US Open Final Novak Djokovic Defeats Roger Federer Head Trumps the Heart
The heart said, and with such conviction many people listened, the 2015 US champion would be Roger Federer. The 34 year old veteran going for his 18th slam. The all-time great in the form of his life making the US Open final for the first time since 2009 and for the first time getting there without dropping a set. The player with the beautiful game, a timeless one, a heart-winning one.
The head said, with its usual matter of factness, Novak Djokovic. The world no. 1 who had beaten Federer in the last two Wimbledon finals. The player who had struggled in the best of three lead ups in Montréal and Cincinnati, but was a different beast in best of five and who raised his game better than anyone in the crucial matches and, crucially, against Federer. The player who was simply a terrible match up for the Swiss in a night match at the Open after rainy conditions, whose solid baseline game, whose athletic defence would ask one question too many of the Swiss’ attacking game, would pose one too many passing shots, one too many deep returns.
In the early stages of the match, the head looked like it would trump the heart with a royal flush. Federer needed to win the first set of the final, preferably the first two, if he stood a chance of winning his sixth US Open title, and an early break for Djokovic giving the Serb a 2-1 lead was the worst possible start, and seemed a foreboding sign. The Federer serve had only been broken twice in the Swiss’ past thirteen matches, in the same set to Phillip Kohlschreiber, in the third round, and his biggest weapon had to be at its best to negate his rival’s greatest strength, his return. If it was failing so early in the match how would it do in the tougher moments to come?
Hearts did not sink for long, though. In the next game, Djokovic, running down a volley, slipped, fell and bled on his elbow. The shaken Serb duly lost his serve and the match was even again.
The top seed’s loss of focus was short lived. Djokovic would not drop serve again that set and leading 5-4 he broke Federer to take the first set 6-4.
Federer, a set down, did not lose heart, however. The Swiss pursued with his attacking strategy and at 5-4 up in the second, his bravery was rewarded with a set point. The crowd, as pro a player for Federer as ever seen in a slam final not involving a home hope, had their hearts in their mouths when Federer made his way to the net, had Djokovic out of position, a forehand volley on his racket and an open court for the taking yet somehow missed.
Djokovic held serve, but Federer did not lose his momentum, created another set point chance at 6-5 returning, and this time he took it, his roar to the crowd as passionate as their own.
The heart might be right this time, we thought, as Federer’s net game continued to pay off deep into the third set. It really did seem that Federer’s lead-in form, and his style of play was actually good enough to beat Djokovic, that perhaps the heart had been speaking for the head, too, all along.
Djokovic, though, is not without heart himself, and he listened to his, and the few in the crowd beating for him. Tied at a set apiece in a slam final is no new territory for him – he experienced it in all three of the previous four slam finals he had won (Wimbledon ’14, ’15, Australian Open ’15) – it is a situation in which he excels, in which he has proven to have the most heart of them all.
A set all, deep in the third is when Djokovic digs deep inside of himself, stays strong when a point here or there decides matters. He faced many threatening points too, points that could have decided things in favour of the Swiss – Federer held five of his 23 break points in that third set, converting just one while Djokovic converted both break points he held(the Swiss ended the match with a 17% break point conversion rate (4/23) compared to Djokovic’s 46 (6/13). Djokovic just did not give in to the pressure. Instead he did what he does best – he fought, stayed steady and took his big chance when it came, playing the big points better, breaking Federer at 5-4 to take the third set 6-4.
In the fourth set, Djokovic, as we all knew he would likely do, pulled away from the Swiss, having broken his will once more, breaking early, and then again, for a 5-2 lead. The Serbian faltered though as Federer moved up a gear, taking on the net and the game’s best tracker and passing shot striker, breaking back and then holding for 4-5 to the backdrop of the passionate celebrations of the majority of the 23, 000 crowd. A crowd whose hearts ached at Federer’s lack of recent slam trophies enough to shout out between Djokovic serves, mid serves even, in their quest to get their heart’s desires, an 18th slam for Federer.
But those hearts were not out there on the court- Djokovic’s was. A heart that had its own desire, the desire to win a tenth slam, a second US Open crown. A heart that had been broken in four US Open finals already as he held aloft runner up plates, and what gets the heart desiring more than the things it cannot have, or even worse the things we can have but have been unable to get.
Djokovic was able to get what he desired now, and his head calm, his heart strong, his knowledge that one ball back too many would break his opponent, the world no.1 got to work, and the heart that wanted that tenth slam so very much, and the head that knew how to get it, proved to be in sync. The Serbian converted championship point and won himself his third slam trophy of the season 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
When Djokovic talked of how it felt to beat an all-time great in the final and held aloft the trophy with a huge grin full of pride, his love of the game there for all to see, the hearts of millions of the Serb’s fans worldwide were content, and a few in the crowd, must have been won over.
It will be a while before all of them are, perhaps not until Federer is retired and Djokovic plays the role of the fighting vet. But the crowds better get used to more hurt because Djokovic’s heart is huge and our heads say there are more heart breaking wins to come yet.
Commentary by Christian Deverille.
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