Oct/11

11

Excerpt from book, “Chasing The Goat: Roger, Rafa and Nole”


DJOKOVIC’S SHOT: LUCK OR SUBLIME?

In baseball, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” Bobby Thomson’s home run in 1951 that catapulted the New York Giants into the World Series over their arch-rival, The Brooklyn Dodgers, is legendary. In basketball, Michael Jordan’s jumper to win the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz and a limping Willis Reed hitting two jump shots to open the 1970 NBA Finals Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers propelling the Knicks to their first championship, were shots for the ages. In tennis, Novak Djokovic struck the greatest shot in the sport’s history this year in the semi-finals of the U.S. Open, a mammoth forehand return-of-serve winner against Roger Federer on double-match point.
John McEnroe, in the announcer’s booth, called it “one of the great all-time shots in tennis history,” and I don’t want to quibble with McEnroe, but in terms of shot execution and point-of-match consequence, sorry John, it was the greatest. Not even Federer’s through-the-legs with his back-to-the-net shot against Djokovic in the 2009 U.S. Open, called at the time, “the shot of the century,” can match Djokovic’s laser return. Federer was up two sets to none in that semis contest when he hit his trick shot winner. He finished Djokovic off on his very next shot.
Djokovic’s whipping return off of a bullet of a serve by Federer, not only squelched a Federer victory, but it cut across the Arthur Ashe Stadium court from forehand corner to forehand corner in a flash, so quickly, in fact, it looked like a joke of a shot. Federer referred to it later as that “lucky shot at the end, and off you go.” Federer still had another match point on his serve, but Djokovic’s seismic winner changed everything (Federer said, “He snaps one shot and the whole thing changes.”) and after three quick points and three more decisive games, Federer, indeed, was “off” the court, suddenly the loser after holding a 5-3, 40-15 lead in the fifth set. Gone was the chance to face his great rival, Rafael Nadal, in the finals, to win his record 17th Grand Slam tournament and restore order at the top of the men’s tennis world.
“It’s awkward having to explain this loss,” said a piqued Federer afterward, “because I feel like I should be doing the other press conference.” Federer meant the one where everyone lauds the king for rightfully putting the young upstart, Djokovic, back into his subordinate place; the one where Federer gets to shine his smile out to his many admirers and Djokovic’s magical season gets undone and the Serbian is seen seething as he leaves the court, head bowed.

26 comments

  • Mitch · October 12, 2011 at 12:10 am

    As I said before, I think it was a shot of resignation. Here’s what the Bryan bros had to say:

    IT: What did you think of Novak Djokovic’s gamble of a return down two match points against Roger Federer in the U.S. Open semis?

    BB: He kind of, in a weird way, conceded the match at 40-15. That was almost a flail. That’s a shot you hit when you’re down and you’ve got nothing to lose. It was a Hail Mary.

    IT: Luck?

    MB: No. He wasn’t lucky, because he’s put in the hard work. He can make those. I bet you he makes that nine out of 10 times.

    BB: No. To hit in on the line that hard — that’s geometrically almost impossible. He was in a weird place at that point, mentally. I think his head was a little scrambled and he just went for broke, not caring. Then he somehow turned it around.

  • Author comment by Dan Markowitz · October 12, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Mitch,

    That is the great conundrum. But have you ever seen a greater shot in your life? Are there any that even rival it in terms of degree-of-difficulty and importance of moment in the match? I can’t think of any.

    I think Bob Bryan is right, mostly. Novak was in a “weird place” and he did just go for broke. He had reached the tipping point. The question is: Was he at the point as Bob Bryan says where he didn’t care or was it a shot like Mike Bryan says, where he could pull it off 9 times out of ten?

    The extraordinary execution of the shot, as Bob Bryan says, “the geometrically” improbability of the shot, and the extreme stress Djoko was under because his domination was being upset, Federer was again the one doing the dunking and the crowd was against him, all make it one of the most compelling moments I’ve ever seen in tennis. I can’t think of one shot in either of the supposed two greatest matches of all time, Borg-McEnroe 1980 and Federer-Nadal 2009 Wimbledons that compare in intrigue, shock and disbelief.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 12, 2011 at 1:59 am

    The cornered animal is the most dangerous animal. The wounded animal is the most dangerous. THAT was NOT a lucky shot. That was the best player in the world, demonstrating why HE is the BEST. He had the split second timing and ample confidence to go for it, and he made it. Not even Federer or the Bryans can downplay that shot. Nobody can. That’s all Federer can really say, he’s not going to say, Boy that sure was a fantastic shot under pressure by Nole wasn’t it? It was like a KO punch, one that Federer didn’t see coming. After Nole landed that blow on Federer’s chin, Federer never recovered. He never saw it coming.

