Djokovic’s Most Clutch Match Wins Over the Years

Since people are still ascribing Djokovic’s US Open victory to Federer’s ‘poor play’ and not to Djokovic’s gigantic mental strength I thought I’d make a list so that people can appreciate a bit better how good the guy actually is in the mental department. The list won’t be in any particular order. I’ll just make a list of matches where I thought he was very good mentally and then I’ll add a poll at the end so you can decide what his most clutch performance was.

  • US Open 2015 Final: Djokovic def Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4

So let me set the record straight once and for all about this match. There is a reason I made a follow-up post to this match called ‘Djokovic’s Remarkable 2015 US Open Final Victory‘, and that reason had nothing to do with blind worship and everything to do with deserving. It was a monumental and defining victory for Djokovic. There is no doubt in my mind about it. He had so much more to battle than a rampant Federer.

But let me just debunk this nonsense that Federer played poorly. You only play as well as your opponent allows you to play. It’s not a random coincidence when you destroy everyone in straight sets and then lose to someone. You would have thought Fedfans would realize that after it happened twice over the course of a couple of months. First at Wimbledon and then in New York. On both occasions, Federer was absolutely in the zone before playing Djokovic.

And yet on neither occasion he could force a deciding set against Djokovic. It is not because Federer played badly on both occasions all of a sudden when he faced Djokovic. It is because Djokovic is that good. But to people who are truly biased repeating something a million times or writing it in bold script won’t make the least difference. Their minds are already made up and they will never see the light.

But to the more rational among us let me reiterate. Djokovic not only played against a rampant Federer who was playing some of the best tennis of his career from the Wimbledon semi-finals onward but against a rabid pro-Federer crowd, a poor finals history in New York(1-4), and the controversial SABR tactic from Federer. I couldn’t care less how he got the victory. Any victory in that situation is simply the stuff of legend.

He battled immense odds and was victorious. Federer, on the other hand, did just the opposite. With the ideal opportunity to bag that elusive #18, he could not take advantage of his trump card the SABR, a clearly very nervous Djokovic, 19 break points, and the most rabid crowd he will ever have on his side. If that isn’t flat out choking, I don’t know what is. It is also the reason his main rival owns him and why he can never be the undisputed GOAT.

Djokovic, on the other hand, can become the undisputed GOAT exactly because he wins matches like these.

  • US Open 2010 Semi-Final: Djokovic def Federer 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5

This was another extremely clutch win in a big match for Djokovic and another one of those career-defining matches for Djokovic. This was even before Djokovic 2.0 and probably one of the results that propelled him into another version of himself. His serve was still a bit of a liability back then after Todd Martin had messed with it, but it was good enough to get the win. Djokovic saved two match points at 4-5 and 15-40 in the fifth set on his serve with amazing offensive tennis.

On both points, he was playing full-blown offensive tennis which ended in winners. That took some serious balls. Then in the next game Federer choked again as he dropped serve and Djokovic served out the match at 6-5. Same as the 2015 final, Federer could not take advantage of his opportunities. He had Djokovic on the verge but failed to bring the hammer down and Djokovic capitalized.

  • US Open 2011 Semi-Final: Djokovic def Federer 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5

Incredibly, in the following year Djokovic and Federer met each other at the same stage of the US Open and it was almost a carbon copy of what happened the year before. Again Djokovic saved two match points to win the match but this time he was down 15-40 and 3-5 in the fifth set on Federer’s serve, not his own serve. This Djokovic was more confident than the one from the previous year after already picking up two slam titles in 2011.

On the first match point, he slapped a forehand return winner off a first serve from Federer. A kind of all or nothing shot since the match was pretty much over. He was so confident at that point too that it was not all that surprising he pulled it off. He also had the presence of mind to milk the crowd for it. Federer is so used to crowds worshiping him that he probably didn’t enjoy it much when the crowd went wild.

Federer had another match point, though. And again he choked. Djokovic basically just had to make the return and Federer came up with the unforced error. He also served a double fault on break point. What a collapse. Federer’s mental fragility had been exposed once more, Djokovic said thank you, and broke to 15 at 5-5 and served out the match. It was another very clutch performance from Djokovic although some have called it luck.

