Thursday, January 28, 2016

Novak And Roger, Again

Roger Federer is the greatest male tennis player ever. Even approaching 35, there is only one person who can make a credible claim to be better right now: Novak Djokovic. The Serbian won 3 of the 4 major tournaments last year, beating Federer in the final at both Wimbledon and the US Open. In fact,    the one Djokovic lost, the French Open, he lost in the final.

Djokovic had to be favored in this their 45th head-to-head meeting, in the Australian Open semifinal. Adding to the drama, each man had won 22 matches. Novak played the part of the alpha dog well, punishing his legendary opponent with ground strokes. When 54 minutes had passed, Djokovic had won the first two sets in the best-of-five, 6-1, and 6-2. The greatest player ever looked old.

But one does not become the greatest ever by acclamation, and the 17-time major champion raised his level of play. He can still reach absurd heights, and Federer won the third set, 6-3.

It was a tense fourth set, with neither man losing serve through 7 games. Federer had a few chances to break Djokovic's serve, but failed. And then, serving at 3-4 and 30-all, Federer waited at the net to hit a ball from Novak that hit the tape atop the net. You could expect balls that hit the tape to fall harmlessly on the same side. Some guys are lucky, and the ball crawls just over the net on the other side, while the helpless opponent watches from the backcourt. This ball hit the tape and jumped past Federer before he could react. Sometimes, when you're lucky and good, the greatest ever can only lament his misfortune.

What we know for sure is that Novak Djokovic is the best in the world right now, on his way to winning 11 major titles of his own. We also know that the great Federer is in no mood for farewell tours, or rocking chairs.

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