  • Michael · October 12, 2011 at 7:13 am

    I agree with Mitch: “As I said before, I think it was a shot of resignation.”

    I saw the match live so didn’t appreciate this until watching the replay when you could see his body language and demeanor (and joking with the crowd). This was a guy that at the stage was resolved to the loss.

    9 out of 10 times my arse MB. If Djoker could make it 9 out of 10 times I’m wondering why he doesn’t try to hit every forehand return as hard as he can for a winner. And for me it was without a doubt a greater shot than Fed’s ‘tweener for the reasons Dan stated.

    @Dan “Federer meant the one where everyone lauds the king for rightfully putting the young upstart, Djokovic, back into his subordinate place;”

    I think by the USO (way before actually) Djoker was way past “young upstart” stage. He was at young upstart stage maybe in 2007 ?

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Playing Possum Michael. Djokovic tricked Federer by feigning resignation. Ever think of that possibility? He obviously did not give up mentally or physically. Not a shred of his being did. That’s why he was able to pull off the miraculous comeback win. He BELIEVED he could. And did.

  • Mitch · October 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    You really think he was playing possum? After dominating Fed in the 3rd and 4th sets, going down two match points was all part of the plan? As Michael pointed out, if you watch Djokovic during the beginning of that service game, his body language is awful; it’s only after he hit that return that he believed he could win.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Yes I believe he was playing possum to an extent, and Djokovic is the greatest possum player in tennis today when he needs to use it. I was at his famous US Open match five years ago vs. Monfils where he took two timeouts of about ten minutes each after collapsing on the court after a series of long points in the fifth set. He looked so exhausted and fragile that I feared he might die of a heart attack right there. He looked like he was near death, I swear, that’s how bad and unhealthy he looked with the doctors and officials around him laying in the middle of the court. He got up to win the match. LOL. He totally faked everyone out. I believe Djokovic is a genius of a bluff player and will resort to tricking opponents when victory is in peril. I believe he did that with Federer in NY, he faked like he was giving it up in the fifth set but obviously, flipped the switch once the ball was in play. Many great boxers do this too. Klitschko told me his brother was surprised many times in his fight with Lennox Lewis when Lewis was acting like he was hurt, Vitali attacked and then Lewis suddenly lashed out punches, catching him by surprise. Lots of psychological mind games go on out there in tennis and boxing that are not decipherable to the naked inexperienced eyes such as our’s.

  • Author comment by Dan Markowitz · October 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Scoop,

    Even you have “naked inexperienced eyes?” Not a chance. And Michael, you’re right in one regard, Djokovic is not a young upstart anymore. But I feel Federer still treats him as such. He is six years Djoko’s senior and the remark comparing Djoko to one of the slap-happy junior players he faced who started hitting bombs down 5-2 in the third set, and questioning the way Djoko played, that maybe hitting blind shots like his miraculous return is just part of the Djoko makeup, but God forbid, Fed has never played that way.

    It’s almost like Fed is the older brother telling Djoko the younger brother to grow up and be more professional. That’s why I referred to him in this piece as the “young upstart” because I think that’s the way Fed still sees Djoko. He has more respect for Murray and certainly Nadal than he does for Djoko.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 12, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks buddy : – ) And good point, Federer has hit some crazy desperate, miraculous shots like Djokovic, but can’t recall him ever hitting one from match point down and coming back to win the match.

  • Steve · October 12, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    I actually know a better shot but it was the Quarters of Monte Carlo 2005 but it was a match winning shot rather than a shot in a middle of a game. Gasquet won the match by hitting an incredible running backhand winner down the line. Defeating the the #1 player in the world(Federer). It was an amazing backhand even for Gasquet.

