No Djok(ovic): Federer Finally Challenged

So it finally happened. For the first time since early 2005, something other than the perfect storm (read: Rafael Nadal in Paris in June) finally got the best of Roger Federer in a major.

But it wasn't just that Novak Djokovic knocked off King Roger in Australia. After all, even when Marat Safin (the last guy to pull off the non-Nadal, non-French trick) beat Federer Down Under, he needed five gripping sets and had to fight off a match-point. No, this wasn't just a majority decision against Federer; this was a sixth-round knockout.

The most relevant imagery that hatched out of this upset surrounded not the talent of the Djoker or even the skills of Federer. Instead, what I couldn't get past was how fragile Federer's psyche looked as he plummeted toward defeat.

And this wasn't the first we've seen of this. Federer's temper in his junior days is fairly well-chronicled. But as recently as last summer in his kingdom of Wimbledon, Roger the Impecable showed signs of poor focus. After he got the short end of a player-challenge against Nadal in the final, Federer asked the chair umpire to turn off the replay system.

For those of you unfamiliar with the fine print of tennis' replays, this would be akin to Bill Belichick telling the officials in the Super Bowl to stop checking out the challenge reviews. Needless to say, Federer's request was not anywhere near the realm of the ground rules. On such a great stage, it was unthinkable that such a graceful champion would be unraveled to that degree.

Of course, it's easy to find reasons why someone so dominant would find his most immediate shortcomings between the ears. Federer's unapproachable talent leaves shockingly few matches in which he needs to dig through the rubble of frustration piling up in his brain in order to win. That is one of few categories in which Federer is at a distinct experience disadvantage to his opponents.

Like golf, tennis is a game of great potential frustration. Anyone who has picked up a racquet understands the angst that can come as serve-after-serve sails past the service box or collects harmlessly in the net. Why wouldn't the exact same motion that earned dozens of service points yesterday do the same today? Several smashed racquets later, most of us still never learn the answer to that question.

So what now? Unfortunately, as it always seems to, this year's Aussie Open was a tasty appetizer to a meal that is still months from service. We can't really judge a Federer bounce back at the next major, the French, where he's never won. Instead, all eyes should be on the Swiss Mister in June and July in England.

It's one thing for Nadal to handle Federer at Roland Garros or for Djokovic to pick him off on neutral turf like Melbourne. But not the All England Club. Not the grass courts and respectful crowds at the most famous tournament where Federer seems to simultaneously draw from and build on tennis lore.

When Nadal offered his five-set challenge to Federer at Wimbledon a year ago, we all raised an eyebrow. Now that Djokovic has drawn a gasp from the tennis world with his stunning upset, Federer finally needs to answer a challenge that we've been waiting on for a few years.

The question of whether Federer is the greatest ever has been on the table for a while now. What he does in the next six months to answer this challenge will go a long way in deciding that case.

Comments and Conversation

February 4, 2008


So, Roger is human after all - he doesn’t need all the wondering of where his game is going, he is still the greatest we have seen.
Although, being the true Champion that he is, he would not even refer to his illness as affecting his game, but I am sure that had a lot to do with his stamina level.
He is still My Champion

February 4, 2008


Interesting how when Federer beat Djokovic last year at the US Open, everyone said Federer was lucky to win, since he had several breakpoints against him.

Now that Djokovic finally beat Federer, no one is talking about how “lucky” he was to win, considering he was a break down with Federer serving for the first set and had two set points against him in the third set — not to mention of course Federer’s lack of match practice and loss of six pounds of body weight following the food poisoning.

Instead, we hear ad nauseum about how Djokovic “destroyed” Federer.

If you ask me, Djokovic is the one who should be worried. If a gaunt and lethargic Federer could play two solid sets to almost win both (given his illness, lack of match practice, etc.), imagine what a healthy and fit Federer can do?

Contrary to what most writers want to believe, it was Federer who made a statement at the AO, not Djokovic.

February 4, 2008


Rose-Marie - of course Roger referred to his illness - almost every article quoting him after the match contained his post-match comment saying he was happy he got that far after his pre-tournament illness. He could very well be the greatest ever, but Nadal still could teach him a few things about losing graciously.

February 4, 2008


Yeah I agree…good article.

February 5, 2008


blah blah blah… Federer is so boring and nadal should buy proper underwear and stop pulling it out of his ass on every serve. NOLE RULES! TAKE THAT!

February 6, 2008

Billy K:

Nole is an ugly potato-face loser. Hate his guts.

Federer, Tsonga, Bagdatis

February 7, 2008


“Federer Finally Challenged” is surely an attention grabbing title, but not a correct one.

He has always been challenged since he arrived on the ATP tour. And everytime he overcame the challenge.

First it was the likes of Henman, Nalbandian, Hewitt, and others. They had Roger’s number early on, until he figured out how to beat them. It is one thing to dominate someone from the start. It is another thing to turn around a poor record against someone.

Roger did this again with Nadal. At one time it was a dismal 2-6 or something like that. Rafa more than challenged Roger at two majors for three years. Roger again turned around the head-head to a more respectable 6-8 record.

His #1 was threatened by Rafa several times over the last four years. 2007 Wimbledon was a great example. This year again Roger entered Wimbledon with Rafa having a chance to overtake him. But Roger came through that pressure cooker situation.

This is a new challenge now from Djokovic. We will see if Djokovic maintains this level and if again finds Roger on an off day (nothing against Djokovic who played extremely well).

I think Roger will answer this challenge also.

June 6, 2008


Hasn’t anyone thought of calling this Spanish performer, “THE PICKADOR” ??

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