By James Waterson
Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
(June 3, 2011) A resurgent Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) Friday to advance to his fifth French Open final, breaking his opponent’s 43-match winning streak.
There was much at stake in this match. If the 24-year-old Serb managed to defeat Federer, he would have tied John McEnroe’s record of 42 consecutive match wins to start the 1984 season, as well as claiming the World No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal.
He had a lot to lose, and that may be why he got off to such a shaky start.
Djokovic dropped three points to fall to love-40 on his serve, and although he scraped back two points, he gave the third away with an inside-out forehand that sailed far wide.
The Serb collected himself and broke back immediately, only to fall behind love-40 in his next service game, but Federer donated several unforced errors and Djokovic went up 2-1.
At 2-2, Federer earned yet another break point with a down-the-line backhand passing shot, but was unable to convert and Djokovic escaped with another hold.
Djokovic broke again at 3-2 as Federer framed two backhands in a row, but the Swiss 16-time Grand Slam champion raced to yet another 40-love lead and was able to capitalize on it.
Federer faced two set points at 4-5, but he held and the set advanced to a tiebreaker. The Swiss won the tiebreaker after Djokovic floated a forehand long.
Djokovic immediately pressured the former World No. 1 in his first service game, but once again he fought them off. He then broke the Serb in the next game, and raced off to a 4-1 lead.
During the set, he looked unsettled, and the normally precise World No. 2 hit 13 unforced errors to five winners.
Despite that, Federer broke him only one time, but that one break was all he needed to claim the second set.
At this point, history didn’t favor the Serb. Djokovic had only come back from a two-set deficit once in his career, and Federer had a 174-0 record after winning the first two sets.
Perhaps being the underdog loosened Djokovic up, as the third set was a different story. Federer immediately dropped his serve, and Djokovic sprinted to a 3-0 lead. He had a chance to earn a double break, but Federer held him off.
As the sky darkened, Djokovic served out the set.
The fourth set was dominated by the serve, as both players held until 4-4. Djokovic earned what could have been a momentum-changing break of serve in a cagey game that saw both players make unforced errors from commanding positions.
Yet Djokovic immediately dropped to love-40 on his next service game, and although he battled back to 30-40, Federer leveled the set at 5-5 with a sublime down-the-line forehand winner.
The Serb had yet another chance to break at 30-40, but Federer hit a gutsy 112 mph second serve that Djokovic couldn’t return.
The set advanced to another tiebreaker, and Federer earned 2-0 lead with a crosscourt forehand winner.
He raced to a 4-1 lead, but Djokovic battled back to 4-3. Back on serve, Federer hit an ace and then an un-returnable serve to give him three match points.
Djokovic won both of his serve points to force Federer to finish the match on his serve.
If Federer couldn’t close it out here and his opponent managed to win the tiebreaker, they would have had to finish the match on Saturday because of the diminishing light.
Federer would have also dropped two sets in a row, and Djokovic may have gone into the final set feeling pretty good about his chances.
Yet Federer stepped up to the baseline with the match on his racket and on the verge of beating the man who has bested him in the semifinals of the last two Grand Slams.
With the French crowd on the edge of their seats, Federer tossed the ball into the air and fired an ace that grazed the center service line. After three hours and 39 minutes, he finally booked his place in his first Grand Slam final since the 2010 Australian Open, which he won.
As he received a standing ovation, Federer walked towards the net with his right hand’s index finger extended, as if to show the world that he still believes he’s the best player in the world.
With the way he played on Friday, it’s hard to argue with him.