Top Matches in the Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic Rivalry

Joe Kennard@@JoeKennardFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2015

Top Matches in the Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic Rivalry

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    Ben Curtis/Associated Press

    They've played each other all over the world, thrilling fans with sensational displays of tennis rarely before witnessed. And for the next installment in their intense rivalry, the stakes couldn't possibly be any higher.

    Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are back in the Wimbledon final, setting up a titanic rematch of last year's legendary meeting. It's only fitting the world No. 1 and No. 2 should once again duel for the sport's most hallowed prize.

    As they displayed during this fortnight, both champions are clearly at the top of their game. Djokovic, after overcoming a two-sets-to-love deficit in the fourth round against Kevin Anderson, quickly rediscovered his form and impressively stormed through the last two rounds.

    Federer, the ageless wonder, used brilliant serving and nimble feet to dance past the competition. Even semifinal opponent Andy Murray was left in awe by the majestic Swiss force.

    To set the stage for their 40th showdown, here's a look back at the five best matches in the series. These moments will forever be ingrained in history, which may further be altered Sunday at All England Club. 

Honorable Mention

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    2009 U.S. Open Semifinals 

    Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have clashed all over the world and in every type of occasion. Though they've had extraordinary matches at the Masters Series level, it's their Grand Slam battles that are seared into the memory.

    Although finishing as a straight-sets victory for Federer, their 2009 U.S. Open semifinal was hardly routine.

    For well over two hours, these titans locked horns and fostered absolutely pulsating tennis. Federer, in the midst of a 39-match win streak at Flushing Meadows, encountered a hungry Djokovic eager for revenge after his loss to the Swiss in the 2007 final.

    Gliding around the court, Djokovic's defense forced Federer to come up with an array of exquisite shots just to win points. The first set culminated in a tiebreak, which ended in a blaze of powerful forehands from Federer.

    The final two sets played out much the same as the first one, but late breaks in each guided Federer to the 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5 win.

    Why is this match so memorable? The tweener.

    With Djokovic serving to stay alive, Federer responded to a perfectly placed lob with a between-the-legs winner. In a career embodied by genius, Federer hit arguably his best shot to book a place in a sixth consecutive U.S. Open final.

    But this match would only be the precipice for the drama that would unfold between the two.

5. 2012 Wimbledon Semifinals

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Result: Federer won 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3

    Roger Federer was already considered ancient at age 30. With his last Grand Slam victory two-and-a-half years in the past, many started wondering whether he’d ever win another. Those doubts would intensify at Wimbledon in 2012.

    In the third round, he had to come back from a two-sets-to-love deficit just to beat Julien Benneteau. He faced more difficulties in his next match against Xavier Malisse when he suffered a back injury. But Federer showcased his unflappable poise and toughness to advance to a semifinal collision with Novak Djokovic

    There, he forced hasty writers to throw away any obituaries they had penned about his career.

    Facing perhaps the best returner ever, Federer found a groove on his serve. He didn’t allow Djokovic a sniff at a break. That rhythm netted him the first set in a tidy 24 minutes.

    Djokovic responded early in the second by finally securing a break—his only one that day. Utilizing his ferocious speed and that killer backhand, he leveled the match.

    The third set was undeniably a magnificent stretch. Both players brought the goods, engaging one another in highlight-reel rallies. Federer’s looping forehands put Djokovic on the constant run, but the Serb’s stellar defensive skills proved a powerful antidote.

    A turning point came in the ninth game when Federer broke the Djokovic serve courtesy of some gutsy shots. He then coolly held serve to end the dramatic set.

    In the fourth, Federer parlayed that recently earned advantage to put Djokovic in an early deficit. No doubt helped by some costly errors by his opponent, Federer upped the ante and burst through the finish line.

    Per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN), Djokovic ceded that Federer was simply too good on this day: “He was the better player. In the important moments he was aggressive, hitting from both sides. Obviously, that's what you expect when you play against Roger at the final four of a Grand Slam.”

    That the match only went four sets doesn’t diminish its quality. For almost two-and-a-half hours, Federer and Djokovic enchanted the crowd with captivating tennis. In every sense, it was the de facto final.

