Monday, July 7, 2014

What next for Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer?

Today's Wimbledon final was a big match for both players, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Djokovic's last Grand Slam title was from the last year's Australian Open. After that, he has always been beaten in slams by the eventual champions, and he didn't seem to play his best tennis in those matches. Most recently, he lost the French Open final to Rafael Nadal after winning the first set. The question was if he could finally play his best game in a Grand Slam final and win it.

Federer won his last Grand Slam title at Wimbledon two years ago, which made him again the World No. 1. But 2013 was a bad year for him, for the first time since 2003, he fell out of the top 4, he won only one title, and his Wimbledon title defense ended on the second round ending his streak of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals. His 2014 season with a new racquet and a new coach Stefan Edberg had started much better; he was fourth in the Race to London ranking and now he was playing in his first Grand Slam final in two years, at the mature age of 32. Could he win it and surpass Pete Sampras in Wimbledon titles as well as get one further Grand Slam title away from Rafael Nadal.

Well, Djokovic won the final in five sets. He was the better player most of the match. Federer took the first set to tiebreak and won it but Djokovic won the next two. Djokovic was up a break in the fourth set and serving for the championship but then Federer broke back, his first break in the match. In the following game, Djokovic had a match point in Federer's serve but Federer could hold his serve and broke Djokovic's serve in the following game to take the match to the fifth set. At this point, it seemed like Federer was the better player on court. But Djokovic could hold his serves, and nerves, and at 5-4, he broke Federer's serve to win the championship.

But what to expect from these players in the future? It is somewhat surprising that Djokovic won his second Wimbledon title before his second US Open title as grass is considered as his worst surface and hardcourt as his best. The higher number of excellent hard-courters compared to excellent grass-courters explains that, as well as today's Wimbledon playing more like a fast hard court where you don't necessarily need special grass skills. Still, despite the US Open not being his most successful tournament, he is now my favourite for that title. He is the best hardcourt player on the tour. Hopefully now after ending the Grand Slam drought at Wimbledon, he has more mental strength in big points, what he has lacked so often at slams in the last two years. And as he is very unlikely to reach Federer in Grand Slam title count, or even another great of this era, Nadal, his biggest aim must be to complete the career Grand Slam at the French Open. I wrote about his chances to win the French Open in the last month, and now all I can add to it is that at least next year he won't have the pressure of winning no Grand Slam titles in the previous 17 months.

Then, what to expect from Federer? I am afraid this was his last big chance to win a slam. He is playing an excellent year, he will be the World No. 3 on Monday, ahead of Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka. But I am afraid it is not anymore in his racquet. Djokovic is now better than Federer on grass. Nadal is better, at least on clay and hard courts. I think also Wawrinka is very dangerous, he beat Federer on Monte Carlo's clay and I believe he can play on a higher level also on hard courts. And there are dangerous players like Nishikori and Gulbis. As well as Roger is playing, he played better in 2012 when he won his last slam. In 2012, he routined Djokovic in the Wimbledon semifinal, today he lost to him. Although I don't rate Djokovic even close to peak Federer as a grass-courter, I must say he is now better on grass than Federer, today's match showed that. And if Murray can find his old form, I think he could also be better than Federer on grass. All in all, I am afraid the days are over when Federer could outplay the opposition to win a slam. Even on his beloved grass, there are now players that can play better than him. Now he needs some luck to win a slam, he needs others underperforming. Outside grass, that is very difficult, there are too many players that can beat him. On grass, a slam might be possible, there aren't so many excellent grass-courters. But there is only one slam on grass, and every year Federer is one year older and has declined more. I see it very hard for Federer to win another slam. Maybe the chance to surpass Sampras in Wimbledon titles motivates him to fight against decline to win one more Wimbledon title. But I am afraid Wimbledon 2012 will remain as his last Grand Slam title. Today he had a chance to win yet another but he couldn't do it. It won't be any easier in the future, just harder.

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