But if it takes one ‘lucky’ shot for Federer to collapse from 5-3 and 40-15 in the deciding set than it doesn’t say much about Federer, does it? I think it was just sheer confidence and a nothing-to-lose attitude which defeated Federer that day. You could also tell in the post-match interview just how crushed Federer was by this loss judging from his bitter comments. It was another huge win for Djokovic that lead to his first US Open title.

  • Wimbledon 2014 Final: Djokovic def Federer 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4

Well, these two sure had some epic matches and this one was no exception. After losing the first set, Djokovic had stormed back in the match to win the next two sets and went up 5-2 in the fourth set. It seemed like the match was over, but Federer fought back bravely for once to force a deciding set. Djokovic was in danger of losing a golden opportunity to win his second Wimbledon title and his fourth consecutive slam final.

But in the fifth set he showed immense mental strength and calm to once again silence the pro-Federer crowd. He broke Federer at 5-4 in the fifth set for a very crucial Wimbledon title after losing in yet another slam final to Nadal at the French Open. Things had reached the point of desperation for Djokovic in slam finals and this was another defining win for him which resulted in a run of four slam titles out of six slams.

  • Australian Open 2012 Final: Djokovic def Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5

This was of course the longest slam final in history at 5 h 53 min in which Djokovic was a break down in the deciding set before coming back to win his third Australian Open title and third consecutive slam final against Nadal. It was a true epic where both men’s physical and mental reserves would be tested to the absolute limit. Nadal is in my opinion mentally the strongest player in history and physically he is right up there too.

He was in desperate trouble in the fourth set not unlike he was in the third set against Federer in the 2009 final but found a way to win it and then even broke Djokovic to go up 4-2 in the fifth set. It was at this point that Nadal made the biggest choke of his career which showed that even the most clutch player in history is not immune to someone getting inside their head. That is what six consecutive final losses to a player will do to you.

So although Nadal choked big time Djokovic had still caused that choke by beating Nadal in six consecutive big finals. And of course, he still had to show great physical and mental resilience to get the job done. Nadal never goes away and he never gives up. He is just unbelievably hard to put away when he is playing well. This was a third consecutive slam title for Djokovic as well and he only barely missed out on the Djokovic slam when he lost to Nadal in the 2012 French Open final under controversial circumstances.

  • Australian Open 2013 Rd 4: Djokovic def Wawrinka 6-1, 5-7, 4-6, 7-6, 12-10

In another absolute epic which lasted more than five hours Djokovic and Wawrinka matched each other stroke for stroke deep into the fifth set until Djokovic finally won one of the best match points of all time to win this classic. These two have produced some classic five-setters over the years including the 2013 US Open semi-final and the 2014 Australian Open quarterfinal, but this one takes the cake.

It was obviously a very important match for Djokovic to win or he would have gone 2013 without a slam title. He showed great physical and mental resilience again to withstand a brutal barrage of groundstrokes from the Stanimal and come out on top. That final point where he was stretched to the limits and then hitting the angled backhand crosscourt pass summed it up nicely.

  • In Closing

I think I’ll leave it there. Honorable mentions include the 2012 Australian Open semi against Murray, the 2012 US Open semi against Stan, and the 2015 French Open semi against Murray. Let me know if you can think of any others. I’m sure there are quite a few I’ve missed as I didn’t look at much before 2011 and outside of the big four rivalries. Below you can see the recent fifth-set records of all time greats where you have Nadal and Djokovic very high up.

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Not so much Federer. Djokovic is clearly one of the best in the mental department in history and although he has also suffered some devasting losses in his career where he choked badly, most notably in the 2013 French Open semi-final against Nadal, he always came back stronger from those losses.I never imagined he would attain his current level of dominance again after all those slam losses from 2012-14.

He came back stronger from adversity and is primed to make a serious assault on Federer’s GOAT claim in the next few years.

What was Djokovic's most clutch match win?

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Djokovic, the Best or Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Federer?

