Change of Guard: US Open 2011

What happened on Saturday was the final nail in Federer's coffin. I wished truly that I wouldn't be saying this, but after being up two matchpoints, flubbing a simple inside-out pass that hit the net cord, Federer's goose was cooked. In almost identical fashion he went down in the final set after leading 2-0. The world No. 3 ranking seems less of an aberration and more or less fitting. In my opinion his best chance to do something was at this year's US Open. He has missed that, and I would call it curtains for the Federer the Champion. Every subsequent tournament is going be a Second Act for Mr. Roger Federer. It is still true that for the next year or so, Fed will be still head and shoulders above the rest and will decimate them in a very similar fashion in the next few Grand Slams. The real problem is not the new kids on the block, the Dolgopolovs, Soderlings, Tipsarevics, Murrays and other current also-rans but the two men playing in tonight's final.

Rafael Nadal has taken tennis to another level, and Novak Djokovic has shown the  man described as a 'monster' by McEnroe can be vanquished. While my sympathies were with Federer, as a true tennis fan it is a great treat to watch the best two men in tennis battle it out in a few minutes. Federer seemed to have no problems with anybody else on the planet, and then Nadal happened and it seemed that he had some sort of mental block against the man. The lost first set at the French indicated a real issue. Quite interestingly, Nadal seems  to have 'Djokovic' problem. For the longest time Novak has been ranked No.3 and ended up meeting Federer more often. Though in recent times, as he assumed the mantle of World No.1. he's meeting Nadal more often and bested the Spaniard in the last five meetings including the Wimbledon final. Pressure seems nothing to Nadal, it seems to just vanish every time he plays a point. In comparison Djokovic seems more human. On Saturday, when he was two points from losing the match, he found humor and a smile to get back into the match, instead of the fierce glare that is the trademark of the Spaniard. That will certainly help him. At 24, he is in the greatest shape of his life, prepared to run every single ball down. Also, unlike Federer he has no issue with his backhand to combat the mad spin from Nadal's forehand court. It's going to be a great match.

I woudn't write off Nadal too easily. He has shown that he is as hungry as ever, but now he faces pressure from someone who is as relentless and cool as he is. As long as he serves well, neutralizes Nadal's spin, goes after his second serve, Novak should have no problem taking him out. He has been tested in a trying match with Federer and it will be his match to lose after the great run he has had.

My prediction #1: Novak in 4 sets if all goes well.
Prediction #2: Otherwise, whoever wins the first set.

As has been noted, the other modern great - Pete Sampras - didn't win anything for two years before his final US Open triumph. In comparison, Federer seems to be in much better shape. So, I am waiting for the aging champion to show that he still has the stuff. Though, he will need what he credited Novak for winning - luck, and a lot of it if Messrs. Nadal & Djokovic are still in business.

One era of tennis has ended and now it's the beginning of a new rivalry - Nadal and Djokovic. Men's tennis seems to have another new lease of life.


Javed said...

Wow both your predictions were spot on :)

Hirak said...

Yeah, sometimes I get stuff right as well.

It was a very exciting match. I shall post a short piece on some thoughts on the match.