Saturday, July 05, 2014

Why Roger Federer will win with Novak Djokovic on Sunday

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic both won their semifinal matches on Friday to set up an epic Wimbledon final. For The Win previews Sunday’s match, which could bring Federer his record-setting eighth Wimbledon championship or give Djokovic his second title at the All England Club.

1. The series between Federer and Djokovic is as close as can be.

Sunday will be the 35th meeting between Federer and Djokovic, which ties them for third all-time. (Djokovic’s rivalry with Rafael Nadal is the most frequent rivalry in men’s tennis, with 42 meetings.)

Who’s gotten the better of whom? It depends how you break it down. Federer has an 18-16 overall advantage in their 34 matches, but Djokovic has taken 11 of their 20 matches this decade. Federer leads 6-5 in Grand Slams, though Djokovic has won four of the past six. Djokovic leads 5-4 when they meet in finals, though Federer has him 1-0 in Grand Slam finals. They’ve only played once on grass, with Federer winning their 2012 Wimbledon semifinal en route to his most recent Grand Slam victory.

2. Despite one of them playing in 36 of the past 43 Grand Slam finals, Federer and Djokovic have played for a major just once.

Of all the stats about the Fed-Djoko rivalry, this is most interesting: Either Federer or Djokovic have played in all but seven Grand Slams finals since 2004. Remarkably though, they’ve only played each once, in the 2007 U.S. Open final. That was Djokovic’s first appearance in a major final, back when he was regarded as a young, talented player with fitness issues. Federer won in straight sets.

3. Federer is playing better at Wimbledon 2014.

If you’re only going by each player’s six matches leading into the final, Federer is playing better tennis at the moment. He’s been broken once in six matches. He weathered an early storm against Wawrinka and got his Swiss pal into long rallies before setting down-the-line winners. Against Raonic, Federer bided his time and let the inexperienced Canadian make his own mistakes. While Raonic, Djokovic and Dimitrov were slipping all over the court, Federer was gracefully stepping over the patchy baseline grass on Centre Court. The problems he’s had over the past two years with converting break point are a distant memory.

Djokovic has limped to the finish line in a few matches. He battles periods of self doubt in matches he should easily win. There was an odd dip on Saturday against Grigor Dimitrov and an even more bizarre drought in a quarterfinal win over Marin Cilic. At times, Djokovic will turn it on and make you wonder how anyone could ever beat him. Ten minutes later, he’ll go through a stretch where you wonder how he ever wins.

4. Djokovic has lost five of his last six Grand Slam finals.

Djokovic won four straight finals from the 2011 Australian Open to the 2012 Australian Open. Now he’s in a deep final funk. It’s part of the reason he brought in Boris Becker, a player with a completely different playing style, but one who had the mental game to win the big points against Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg and the top players of his day.

It wasn’t always this way. Djokovic was 5-2 in his first seven major finals. Now his overall record is 6-7. Part of this is unavoidable: No one was beating Andy Murray on Centre Court last year and two of those Slam finals losses are to Nadal at Roland Garros. It’s not as if he’s choking in big matches, but every loss brings added pressure.

4. Oddsmakers have made Djokovic the clear favorite.

British books initially installed Djokovic as a 4/6 favorite to win Sunday’s match, which means Federer is a bigger underdog against Djokovic than Raonic was against Federer.

5. Is this Federer’s last chance to win a major?

No. You’ll hear that a lot between now and Sunday, but it’s nonsense. Yes, this has been a perfect storm for Federer. He came into the tournament healthy, had an easy draw to the quarters, cruised to the final and faces a player he’s had great success against. But it’s not as if this was pre-ordained. Wawrinka was playing the best tennis of his life on grass. Raonic has a serve that’s tailor-made for Centre Court. Djokovic awaits in the finals. What, because Rafael Nadal didn’t make it to the semis, this was a cakewalk? Nadal hasn’t made it past the third round of Wimbledon since 2011! This isn’t like the 2009 French Open, when Robin Soderling took care of Nadal and Federer was able to capitalize en route to a title. He played the matches in front of him and was clinical in each.

If Federer can reach a final at Wimbledon at 32, why not at 33? As long as he keeps playing — and he’s given no indication that he’s going to retire anytime soon — a win at Wimbledon is always on the table. But, yes, this is still a golden opportunity.

6. Who has more at stake?

Either way, someone is going to experience a gut-wrenching loss on Sunday. Federer loses and he gets the questions about whether he’ll ever win another Slam. Djokovic loses and he has to face the reality that he no longer comes to play in the biggest matches. Neither question/accusation will be true, but perception always outweighs reality. The pressure will be on both, so let’s call this one a wash.

7. Who’s going to win: Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic?

Roger Federer is 16-1 in Wimbledon semifinals or finals, with his only loss coming in that epic 2008 loss to Rafael Nadal. Between his proficiency on grass, Djokovic’s recent struggles in big matches and the fact that 95% of Centre Court will be Fed Fans on Sunday, Roger Federer is the pick to win the match and break his tie with Pete Sampras to earn his record-setting eighth Wimbledon title.

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