Novak Djokovic is on a historic roll. So far, everyone that has tried to get in his way has been eviscerated, including Roger Federer. In the last three matches, Djokovic posted three wins over the Swiss star and is quickly replacing Nadal as Federer’s top nemesis.
So why am I picking Federer? Because he is the greatest player in the history of the game and you can only knockmdown someone of Federer’s stature so many times before he comes roaring back. He is also the last player to beat Djokovic, doing so at the 2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London last November.
The gracious champion entered the French Open as the three seed, his lowest ranking since October 2003. With Nadal leading the pack and Djokovic’s incredible rise, Federer, a 16-time Grand Slam Champion and winner of the 2009 French Open, was an afterthought.
Maybe that was just how he liked it. Out of the spotlight, Federer has relaxed and worked on his game. The results have been plenty favorable. So far, in five matches, Federer has yet to drop a set. His last three matches, all against ranked players, weren’t even close. They were absolute drubbings, a sign that while Federer may be enjoying the brief respite from the relentless pressure of the media spotlight, he also has something to prove.
When you are so great for so long and then are suddenly forgotten, it can be a bit peeving (just ask Kareem Abdul Jabbar). Some claim that Federer has peaked and is over the hill. At only 29 and with a record of 27-6 and one title on the year, that is hard to believe. Federer’s still got it, and Djokovic better believe it, because something tells me the usually amiable Swiss won’t be his normal insouciant self on the court this weekend.
The reason I am taking Federer doesn’t just have to do with the Swiss star, either. With his win streak at 43 straight, the combined pressure of both extending his incredible run and the desire to win his first French Open will eventually get to Djokovic. While he has won two other Grand Slams, there is always a heightened tension about winning the tournament that has always eluded you.
Look how long it took Federer to break through on the very same Philippe Chatrier court. Djokovic’s streak is going to end at some point, and considering Federer holds a 13-9 career life time record and has taken four of their seven Grand Slam match-ups it’s not far-fetched to see it end here.
For Federer to indeed finally break Djokovic’s run and return to the finals, he is going to have to mix up his game and keep Djokovic off balance. Preventing the world No. 2 from finding his sweet spot and dictating points will be critical.
In their last match at Indian Wells Federer made life uncomfortable with an array of spins, depths and different shots that irritated Djokovic. Federer’s downfall however was that his game began to unravel in the third set and Djokovic quickly capitalized on a few Federer errors to take command of the final set.
If Federer can stay on his game and put Djokovic in an earlier hole either one set to nothing or two sets to one, expect Djokovic’s nerves to build and for him to feel the momentous pressure of the occasion.
Djokovic is hot, but Federer is experienced. He has been here before and knows what it takes to win at Roland Garros. Expect him to use his knowledge and comfort playing on Center Court at Roland Garros to out-duel Djokovic and advance to yet another final against Rafael Nadal.