killer instinct

Federer Defeats Djokovic to Advance to Rogers Cup Final

While it wasn’t quite as dramatic as his match last night against Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer still required three sets to narrowly dispose of Novak Djokovic tonight at the Rogers Cup. Federer defeated Djokovic 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 to advance to the finals where he will meet defending champion Andy Murray.

To say that one player is more deserving of another is perhaps not a fair statement – but in this case Federer was clearly the more consistent player despite the close margin on the scoreboard.

The first set was an embarrassment for Djokovic as he barely looked like a top-hundred player, let alone top five. He kept spraying his forehand long and his backhand into the net while Federer looked like his vintage self. His errors were not just a little off the mark, as his shots were hitting the bottom of the net and about one to two feet long at the baseline. The tennis player inside of me cringed multiple times watching him fumble around the court.

Roger won the first set in a mere 25 minutes, causing one fan to yell out, “That’s the Roger we know!” It certainly does seem like he is starting to round into form.

At the start of the second set the crowd broke into a cheer for the defeated Rafael Nadal who was standing courtside. Other than that outburst it had been fairly quiet on Centre Court with the throng of Serbian fans silenced as their star player slept-walked through the match to that point.

Federer continued to control the match by breaking in the opening game of the set. Djokovic at this stage was even shrugging his shoulders after winning a point. At this stage I could not comprehend how this guy ever hoped to seriously compete for another Grand Slam to add to the one he holds from 2008. There was no evidence of a killer instinct at all from Djokovic.

Things began to change when Djokovic barely held his second service game of the set to avoid going down by two breaks. He chuckled as he walked back to his chair and emerged playing a much different type of tennis. He broke Federer to tie things up at 2-2 and the rallies between the two resembled what you would expect from two high-level players such as these.

The crowd livened up and the chants of “Go Roger” and “Go Nole” became indistinguishable as the fans were clearly divided in their allegiances. Part of me felt sorry that Tomas Berdych could not enjoy any such support last night.

After a 15 minute game that contained 8 deuces, Djokovic would hold for 4-3. As has been so often the case here in Toronto this week, the player who was almost broken then broke his opponents serve and suddenly Novak was up 5-3. He would hold his serve in the next game and even things up at one set apiece.

I said hello to tournament Media and Communications Head Mike Cvitkovic just prior to the start of the third set and asked him his thoughts on the match, to which he replied, “Roger Federer is going to cost me my marriage!” It was certainly starting to look like another long, dramatic evening match at the Rexall Centre.

Instead of falling behind 1-4 tonight in the third, Federer raced out to a 4-1 lead. Later while serving at 4-2, Roger double faulted for 40-A and then a poor drop shot attempt allowed Djokovic to put it away and break serve to get back into the match.

At 5-5 Federer would flirt with disaster by falling behind 15-40 on his serve. Fortunately he could count on Djokovic to continue with his somewhat puzzling inconsistencies and got the game to deuce. A point later at Djokovic’s advantage and the Serb netted a return of serve to negate his third break opportunity. Federer let out an exuberant scream of, “Come on” while Djokovic busted up his racquet for – surprisingly – the first time all night.

At this point I’ve got no idea whatsoever of what will happen next. Isn’t that the beauty of tennis?

The pressure got to Djokovic as he served a 5-6 and after another deuce, two bad backhand errors handed Federer the victory.

When the two player shook hands after the final point, Djokovic appeared to take an extra moment with Roger and share a laugh. Federer was asked in his post-match press conference about these comments and revealed that Djokovic told him that he should have won the match earlier and therefore deserved the victory.Federer had the press room laughing as he followed that up by saying, “I was like, yeah, I kind of agreed!”

Despite the tense nature of his past two wins, Federer is on the cusp of his first tournament title since the Aussie Open in January. One immediate benefit to winning today is the fact that he will leap-frog Djokovic in the rankings and return to a somewhat more familiar position of number two in the world.

The forecast calls for rain and thundershowers on Sunday, but all things being equal we will have the Federer-Murray final beginning at 1:30pm ET.

