Finals

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    2010: Federer Dominates Again, Part 3

    2010 Barclays WTF: 

    Perhaps Federer’s 2010 can best be earmarked by winning the first slam at the Australian Open when the Swiss defeated Andy Murray and by the last event of the year when Federer won the year end championships in London, defeating the World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

    One of his victims was Novak Djokovic. Federer needed to get by the Serb in the semifinals to move on to the finals. By defeating Djokovic in straight sets 6-1, 6-4, Federer advanced to his sixth final at the Barclays WTF.

    Federer had previously defeated his round robin opponents, Robin Soderling, Andy Murray and David Ferrer in straight sets. Federer faced Djokovic in the semifinals after the Serb finished second in this round robin group to Rafael Nadal. 

    Federer won the championship over Nadal 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in an hour and 38 minutes.  It marked Federer’s fifth end-of-year championship, his ninth time to make the field of eight and his 66th ATP title.

    At the end of 2010 their head to head stood at 13-6.

Matches in 2011: (20) Australian Open

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    2011: Can You Say, New No. 1?

    Something happened to Novak Djokovic in 2011.  He quit losing.  He won everything, every tournament he entered beginning with the Davis Cup championship against France in December of 2010.  Leading Serbia to victory, Djokovic began a tear that has not ended yet. 

    2011 Australian Open:

    In 2008 Novak Djokovic captured his first Slam title at the Australian Open. He did that by overcoming Roger Federer, World No. 1, in the semifinals. Once again, in 2011, the Swiss was sent home by Djokovic after losing 7-6, 7-5, 6-4. 

    There was much media attention coming into the Aussie Open as Nadal was trying to capture his fourth consecutive Slam title and Federer was attempting to win slam No. 17 as well as his fifth Australian Open title.

    But, neither of them found their hoped-for prizes at the end of the rainbow. Djokovic faced Andy Murray in the final and won slam title No. 2.  It marked the first time since 2008 that a Grand Slam final did not feature Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.

    Djokovic played superb tennis throughout his match with Federer. The Serb totally dominated Murray in the final winning 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.  This was a new Djokovic emerging from his stubborn cocoon ready to fly at last.

Matches in 2011: (21) Dubai and (22) Indian Wells

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    2011: Can You Say, New No. 1? (Pt. 2)

    2011 Dubai:

    For years it was Federer winning in Dubai, proclaiming it his favorite tournament. But in 2011, Djokovic won the tournament for the third consecutive year defeating Roger Federer in the final 6-3, 6-3. He joined Federer as the only two to have each won three consecutive titles in Dubai.

    Djokovic broke Federer’s serve in the third game of the first set, giving up just four points on his own serve. With increased pressure to break back, Djokovic broke the Swiss’ serve again in the ninth game.

    Trying to reign in his unforced errors, Federer began set No. 2 playing better tennis. He managed to break Djokovic’s serve in the third game. But Djokovic broke back and quickly pulled ahead, winning the set and the match in 71 minutes.

    The win marked the Serb’s 15th match win of the season. It would not be his last by a long stretch.

    2011 Indian Wells:

    The last time the two combatants met each other on the tennis court prior to the 2011 French Open was in the desert at Indian Wells during the semifinals.  Novak Djokovic rocketed past the Swiss 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

    The win gave the Serb the No. 2 ranking, knocking Federer down to No. 3.

    It marked the third time this season that the Serb was able to defeat Federer. After a very strong start, Djokovic lost his serve twice, losing the second set.  In the fifth game of the final set, Federer hit a bad patch, losing 11 straight points.  Djokovic was able to serve out the set.

    Djokovic lost just 12 games on his way to the semifinals; Federer also made it to the semifinals without losing a set. The win took Djokovic to the final where he met and defeated Rafael Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

    Up to the French Open in 2011 their head to head stands at 13-9.