    Buoyed by this seismic win, Federer would indeed claim the title and his 17th major victory.

4. 2011 French Open Semifinals

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Result: Federer won 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5)

    Who can forget that indelible finger wag?

    Roger Federer did something that match no opponent had been able to do all year: beat Novak Djokovic. As he walked to the net to shake hands with his conquered foe, a triumphant Federer raised one finger in celebration and nodded with jubilation.

    To say Djokovic had been on a hot streak entering that day would be an understatement. The Serb had won his last 43 matches, which included a sterling 41-0 mark in 2011. From Australia to Indian Wells, Miami and beyond, he had the rest of the ATP under his thumb. Djokovic simply had an aura about him, and it seemed like he could do no wrong on the court.

    Federer didn't get the memo.

    On clay, a surface that doesn't necessarily complement Federer's attacking mentality, the Swiss icon is more vulnerable. He can't keep points as short as he'd like, allowing baseline warriors like Rafael Nadal and Djokovic to outlast him. 

    The odds were therefore stacked firmly in Djokovic's corner entering this match. Yet something clicked inside Federer.

    He stole the show from the scorching Serb. Federer's one-handed backhand, often his undoing in big matches, proved unbelievably effective on this day and notched him a heart-pumping tiebreak in the first set.

    Energized, Federer raised the bar even higher and outlasted Djokovic in an intense second set.

    When Djokovic gutted his way through the third, he appeared ready to go the distance. Seizing on untimely Federer errors, Djokovic even served for the fourth set at 5-4. 

    But Federer wouldn't let this one slip away. He immediately broke back, setting up another tiebreak. As darkness crept on Court Philippe Chatrier, Federer used deft and guile (and some huge serves) to close out the match.

    Federer tried to downplay the enormity of the win, telling BBC Sport's Chris Bevan: "I wasn't here to spoil the party. I was just trying to put in a good match and get to the French Open final, which I'm obviously happy I was able to do. It almost feels like I've won the tournament, which is not the case."

    Although Federer would fall to Nadal in the final, this match will be remembered as his greatest performance at Roland Garros.

3. 2010 US Open Semifinals

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Result: Djokovic won 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5

    This match represents a firm turning point in the narrative of their rivalry.

    Before their duel at the 2010 U.S. Open, Federer had built a 10-5 head-to-head advantage. At the Grand Slam level, he was a robust 4-1 against Djokovic. He had even beaten the Serb three straight years in New York; all the statistics were on his side.

    An aggressive Federer came out of the gate looking to move forward and attack the net. But that strategy was tested when Djokovic secured an early 4-2 lead. Perturbed, Federer responded with his own break and locked up the first set with conviction.

    A fourth-straight win over Djokovic at Arthur Ashe Stadium seemed to be in the works. Djokovic instead replied with an absolute tour-de-force performance. Rocketing ground strokes past a flailing Federer, he soared through a lopsided set.

    Their physical baseline war raged on in the third as both men expertly held serve. In the 12th game, Federer threw the sink at Djokovic, breaking at love to finally clinch the set.

    On the brink of defeat, Djokovic again sought refuge with his trusty backhand. That shot proved to be the boost he needed, and the Serb bulldozed his way through the fourth.

    The coda to this blockbuster ended with a scintillating climax. Exquisite tennis gave Federer double match point on Djokovic's serve at 5-4.

    Then the plot twist arrived.

    Hitting some of the best forehands of his life, Djokovic swatted away the Federer challenge and broke through for the colossal win. 

    "It's hard to describe my feelings right now," Djokovic told the Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell. "Ten minutes ago I was a point from losing this match and I managed to come back. I was just closing my eyes and hitting my forehand as hard as I can.”

    Only so much can be said to describe the clutch play Djokovic exhibited that night. His steely determination carried him out of the mire and into the final.

    A year later, both men would experience a serious case of deja vu.

2. 2011 US Open Semifinals

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Result: Djokovic won 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5

    Novak Djokovic had a reputation for wilting at important moments early in his career.

    He amassed enough retirements and lackluster performances in the final stages of Grand Slam tournaments to make people question whether the Serb would ever live up to his potential. Djokovic had become a sort of punch line, someone expected to play the role of jester to his rivals.

