French Open 2011: 5 Reasons Roger Federer Can Beat Novak Djokovic in the Semis
That's all he needs to turn this year around. To wrestle his way back to the top of the rankings. To move even closer to tennis immortality.
What unfolds tomorrow on the swirling red clay of Court Phillippe Chatrier could be the most pivotal turning point in Roger Federer's storied career. If he manages to do the unthinkable—to thwart the Djokovic juggernaut and end the Serb's stunning streak—he's officially back. Back in the mix, back in the conversation.
Of course, for us true Fed fans, he never left it. But there's no denying that if the Swiss Maestro can topple Djokovic tomorrow, some of the aura that encompassed his '04-07 golden years will return.
Here's why he can do it.
1. The Pressure Is off
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Federer should come out tomorrow relaxed and swinging freely, just as he's done all tournament long.
He knows full well the pressure will be squarely on Djokovic, who, after building up such an impressive win streak and pre-French Open clay court resume, may get a little hot under the collar with the thought of a first clay court Slam so close.
Pushing all the weight of the situation off his shoulders should allow Federer to jump on break-point opportunities, ease up on loose errors and avoid any mini mind-lapses—like the one that occurred at the end of his quarterfinal bout with Gael Monfils.
Even though Fed knows he doesn't want to experience repeat of, say, that nightmare 2008 final, he won't be feeling nearly as much pressure as his opponent to secure a victory.
4. The Belief Is There
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Fed arguably got the hardest first-round draw of all the top seeds (yes, even Nadal coming up against Isner). Feliciano Lopez is a tricky, aggressive player who gave the Swiss fits just a few weeks earlier.
But Fed breezed past the lefty in three comfortable sets.
He did the same against a dangerous third round opponent, Janko Tipsarevic. And against his good buddy Stan Wawrinka. And against home favorite Gael Monfils.
His wins haven't just been convincing. They've signaled that Federer, perhaps even more than when he triumphed in '09, sincerely believes he can take this thing home.
Plus, in two of his three losses to Djokovic this year, Federer's played him very tight.
At the Australian Open, the Maestro blew numerous chances—especially in a pivotal first set. Then, in the Indian Wells semis (pictured above), he certainly could have come away with a victory—but lost a tight three-setter. I think Federer knows that, barring the '11 season thus far, he's a better overall clay-court player than the Serb.
Can he use that knowledge to his advantage?
3. The Serve and Forehand Are Working
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
The stats don't lie.
Across his five matches so far, Federer's average first serve percentage is hovering around 65 percent. He's won over 80 percent of the points when getting that first strike in. He's smacked 41 aces—to just seven double-faults. He's suffered just five service breaks—three of those coming in his previous match with Monfils.
That smooth delivery, which Federer uses to hit every corner of service box with aplomb, must continue to work in full force when he comes up against Djokovic.
Same goes for the forehand. Fed's hit 183 winners throughout the French Open so far, with a majority coming off his preferred wing.
Going against the Djoker, Federer needs to keep up that high first-serve percentage, mix up the pace and direction of the serve and engage in some ferocious forehand-to-forehand rallies—with the intention of breaking down that side of the Serb's game.
2. Djokovic Hasn't Faced the Heat
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Djokovic's French Open draw is kind of like that first-ever 500-person college lecture. It seemed daunting and challenging at first, but upon further realization, it was pretty easy to skate by.
A deflated De Bakker and limping Hanescu offered little resistance. As did a weary, injury-stricken, still-not-100 percent-especially-not-on-clay Juan Martin del Potro.
Sure, Richard Gasquet has been playing well as of late—but the guy's got the mental fortitude of a pea. He's hardly anyone who could step up and challenge the streak.
Then Fabio Fognini pulled off a disappearing act even greater than the escape he demonstrated in the fourth round.
Point is: Djokovic hasn't faced the quality of opponent that Fed's had to dig his way through in order to get to the semis. And he's going into the match four days cold. While it allowed the world No. 2 some rest, he no doubt would have been better off with some tough match play instead.
5. He's Roger F$%&ing Federer
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
The man. The myth. The legend.
The guys who's reached 22 grand slam finals. And won 16 of them. At least one on every surface.
The guy who spent 237 consecutive weeks at No. 1.
The guy who reached 22 straight slam semifinals, one of the most incredible records in the sporting world. And who continued to make history during this French Open fortnight, reaching a record 28 straight major quarterfinals.
The guy who's played in the best matches this sport has ever seen.
The guy who's without a doubt the classiest act ever step foot on a tennis court.
And the guy who two short years ago fought tooth and nail to claim the Coupe de Musketeers.
Tomorrow, Roger, remember who you are. Remember what you've done. Remember that there's a hell of a lot more winning to be done.
Remember that you're that greatest.