Can you believe this? I can’t. For the second consecutive year Roger has Djokovic at his mercy in a US Open semi and lets him off the hook. This loss hurt. But in the end it wasn’t the loss itself that hurt me, but the way Roger lost. I didn’t have time to do another post just before the semis, but the fact that Roger played the first semi this year was interesting. Last year Nadal played his semi first, and Roger knew that Nadal was waiting in the final when he stepped on court for his match. Also, this year Nadal was facing Murray, who was obviously a stronger opponent than Youzhny. When I saw Nadal destroy Roddick in the quarters I knew he was back and that Murray would have almost zero chance of beating him. I wondered what effect this would have on Roger, knowing that Nadal would probably make the final again.
But since Roger was playing first, I thought he wouldn’t think that far ahead. Especially after seeing the way he started against Djokovic. JesusFed had showed up again. In the first set there were no breaks of serve as we headed into a tie break. The first set is always important, and Roger held three set points at 6-3. Djokovic held both serves however and Roger dropped serve when serving for the set. But he got the mini break again to take an 8-7 lead and then held serve. Great start. In the second set Roger got the break early on and took a 3-1 lead. Djokovic then broke back and evened things up at 3-3. Again Roger broke to take a 4-3 lead. This time he would hold on to take the second set. It was a decisive moment. Surely Roger would not lose from two sets up. I did expect Djokovic to come back in the third set though.
He had after all lost only one match so far this year, and a straight set win seemed unlikely. And he struck back in Roger’s first service game of the third to take a 2-0 lead. From there on Djokovic held on to his serve to win the third set. It seemed like it would be the French Open semi all over again. I was not worried yet. I knew it is very hard to maintain JesusFed level over three full sets over a quality opponent. But when Djokovic made a ridiculous backhand to break Roger in the first game of the fourth it was early warning signs. I knew Roger was a break down in the fourth set of the French Open semi as well so I still had hope that he could win the set. But when he got broken to trail 1-4 I knew the fourth set was all but over. I just wanted Roger to hold serve at 1-5 so that he at least started serving in the fifth.
He did so and I was still feeling positive in the fifth. Roger looked tired in the third and fourth sets but I also thought it gave him an opportunity to rest for the fifth. That seemed to be the case as he locked back into JesusFed mode in the fifth. The quality of tennis was rising again to what it was in the first and second sets, which was unbelievably high. I mean these guys weren’t holding back. I have said before that JesusFed level is better even than Djokovic 2.0, and that was the case when Roger won the first two sets and in the fifth until Roger got the break to take a 5-3 lead. But JesusFed was about to take another leave of absence. It really looked like Roger was about to complete another epic win in his illustrious career. He went up 40-15 on serve and held two match points. But from here on it all went wrong.
On the first match point Roger served out wide to the Djokovic forehand on his first serve and Djokovic cracked an unbelievable cross court forehand return winner. You just had to applaud and say too good. Djokovic then put up his hands into the air as if to tell the crowd to cheer for him for a change too, since they seemed to be in Roger’s favor all match. This move seemed to unnerve Roger, as he hit an easy forehand low over the net which clipped the net and went out. It was a mental mistake from Roger, but it was also smart from Djokovic to try and make something happen. It was still deuce though, and Roger had a chance to steady himself. Djokovic then had a break point, but Roger responded with an ace. Again Roger has time to steady himself, but Djokovic produced another break point.
Roger then choked as he served a double fault. You just knew it was now all but over. Roger had lost his composure in another huge match and was not going to recover it from there. We have seen it happen many times. Roger lets it slip, and he just doesn’t have the ability to forget about what happened and stay focused. He tamely surrendered serve at 5-5 and at 5-6 he played another lame return game, failing to put any pressure on Djokovic as he served for the match. It was another huge disappointment. How many times have we seen Roger letting a big match slip away from him in the latter part of his career? Many times. But it all really started against his arch rival Nadal, and from there on it started happening more and more. It first happened in the Rome ’06 final when Roger had two match points to beat the beast on his favorite surface.
In the French Open ’07 final Roger wasted many a break point. At the Wimbledon ’08 final Roger had his chances but Nadal got away. Then came a huge match at the Australian ’09 final where Roger had Nadal at his mercy but failed to put him away. At the US Open of ’09 Roger had Del Potro at his mercy in the second set and let him get away. Last year at the US Open Roger was also two match points up against Djokovic but let it slip. At the French Open this year Roger has his chances against Nadal in the first set, but choked. And at Wimbledon this year Roger has Tsonga at his mercy when he lead by two sets to love, yet somehow allowed Tsonga to win that match. But this choke against Djokovic has to be one of the worst. The fact that it was pretty much a carbon copy of what happened last year makes it very hard to swallow.