There is about a week left now until the ATP 500 events in Beijing and Tokyo begin with two more ATP 250 events coming this week in Kuala Lumpur and Shenzhen. For me personally there is not much that interests me there. So I will continue my recent posting which have produced some great discussions and helped pass the time until Beijing and Tokyo when some of the top four will be back.

I see Stan will be in Tokyo while Djokovic and Nadal will be in Beijing. It’s gonna be interesting to see what happens with Nadal toward the end of the season. He will no doubt want to end the year strongly and get some confidence going for 2016. I’m sure he will make the World Tour Finals which will be his main goal. But it will be interesting to see who claims his scalp in Beijing as well. Hopefully, he goes deep enough to play Djokovic.

  • Why Djokovic is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Federer

Ok so let’s get to today’s post. The reason that Djokovic is the best thing that ever happened to Federer is because he defeated Nadal in three straight slams finals from 2011-12 at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. Had he not done so Nadal would currently be on 17 slams and the GOAT. So not only does Federer owe Djokovic a huge thank you  but so does the tennis world. What kind of a GOAT would a one-dimensional baseline retriever be?

An absolute disgrace to tennis, that’s what. I make no secret of the fact that I hate Nadal with a passion. In fact, despise would be a more accurate word. Not as a person in private of course. I don’t know him personally. But as a tennis player and what he brings to the tennis court I can’t stand. So one of the big reasons I like Djokovic is simply because he did something Federer could never do, which was to defeat Nadal in three consecutive slam finals across three different surfaces.

That was one of the most beautiful sights I ever saw in tennis and I have a deep appreciation for Djokovic because of that. But not only that, he also defeated Nadal in four Masters finals including two on clay for a run of seven consecutive beatings in big finals. Incredible. Just flat out abuse. Not even Nadal could do that to Federer. The one that was particularly pleasing was the Australian Open final in 2012 where Djokovic won after being a break down in the fifth set.

By that time Djokovic was so deep in Nadal’s head that Nadal missed an absolute sitter after he broke Djokovic in the fifth set which allowed Djokovic to break right back. By the time Wimbledon came around in 2012 Nadal was such a mess that he lost to Rosol in the second round and took seven months off from tennis. He did defeat Djokovic in the French Open final that year, but only after he lost the momentum and madly started complaining to the umpire to stop the match for rain.

Then of course in 2013 Nadal made a ‘miraculous’ comeback where he turned the head-to-head around with Djokovic and gave him some very tough losses. But in the end Djokovic would have the last laugh when he buried Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in the 2015 French Open quarterfinals. The monster had at long last been slain to the point where he may never recover. Djokovic had single-handedly defeated the monster and saved Federer and tennis.

Some delusional fanboys like Mcenroe and Agassi had already proclaimed Nadal the GOAT. Imagine how many people would have joined them had Djokovic not defeated Nadal in those three straight slam finals. Even I would have had to admit they had a point because the head-to-head with Federer would have given Nadal an edge. But then Federer also had other things like World Tour Finals titles, weeks at #1, and dominance which Nadal did not have.

  • Why Djokovic is the Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Federer

So I think I’ve made it pretty clear why Djokovic is the best thing that ever happened to Federer. If he did not defeat Nadal in those three straight slams finals Nadal would currently be on 17 slams and the GOAT in the mind of most experts. Federer, therefore, has his GOAT claim thanks to a great extent to Djokovic. So why would Djokovic be the worst thing to ever happen to Federer? Simply because he may surpass Federer himself.

After winning his tenth slam at the US Open this year I don’t think there are many people who doubt that possibility anymore. After Djokovic hit his prime in 2011 it looked like he would dominate utterly for the next few years, but Fedal was still a strong force back then and especially Nadal stopped Djokovic from completely dominating. The loss he gave Djokovic in the 2013 French Open semi-finals had a big impact on Djokovic.

I believe that loss possibly cost Djokovic the next four slam titles. For a long time, he struggled to get over that loss but once he did he resumed almost complete domination. Asked about the fact that he didn’t win more slams during the 2012-14 period he simply said that everything happens for a reason. And although that might sound fantastical to pessimists he hired Becker due to those struggles which turned out to be a hugely successful partnership.