    Not content to be the butt of jokes any longer, Djokovic transformed himself in 2011. With the aid of his rededication to fitness and nutrition, he won nearly every title in sight. He outclassed the competition to clinch wins at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, but equally shocking was the sway he suddenly held over his nemesis Rafael Nadal.

    His newfound status as the top dog in tennis came under fire in New York. One year after their topsy-turvy semifinal at the U.S. Open, Djokovic and Roger Federer again met in the penultimate round. And this time, Federer landed the early uppercuts.

    Federer with a lead is like a locomotive barreling down the tracks. When he’s ahead in a match, the Swiss swings more freely and magic flows from his Wilson wand. With the raucous crowd in his corner, Federer used his cat-like agility and baseline prowess to confidently win the first two sets.

    Djokovic had entered the match with a staggering 62-2 record in 2011, but a third loss appeared imminent. Federer had control and momentum, a powerful concoction. But this version of Djokovic wasn’t ready to accept defeat.

    Buried in a deep hole, Djokovic climbed back to the surface courtesy of some staggering defense. Or maybe it was just his unshakeable will that let him cruise through the third and fourth sets. Early breaks in both were all he needed to take Federer to a decisive fifth set.

    Federer wasn’t ready to roll over just yet. He picked himself up off the canvas and took the fight back to Djokovic, racing to a 5-3 lead. Serving for a date with Nadal in the final, Federer gave himself two match points.

    And then came the shot heard round the world.

    One tiny mistake would have meant elimination. That possibility didn’t faze Djokovic, who slapped a ridiculous forehand winner to stay alive. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

    Federer couldn’t shake off that point, allowing Djokovic to win the last four games. So close to defeat, Djokovic had countered with the most stirring comeback of his life. 

    After the match, a bewildered Federer struggled to accept what had transpired, telling the Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell: “For me, this is very hard to understand. How can you play a shot like that on match point? Maybe he's been doing it for 20 years, so for him it was very normal. You've got to ask him.”

    That risky maneuver paid off for Djokovic. Playing with house money, he bullied his way past Nadal in the championship match for his first crown at the U.S. Open.

1. 2014 Wimbledon Final

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Result: Djokovic won 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4

    Everything is amplified at Wimbledon.

    The most prestigious event in the tennis world, there's nothing quite like the drama that builds on Centre Court when there's a title up for grabs.

    For nearly four hours last year, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic scratched and clawed for the right to lift that golden crown. Pressure kept mounting to ever-rising heights as one breathtaking rally after another gave way to a five-set classic.

    Neither man could seem to hold onto momentum long enough before the other stole it back. Federer calmly served his way through a tense first-set tiebreak, but Djokovic responded by breaking his foe early in the second stanza and eventually evened the match.

    Their see-saw battle escalated in the third set, which culminated in yet another tiebreak. This time, however, Djokovic's sublime returning and powerful forehand earned him the edge. Two sets down, one to go.

    When Djokovic broke again in the fourth set, the finish line seemed near. He had Federer on the ropes at 5-2, one game away from his second championship. And then Federer came roaring back.

    Using laser-guided forehands and rifled backhands, Federer broke the Djokovic serve twice to win the last five games and force a decisive fifth set. Once down to his last breaths, he had found new life.

    The final stretch of the match didn't disappoint. Refusing to yield to one another, Federer and Djokovic summoned all their inner reserves. They dazzled fans with unrelenting brilliance. Who would prove victorious remained a mystery until the 10th game when Federer blinked first.

    A double fault and a few netted backhands from Federer handed Djokovic one of the all-time great Wimbledon finals. 

    After the match, Djokovic reflected to the Telegraph's Simon Briggs: “It never gets boring winning Wimbledon, that’s for sure. When I won it in 2011 that was a highlight so far of my career but this win over Roger in five sets is probably the best Grand Slam final I have ever played in my life.”

    By toppling the grass-court king in his own castle—and in such stirring fashion—Djokovic earned the hallmark win of his career that unforgettable Sunday afternoon.

    All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com unless otherwise noted. 

    Joe Kennard is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

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