Hello, friends. The stars have once again aligned for Roger, haven’t they? Not that Roger has not played his part. It has cost a lot of persistence and changes to be in this position again. 2013 was a wretched old season, but I always had the feeling that if Roger pushed through it that he would reach a new high. It also forced him to make some very necessary changes so in that sense it was a great thing. The hiring of a new coach and changing his racquet has paid off, but the job is not quite done yet. Only if Roger wins a record 8th Wimbledon title will things have come full circle for him again. Well, it was another day of exciting and quality tennis. It was the upcoming generation against the old guard and the day belonged to the old guard as I expected it would. The Dimitrov/Djokovic clash was also the closer affair as was expected.
The Federer/Raonic encounter was much more routine, but it was experience that won the day in both cases. Djokovic started well and won the opening set, but allowed Dimitrov back into the match by playing a poor second set. After getting the break early on and taking a 3-1 lead, he lost the plot and lost five straight games to lose the second set. The third set was tight with no breaks, but in the tie-break Djokovic’s experience came through as he raised his game and took it comfortably. At 4-5 in the fourth set with Djokovic serving to stay in the set Dimitrov played a game where he threw the kitchen sink at Djokovic, but Djokovic held on and the fourth set would be decided on the breaker again. Dimitrov got the mini-break and it looked like we were heading for a deciding set at 6-3 for Dimitrov in the breaker, but again Djokovic’s experience won the day as he took the breaker 9-7.
In the end Djokovic showed good mental strength by winning in four sets, but my overall impression of the match was that Djokovic was mentally a shadow of the player he was before that devastating loss to Nadal in the 2013 French Open. Since then he has lost all three slam finals he played in and even lost to Stan in the quarter finals of his best slam. That point where he touched the net on a smash will probably forever haunt him. Before that he was known for his mental clutchness. Now he is struggling to close out inexperienced youngsters in slams after being a set and a break up. The Djokovic of old would probably have done the same to Dimitrov that Roger did to Raonic. I mean he was on his way to doing that at a set and a break up, but then inexplicably lost the plot for the rest of the set.
I don’t want to take anything away from Dimitrov. He did well to make the match very competitive but I couldn’t help noticing the big contrast in how Roger clinically disposed of Raonic, while Djokovic allowed Dimitrov to drag the match out to the brink of a deciding set. Historically Djokovic has been more clutch than Roger if you look at the way he dealt with Nadal pre-French Open 2013 and even what he did to Roger in the US Open semis in 2010 and 2011. But judging from the Wimbledon semis you would say Roger is now the more clutch one. The way he disposed of Raonic was as clinical as it gets. The fact that there wasn’t even one tie-break against probably the biggest server in the sport says it all really. Roger broke once in each set of the 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory to make his 9th Wimbledon final.
Roger already had the record for the most Wimbledon finals with eight, and he now sets the bar a little higher. The record that he is really looking for though is the number of Wimbledon titles, which he will break if he wins on Sunday. Raonic came out nervous in the first game which was to be expected and Roger took immediate advantage by getting the break. Roger looked very comfortable on his own serve and faced only one break point in the entire match. Roger even had a second break chance at 3-1, but Raonic held on. At 5-4, Roger served out the set to 30. At 4-4 in the second set, Roger hit a beautiful backhand down the line winner to go up 30-0 on the Raonic serve. On the next point, Roger put up a high defensive lob after Raonic was in the dominant position, but Raonic nervously missed the overhead long.
Raonic saved one break point but on the next point Roger came up with an almost identical backhand down the line winner to get the break. The backhand is something the new racquet has helped with and Roger is really hitting that down the line one beautifully now. He then held serve to 30 again to clinch the second set. On to the third set and at the very least I was expecting this set to go to the breaker, but again Roger played a masterful game at 4-4 where he was just very solid and allowed Raonic to self-destruct. Roger’s vast experience was proving to be too much for the first time Wimbledon semi-finalist to handle. Roger broke to 15 again and the last game was slightly nervy again as has been the tradition in the last two matches, but Roger held serve to 30 to cap off another tennis clinic.