Becker was exactly what Djokovic needed in the long term to improve his offense and help with longevity, so all of a sudden Djokovic’s claim that everything happens for a reason doesn’t sound so fantastical. I personally believe that everything happens for a reason and that whatever happens ultimately works toward our own good. But we need to learn the lessons that need to be learned so we can make progress.

And that’s what Djokovic did. Now he is in a great position to overtake Federer even. A lot of people think Djokovic needed to win more slams from 2012-14 to have a chance of catching Federer, failing to see the good that came out of that ‘failed’ period. Djokovic is now as dominant as he was in 2011, but he is now a smarter and more mature player. He is now in a better position to keep that domination up.

And the field is more exploitable at the same time. A big part of greatness is just endurance. Djokovic endured the era where Fedal was still in their prime without allowing it to break him. The disappointments only served to strengthen his resolve and make him better. His peak had to be delayed because of those two titans of tennis, but now that he has arrived he looks primed to become the greatest tennis player of all time.

  • In Closing

So yesterday I got one of those weird/funny comments from a Fedfan claiming I am not marriage material and that I am not successful because I don’t support Federer anymore and that I must delete them from my subscriber list. And while I understand their disappointment that I don’t praise their hero 24/7 anymore to some extent I find such comments unnecessary. And I’ll tell you why.

I have always said that my blog is first and foremost a tennis blog and not a blog about any specific player. Since Federer could not protect his own legacy and Djokovic did it for him, does he really deserve to be the GOAT? We all know there is no way in hell he could do to Nadal what Djokovic did to Nadal in 2011-12. So the only reason he is still considered the GOAT is thanks to Djokovic. Of course, the hardcore Fedfanatics have no problem at all with that.

As long as their man is the GOAT they don’t care about the means. So when I as an objective tennis analyst point out things like I just did they have to get personal. To me, that sounds like someone who is not marriage material and unsuccessful. I am simply being honest and realistic, the way I always have, but fanatics don’t care about that. They just want me to put their hero in the best possible light at all times.

Sep 13, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Novak Djokovic (SRB) at the trophy presentation with Roger Federer (SUI) after the men's singles final on day fourteen of the 2015 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports - RTSXRF

I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. You may want to try PeRFect Tennis Blog for that. I have to point out the fact that if you have to depend on someone else who, by the way, you haven’t exactly always treated in a very friendly manner over the years, to protect your GOAT claim then your GOAT claim is not that convincing to begin with. The point is that if Djokovic catches Federer from here on he would deserve to be the GOAT.

He is the one who did what Federer couldn’t do. But he is also collecting the numbers that Federer has. The dominance, the weeks at #1, the World Tour Finals titles, the Masters Series titles, all without the damaging flaw of his main rival owning him. He may well end with a positive head-to-head against both Federer and Nadal. Yes, he still needs to win the French Open and several other slams, but it is very likely that he will.

There is no one who poses a serious threat to his dominance in the foreseeable future. He is still very much in his peak. In fact, he may just have hit his peak after his prime started in 2011. For those people who claim I am a glory hunter, I would point out that I was already supporting Djokovic before the 2015 Wimbledon final. I wanted him to win but thought he would lose. The same thing goes for the US Open final.

Nole-Nadal

And even at this point it is still far from a certainty that Djokovic will catch or surpass Federer. Personally, I think the glory hunters are the ones who are supporting Federer and hoping he wins that elusive 18th slam title so they can move on with their lives. They are hoping that in doing so Federer will be the undisputed GOAT but, unfortunately for them the head-to-head flaw against Nadal will never go away.

If Djokovic does not catch up with Federer and Nadal does not win any more slams then a lot of people will consider Federer to be the GOAT. And although GOAT is something subjective, I would have to concede then that Federer has a very strong case in that case. But if Djokovic wins the French and ends up with 15 slams I already said that he would be right up there with Federer if not ahead of him, simply because Federer was owned by his main rival.

So yes, Djokovic is the best thing that ever happened to Federer in the sense that Federer is currently considered the GOAT by many because of what Djokovic did to Nadal, but he could also be the worst thing that happened to Federer in the sense that he could surpass Federer in the GOAT debate himself. So what will it be?