Murray leads their head-to-head 6-5 although Federer has won all the big-money matches that occurred in tournament finals. Two of those victories were Grand Slam finals when the outcome mattered the most.

Federer revealed the respect he has for his next opponent by stating that Murray was, “…very good at a very young age. I knew that the very first time I played him in Bangkok in the final that he was one who was going to fight for the world No. 1 and for Grand Slam titles.”

Regardless of the outcome, this is the best tennis that both players have shown us in quite some time. In fact the pinnacle of 2010 for Murray and Federer came back at the Australian Open when they met in the final. Both are working hard towards coming full-circle with a potentially strong bookmark ending at Flushing Meadows in two weeks time.

You Have To Step On His Throat

Seventeen years ago today, July 23, one of the great rivalries ever in tennis played out for the last time as Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe played for the 36th and final time in their careers. As excerpted from my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com), Lendl won his sixth straight match against McEnroe 6-2, 6-4 in quarterfinals of the event now known as The Rogers Cup. Lendl’s post-match comments following his win back in 1992 certainly reflected part of the tone of this epic rivalry. The full July 23 chapter is excerpted below…

1992 – In their 36th and final meeting as professionals, Ivan Lendl routs rival John McEnroe 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Canadian Open in Toronto. Says Lendl of McEnroe, “If you have him on the ground on his back, you have to step on his throat. You can’t put out your hand and say come on over here and hit me. You have to concentrate all the time and not give him any chances.” When he was asked what kind of technique he used on McEnroe’s throat, Lendl smiles and replies, “I have spikes in my shoes and I try to twist them as much as I can. That’s the killer instinct.” Lendl wins the all-time series with McEnroe 21-15, including winning the last six meetings and 10 of the last 11.

1984 – Sixteen-year-old Aaron Krickstein becomes the youngest player to win the U.S. Pro Championships, defeating Jose-Luis Clerc 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 in the men’s singles final at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Mass. Clerc leads 3-0 in the final set, before Krickstein rallies for victory.

2000 – The United States is shut out for the first time ever in a Davis Cup series other than a Challenge Round or Final as Juan Carlos Ferrero and Juan Balcells complete a 5-0 shutout of the United States in the Davis Cup semifinal in Santander, Spain. In the final days’ dead-rubber matches, Ferrero defeats Vince Spadea 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, while Balcells defeats Jan-Michael Gambill 1-6, 7-6, 6-4. The shutout loss marks the end of John McEnroe’s short tenure as U.S. Davis Cup captain. In November, McEnroe announces his resignation as U.S. captain after only one year in the position. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, the top two U.S. players, beg off the match with Spain with injuries. McEnroe, distraught with the loss, skips out on the post-match press conference, but  says to Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times in a pool phone interview from his car hours later driving to Bilboa airport,  “I’m totally spent. I’m deflated. It was tough and it was tough for everybody. I feel like I’m going to throw up. I’m not sure if it’s emotional or what, but I’m about to heave.”

2006 – Third-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia captures his first ATP title in his first final at the Dutch Open Tennis in Amersfoort. The 19-year-old does not lose a set at the championship and beats No. 4 seed Nicolas Massu of Chile 7-6(5), 6-4 in 2 hours, 41 minutes in the final.

1996 – The Olympic tennis competition opens in Atlanta with defending men’s singles gold medalist Marc Rosset of Switzerland winning the opening match on Stadium court, defeating Hicham Arazi of Morocco 6-2, 6-3.

2006 – A rookie into the top 10 rankings, James Blake defeats fellow American top tenner Andy Roddick 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) in the final at the RCA Championships at Indianapolis. Says Blake, “This was extremely exciting for me, to play really my best tennis. It’s a little more gratifying to do it when your opponent is playing well. I feel like I’ve earned the No. 5 ranking. It’s crazy what confidence will do. Every break goes against you when you don’t have confidence. And every break goes your way when you do have confidence. I have confidence now and they all seem to be going my way.”

1991 – Michael Chang and Pete Sampras are unceremoniously dumped in the second round of the Canadian Open in Montreal – Chang falling 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-3 to Italy’s Stefano Pescosoliso, while Sampras losing to Japan’s Shuzo Matsuoka 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8)