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.
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.
The is in your court.