Is Djokovic the best or worst thing that ever happened to Federer?

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Is Federer Really Better Now Than He Was In His Peak Years?

This is a topic which has come up quite a lot of late and in this post I will attempt to settle it once and for all. We will probably never reach a point where everyone agrees because opinions differ and it’s not that easy to answer, but I think there is data available and it is worth an attempt. I believe Federer is currently playing some of the best tennis of his career and if not better than in his peak years then at least as well.

  • Federer is Better Now by His Own Admission

“I think I’m a better player now than when I was at 24 because I’ve practised for another 10 years and I’ve got 10 years more experience,” Federer said. “Maybe I don’t have the confidence level that I had at 24 when I was winning 40 matches in a row, but I feel like I hit a bigger serve, my backhand is better, my forehand is still as good as it’s ever been, I volley better than I have in the past. I think I’ve had to adapt to a new generation of players again.”

Source

I think Federer’s own opinion is a good starting point. Who would know better than the man himself, right? Yes, Federer likes to sound positive and confident and he’s not going to say he is playing worse now. That doesn’t make his statement automatically false, however. He may truly believe that he is now a better player. This statement was made right before Cincinnati this year by the way.

afp-no-end-in-sight-for-federer-after-us-open-romp (1)

And I think anyone who watched him destroy Murray in the Wimbledon semis would agree that it was as good as Federer has ever played. Just a complete masterclass which gave Murray no chance whatsoever. It’s not that Murray played poorly. He just got destroyed by the far superior grass courter. The same can be said for the final where Federer was routined in the third and fourth sets by the superior grass courter Djokovic.

The opinion was that Federer had peaked early and that he didn’t play as well in the final, but at the US Open the same thing happened against Djokovic in the final and I don’t think there should be much doubt left that Djokovic is just a better player. The fact is Federer played incredibly well from the Wimbledon semi-final onward all the way through to the conclusion of the US Open. He didn’t lose a single set throughout Cincinnati or in the run-up to the US Open final.

He also lost his serve only twice during that entire period.

  • Federer US Open 2015 vs Federer US Open 2007

Now let’s compare that with how Federer fared over the same stretch in 2007. He was 26 back then not 24 but still in what was considered to be his peak years from 2004-07. In Cincinnati in 2007 he dropped sets against Almagro and Hewitt before defeating Blake in the final. At the US Open in 2007 he dropped sets against Lopez and Isner before defeating Djokovic 7-6(4), 7-6(2), 6-4 in the final.

And although I don’t have the stats for how many times his serve got broken it is at least twice but probably many times more. You can also see he played Isner and Djokovic the same as this year which provides us with a good comparison. Against Isner, he dropped the first set in a tie-break whereas this year he straight-setted him. Against Djokovic, on the other hand, he won in straight sets.

But there is a whole host of things that need to be taken into account about this result. First, it was Djokovic’s first slam final at age 20. Second, he was serving for the first set at 6-5 and 40-0 and had four set points. He was also up 4-1 in the second set and had another two set points at 6-5 and 40-15 on Federer’s serve this time. Federer served an ace on the first set point and on the second Djokovic missed a nervous forehand long.

It is no wonder then that he defeated Federer in the final this year after 8 more years of experience and 17 more slam finals under his belt. He had also defeated Federer in the Canada Masters final that year so we can hardly conclude that Federer is not as good as he used to be because he lost to Djokovic in the US Open final. It would be more accurate to conclude that Djokovic is a much better player now which is why he won.

  • My Conclusion

I think in the stretch from the Wimbledon semi-finals to the US Open final this year Federer played as well as ever. I don’t mean to propose that he is playing as consistently well as he did in 2006 which was arguably his peak year. In 2007, he was already on the downslope of his peak but he still won the World Tour Finals that year where he destroyed his nemesis Nadal 6-4, 6-1. He was still playing very close to his peak level.

Many people made the argument that Federer’s forehand is not what it used to be and that he lost a step and, therefore, is playing well below his peak, failing to mention that he changed racquets and coaches to improve other areas of his game. His forehand may have lost some pop(although he is still spanking it hard of late if you ask me) but his backhand and serve improved in the process. And so has his net game.

