Mark Twain once said “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
Ok, that’s not exactly what he said. He actually said “The report of my death was an exaggeration”, but the first one sounds much more impactful, so lets go with that.
Whatever Twain’s actual quote, don’t be surprised if Federer says something similar if he triumphs over the world number one tonight.
2015’s Wimbledon has seen Federer wind back the clock, painting the Centre Court chalk yellow with nearly every swish of his trusty Wilson.
Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has done what he does best: win, even when his best tennis is absent.
In the 40th matchup between the two, can Djokovic grind his way past the Swiss? Or will the Federer of old appear once more on the most prestigious stage in tennis, claim an eighteenth grand slam title and cement his status as the greatest tennis player of all time?
It’s world number one v world number two. At Wimbledon.
It’s the way it’s meant to be.
Recently, the Pixar animated film ‘Inside Out‘ has received praise the world over. One could be forgiven for thinking it an apt title for the Djokovic – Federer rivalry. The two are lining up for their 40th encounter, and know each other’s game inside out, back to front, like the palm of their hand, all of the above.
Only Djokovic and Nadal have contested more matches (42). Like Djokovic and Nadal’s rivalry, this one is virtually inseparable, Federer ahead 20-19.
Djokovic claimed the last match between the two in straight sets, but as it was on clay (the 2015 Rome Masters Final) don’t read too much into it, grass and clay effectively chalk and cheese.
Perhaps of greater relevance is their record on grass. Interestingly, despite 39 meetings, this is only their third on grass, Federer winning their Wimbledon semi-final bout in 2012, and Djokovic claiming last year’s epic 5 set final on Centre Court.
Something to note is there’s no love lost between the two, their history of on-court spats meaning there’s always a tad more emotion in their encounters. Expect the calm, cool and collected Federer to be a bit more vocal than usual.
There can be no question as to who comes into the match as the form player.
Djokovic has done what champions do, which is win when they’re below their best. As such, Novak’s tournament stats don’t stand out the way Federer’s do.
Perhaps the most effective way to convey their opposing form is through the amount of games they’ve lost so far, Federer losing only 63 while Djokovic has dropped 99.
Where this match gets truly interesting is the serve. While Federer has hit only three more aces than Novak, he sits at an incredible 85% of first serve points won, while Djokovic maintains a respectable 71%.
Having said this, Novak has broken the serve of his opponent at least three times in every match, indicative of his status as the best returner in the game. Federer’s serving has been otherworldly so far (he’s faced one break point for the entire tournament) but it’s against the elastic Serb that Federer will face his biggest test yet. What was once an ace out wide may become a blistering return, something Federer will need no reminding of.
Once into the rally, it’s the backhand that will prove Djokovic’s calling card (more on this in the game plan section). The Serb has hit 49 backhand winners to Federer’s 29, and will waltz his way to victory if backhand to backhand rallies dominate.
THE GAME PLAN
As mentioned before, there aren’t any secrets between these two, and the tactical battle will play out as it has so often throughout the rivalry.
For Federer, it’s all about the serve. Key to his success at Wimbledon over the years is his ability to hit his spots, leaving his opponents frustrated and desperate for a chance to get into Federer’s often quick service games.
Against Murray, Federer served amazingly, putting 76% of his first serves into play, and winning a commendable 55% of points on his second serve, no mean feat against one of the best returners in the game.
But, when serving against Djokovic, it’s not so simple. When returning second serves, Novak is far more aggressive than Murray, standing closer (and sometimes inside) the baseline to receive.
Novak will be hoping for Federer to have an average performance on serve, so the Serb can hit one of his trademark returns (almost exclusively to Federer’s backhand) and get himself in an offensive position from the outset.
Novak will look to attack the Federer backhand at every opportunity and, as previously mentioned, a match decided on the backhand will go to Djokovic nine times out of ten.
For Federer, any second serves he receives will likely be met with a powerful trademark inside out forehand or a deep slice that gives him time to plan his attack.
A cornerstone of any player’s success at Wimbledon is their ability to play at the net.
Federer has made no secret of trying to be the aggressor in his matches, currently standing at 199 net points played throughout the tournament, for a 73% success rate.
Early in the match, look for Federer to come to the net as often as possible. He knows that, even if he doesn’t win the point, he’ll be sending a message to Djokovic, making Novak feel pressured to come up with incredible passing shots rally after rally.
Expect Djokovic to come to the net more often than he has previously, an attempt to prevent Federer from deciding the outcome of points and taking control of the match. He has come to the net 166 times so far in the tournament for a success rate of 70%, so he is far from lacklustre when coming forward.
A tactic often underused against Djokovic (and primed for Federer to explore) is attacking his slice backhand. For all his impenetrability, Novak’s slice is relatively average, and if Federer can keep his slices low and skidding off the grass, Novak may be forced to play his slice backhand instead of his immaculate two handed backhand.
I said of the Federer Murray match that, if both players performed at their peak, it would be Federer who came out on top.
Where I was mistaken was in thinking Federer couldn’t possibly maintain his peak for three sets, as the ability to do so must have passed him by as he nears the age of 34.
The fact he did just that is incredible, and daunting for anyone, even the game’s best player. Novak’s ceiling is higher than Murray’s, but may fall just short of a peaking Federer.
If this match goes to five, Djokovic will take it. If it goes to four, it’s a 50-50, and Federer is more likely than Novak to come through in straights.
It seems the stars are aligning (perhaps for the last time) for Federer, his 2015 Wimbledon campaign eerily similar to his 2012 victory, the last time he tasted grand slam success.
This match will be enthralling, it will be nail-biting, it will be fiery and, hopefully, it will be a classic.
Whatever the case, in the end, it’ll be Federer’s.
PREDICTION – Federer in four.