The match stats were flawless again. The break point conversion rate of 3/7 was actually very good against a huge serve like Raonic. Also, 32 net approaches in a match of this length were quite a lot too. The mental calm and net play of Roger continues to impress me and remains the key for me. Incidentally, Djokovic seems more eager to approach the net too which surely is something Becker is trying to get him to do. I think that is something that is very important for Djokovic and of course tomorrow is huge for him. If he wins he goes back to #1 in the world, but more importantly he wins his first slam since that demoralizing loss to Nadal at the 2013 French Open. He lost his magic since that match and he badly needs it back. This is what he hired Becker for and tomorrow there will be a revival of the Wimbledon rivalry of Becker and Edberg, this time as coaches.
Fortunately, Edberg leads that rivalry 2-1, but the Becker/Djokovic combination certainly can’t be written off. This is almost make-or-break for them. Djokovic hired Becker to help him get his magic back and losing in a second consecutive slam final after Becker became his coach won’t be what he planned. The positive Fedfans could take out of the final should Roger lose it is that Djokovic will gain huge confidence from it and feel like he is back, which in turn wouldn’t bode well for Nadal’s chances to win more slams. So in a way this is a win-win situation for Fedfans, but of course we want the best outcome which is that Roger wins his 18th slam and lifts his record 8th Wimby trophy. We have waited long enough and this may be Roger’s last chance to win a slam. There is just the feeling that this is once again Roger’s year.
I do think Roger is the favorite given what happened in both the semis and the fact that grass is Roger best surface while it’s probably Djokovic’s worst. It is the surface where Roger has the best chance of beating Djokovic anyway. Djokovic actually struggles a lot with his movement on grass, and Roger can exploit Djokovic’s base line game the best on grass. But again the Becker/Djokovic team can’t be underestimated. I noticed Djokovic’s intent in approaching the net more for the first time against Dimitrov and that could definitely help him against Roger. After yesterday’s matches I felt Roger was easily the favorite for the final because of how mentally fragile Djokovic appeared and how mentally stable Roger appeared. But after a bit of thought I don’t think it’s as straight forward as that.
This is massive for Djokovic and you can’t keep a player like that down for long. He is now 1-5 in his last 6 slam finals and like I said before, how long can he keep losing in slams finals? But in the end I would say he will just have to wait a little longer if he wants to break the curse. Roger has looked like a man on a mission and he couldn’t be in better shape before the big final after what happened in the semis. No doubt Djokovic is dangerous though and this could be a lot closer than people think. Djokovic looked mentally fragile against Dimitrov, but he did come back from 3-6 in the fourth set tie break to close it out in four sets, didn’t he? Even though the magic is gone for the time being it is lying there in dormant form, waiting to erupt again. If Roger falters even for a second then Djokovic will smell blood and make him pay dearly.
So I feel it’s very important that Roger remains clinical and focused, and to make a good start. If he wins the first set it would already make Djokovic think twice about his chances. I think Djokovic will be desperate to turn around his fortunes in grand slam finals with Becker in his corner, but in the end I would have to go with Roger here again. He took care of Djokovic in four sets in the 2012 Wimbledon semis and I see something similar happening in the final tomorrow. I have been very hesitant to make any predictions for Roger at this Wimbledon and I still think Djokovic can’t be counted out here. I just think that Roger has looked very mature and composed of late. There is a sense of destiny about him again, and who would bet against his chances in what has become his own back yard over the years?
Let the games begin.
Ps. This will be the 35th meeting in the Djokerer rivalry which Roger leads 18-16, and only their second slam final meeting since the 2007 US Open final which Roger won in straight sets. I think most people would agree that is it one of the better match ups and more interesting rivalries in tennis, and I am looking forward to a good match. Roger is also back to #3 in the rankings after the semis and is back to where he belongs as the Swiss #1!