As far as the movement or stamina is concerned he is still moving awfully well for his age and I don’t see how stamina is going to play a role when you win everything in straight sets. You don’t decline that much physically in your thirties. I think people are making a much bigger deal of physical decline than it is and that most of it are flat out excuses. Last year Federer got tired because he didn’t schedule properly.

This year there were no such issues. I myself am astounded by how well Federer is still playing. To make two consecutive slam finals at 34 and playing as well as he is is something I did not necessarily expect. He destroyed everyone in the field but Djokovic, and that includes two of the best players right now Murray and Wawrinka. I thought he would win both Wimbledon and the US Open, but Djokovic is a monster.

usa-today-8778514.0

You have Federer and then the rest of the field exactly the way it was in his prime, with him utterly dominating the field. The only difference is that now Djokovic is even above him. That is, of course, difficult for many Fedfans to accept because it was always believed that Federer is the GOAT and that his peak is higher than anyone else’s. The problem with that is that if Federer won Wimbledon and the US Open they would probably have agreed that Federer is playing as well as ever.

If not better. The difference is that the competition has caught up. Djokovic is not the inexperienced 20-year old who is playing his first slam final anymore. He is already a legend of the game who is playing at an unbelievably high level. He’s got all the angles covered. The mental strength, the physical strength, and the technical aspect. He can do it all. A kind of tennis superman. Even the great Federer does not have the answers.

That is just where we are right now in tennis folks. Djokovic came up in the toughest of conditions with the two most dominant tennis players in history and because of it, he evolved into something unheard of. He learned from both, combined their strengths, and evolved into something better than either. Yes, I do believe Federer is right now playing as well as ever. He is simply losing to the upgraded version of tennis greatness.

  • What is Next for Federer?

Federer turns 35 next year so time is not on his side, but his tennis to me looks as good as ever. Therefore, you can’t count him out for another slam title but it is not on his racquet anymore. Djokovic is now better and he’d have to avoid him to win another slam. Nadal will no doubt make a comeback at some point next year as well. Possibly around the clay court season. That is not a great time for Federer.

Clearly the faster slam surfaces favor Federer these days and it’s very unlikely that he will win the Australian Open or French Open. So if Nadal is back for Wimbledon and the US Open that is bad news for him. Even a mediocre version of Nadal can give Federer serious trouble. He is that deep in his head. And Djokovic is not far behind these days. With Nadal’s ranking outside the top four these days, he can also meet Federer at quarterfinal stages of slams.

If there is one thing that makes Nadal confident it is stepping on the court with Federer and a win over the world #2 could go a long way toward restoring some of his confidence. Then you have Stan and Murray who is dangerous for Federer at the slower slams as well. With Nadal almost completely out of the picture I thought Federer should have made one of the slam finals he made count. Especially at the US Open where he had a distinct advantage with the crowd.

Mcc0062239 . Daily Telegraph DT News Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer in the Men's Finals . Wimbledon on Day 13 of England's premier Tennis tournament at Wimbledon . London 11 July 2015

From here on it will only get more difficult. Nadal is so much in Federer’s head that even him making deep runs in big events is enough to unnerve Federer. 2016 should be another very interesting tennis season anyway and probably the last year where Federer still has an outside chance of winning a slam. It will be interesting to see how long he can keep up his current level as well. It will be hard and the clock is ticking all the time.

He needs to have a good indoor season to get some confidence going for 2016. If he keeps losing to Djokovic at the Masters and World Tour Finals that won’t be good news for him. He needs to salvage at least another Masters but preferably the World Tour Finals after the missed opportunities in slams this year. Otherwise, he will lose even more confidence. Can’t wait to find out how it plays out!

Ps. If the Djokovic of today played Federer in that 2007 US Open final I think he would have defeated him probably even easier than he did this year. Think about it. All those wasted chances from Djokovic and he is a much better player now. In fact, he may well have destroyed the 2007 version of Federer.

Thoughts? Opinions? Facts?

The is in your court.