You know, I was not even very nervous about this match, because I knew it would not be the worst thing if Roger lost. At least that way there would be no possibility of Roger losing in yet another slam final to Nadal. But I guess typical of Roger, he found a way to make it painful for me. It was all about the way he lost. He just had to go waste two match points again. Sickening. This brings me back to what I was getting at right at the start of my post. I just can’t help thinking that a possible meeting with Nadal in the final played on Roger’s mind again. I mean how else do you explain the exact same thing happening as last year? It just seems very suspicious. I think deep down Roger knew he couldn’t beat Nadal in the final and it caused him to choke, even though he wasn’t sure Nadal would make the final yet.
Yes, I think Nadal has scarred him that badly. It is a shame because this was a terrific chance for Roger to win a 17th slam, a 6th US Open, and a slam for a record nine straight years. But not only that, he would have had the chance to finally put the Nadal demon to bed if he beat him in the US Open final. It would have made him the undeniable GOAT once and for all. But some thing are too much to ask. I just think Nadal has gotten into Roger’s head too much over the years and that it is a demon Roger will never quite put to bed. We have to look at the positives now, which are still many. First off Nadal has to face his own demon Djokovic in the final now where Djokovic will be the clear favorite. It is clearly better if Nadal loses to Djokovic in the final rather than beating Roger in the only slam left he hasn’t beaten him in.
At least it preserves Roger’s legacy somewhat and if Nadal loses he will still just be on 10 slams instead of 11. There are many other positives. Roger played much better in the US Open than I expected him to. After Montreal and Cincy I thought he may lose even before the quarters at the US Open. But he had a great win over Cilic, played at JesuFed level against Monaco, and avenged Tsonga in the quarters. He did lose to Djokovic in the end, but for the first two sets and until 5-3 in the fifth he played at JesuFed level again. The loss against Djokovic was not pretty, but he still got within one point of beating the best player this year by far on two occasions. And he did it at age 30. Will Nadal and Djokovic still be making slam semis constantly at age 30? I guess we will have to wait and see. But obviously Roger is still playing at a very high level at age 30.
Yes, Roger missed out on a lot with this loss. I’m not going to deny that. But overall it’s been another consistent year in the slams. He made an average of semis at every slam, which means he is still giving himself chances to win them. Who knows what this loss will do to Roger? But I also know he is not one to dwell on the negative. If he stays positive and keeps working hard he may still be able to win slams in the future. He does still have the game. It is just a question of match ups now. He needs to somehow avoid Nadal in the slams in which he will still have his chances. He showed that he still has the game to beat a player who has only lost one match so far this year. If Nadal was not a factor I am convinced he would have beaten Djokovic and won his 17th slam. But he must play a waiting game now.
It’s not all under his control anymore. The first step will be to wait for Djokovic to beat Nadal in the final. Nadal can’t keep losing to Djokovic in finals without it taking a toll on him. Or else he isn’t human. Nadal’s confidence must eventually take a hit, in which case Roger can capitalize. I am actually quite surprised what Nadal has achieved in this US Open. In Montreal and Cincy it looked like the loss in the Wimby final has gotten to him. But somehow he has gotten his act together in New York and is playing amazingly well again. As I expected, he beat Murray 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. And as was the case the at French Open, the quality of tennis was much lower in the Murray/Nadal semis. In comparison their semi looked like women’s tennis. Where Roger and Djokovic was playing masterful first strike tennis, Nadal and Murray was moonballing and retrieving each other into submission.
The Djokovic/Federer semi was again worthy of a final, and it would only be justice if the winner of it wins the tournament. It would have happened at the French Open, was it not for the fact that it was clay courts and Roger choking in the final. I wasn’t quite sure what effect it would have on Nadal, knowing that he had to face Djokovic in the final. But the fact is Murray is just not on the level of the top three and is no real match for Nadal. Nadal is also not the kind of guy to back away from a challenge. I suspect it would take a lot more to scare him off from facing his fears than it takes to scare Roger. He has always been more of a warrior than Roger. I mean Djokovic has beaten him in five straight finals now, including a slam, and he is showing no signs of backing off. But eventually it must take a toll. So lets hope Djokovic can beat Nadal down again, just to dent his confidence a little more.
That would already be a positive thing for Roger. There is now a very interesting dynamic at the top of the men’s game. Roger clearly has the edge over Djokovic if he is in JesusFed mode, Djokovic pretty much owns Nadal, and Nadal owns Roger. Even though Roger suffered another crushing loss, I am hoping he will remain positive as always and stick around at the top for a while still. That will keep tennis very interesting at the top!
Ps. Before the comments start, I already know there are some people who will say that Roger was not scared to face Nadal at the French Open, so why would he be scared of facing him in the US Open final? The answer is obvious. The French Open is clay and he had already lost three finals to Nadal before this year. In other words there was no pressure to win. The US Open is the only slam where Nadal has not beaten Roger at, and if he lost to Nadal here he would have been completely owned by his main rival and that would not have looked good on his resume at all.
Pps. Whether or not Roger was thinking of a possible final with Nadal is still up for debate. But the fact remains that Roger has been choking a lot of late and Nadal is still responsible for first denting Roger’s confidence. So if he is not directly responsible then he is indirectly responsible.