  • Author comment by Dan Markowitz · October 12, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Now wait a second. You want to tell me Mac hit a better shot against Borg in the fourth set breaker, I’m all ears. Don’t tell me Gasquet, who didn’t even go on to win the tournament, hit a better shot against Fed in Monte Carlo. That doesn’t wash. Fed’s shot was at least in a slam semis, also.

    I think Sampras’s shot when he had that long rally with Agassi in the 95 finals and he finally finished it with his patented running forehand cross-court was a great shot. A lot of great shots like Fed’s are trick shots or even desperation shots and then it has to be decided–as with Djoko’s shot–whether it should be taken for real or not.

  • Michael · October 13, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Scoop:
    You seem to equate being resolved to a loss with giving up. I don’t think Djoker gave up. I think from observing him later on TV that at that stage in the match he looked like he was resolved that despite not giving up he was going to lose the match. And I do not think Fed could see what we could on TV.

    Reference to his behavior during the 2005 Monfils match doesn’t work for me (which match we talked about once so you are aware I saw that entire match and I, like many that were there, felt Djoker bent the rules so far as to effectively cheat to a win a la JMac). Djoker was playing possum in that 2005 match. Everytime Monfils got some momentum going Djoker called out the trainer. He wasn’t playing possum against Fed. But I think when Fed was serving for it Djoker thought he was going home. However, I can’t fall on the sword for this one. It’s just my sense from the TV replay. Can’t get into the guys head.

    @ Dan “That’s why I referred to him in this piece as the “young upstart” because I think that’s the way Fed still sees Djoko. He has more respect for Murray and certainly Nadal than he does for Djoko.”

    Fed may not like or respect Djoker as a person but Fed sure as heck respects Djoker’s tennis.

    And not even Federer can buy into the “upstart” at this stage. I think Federer used to try whatever he could to diminish Djoker with the mere upstart attitude but that game has been over for a while.

    I didn’t think much of Fed’s comments after the loss but I think he was shell-shocked at that point in time.

    While I think M. Bryan is off his rocker that Djoker 9 out of 10 times hits the line for a clean winner going for an all out forehand return down match point, 5th set, USO semis, that doesn’t mean the same thing as lucky. Djoker’s instinct seems to be to go out swinging if he thinks he’s going down. That he may miss that shot as much or more than he makes it doesn’t mean he was slapping the ball like a Junior or that he was lucky. That was just sour grapes.

  • Steve · October 13, 2011 at 2:00 am

    So the #1 player took flailed at a serve by the #3 player. Isn’t #1 supposed to beat #3 anyway? There has to be an upset element. In fact the underdog factor is more important than it being a slam. The shot was a momentum shift but not a game winner. Did you see the Gasquet shot in all its clarity(not lo res on youtube)? If you did see it, you’d understand if you understood tennis. It wasn’t a desperate shot but controlled excellence.

  • Andrew Miller · October 13, 2011 at 2:55 am

    Federer’s backhand against Nadal at Wimbledon, saving a MP, was pretty sweet. He misses it it’s over. He makes it he stays alive. The 2008 Wimbledon final is full of courageous shots.

    I think it was lucky that Djokovic made it – but if anyone’s going to make that shot, it’s someone who CAN make it, and Djokovic, Nadal and Federer are all players who can make that shot.

    I think the more suprising part of that point – definitely Federer. Why again did he serve the forehand side after moving into the 40-15 on serve position? And then – Djokovic, after hitting it, appeals to the crowd with his other “joking” side – you could tell Djokovic immediately calmed down and Federer immediately tensed up – knowing he just blew one of the two best chances he had…and then blowing the 2nd best chance he had….

    So – a lot of things have to go right. First, Federer – having taken chances to get to 40-15, plays it safer than he should – he should go down the T, or go into the body on the backhand side – ANYTHING BUT RIGHT TO HIM! A dogfight of a match, you finally get the chance to sign and seal this one and…kaboom. You played it – not safe maybe – but TOO SAFE against a guy who has lost only 1 match the whole year and just retired at his previous tournament to make sure he wins the match he’s playing against YOU!

    This was a clear mental mistake from Federer. A lot had to go right for Djokovic – one of the things was that Federer forgot what had got him to this point. He didn’t need a 50 cent serve or even a $1000 serve to end the match. He needed a million dollar serve. Instead, he put in a good but not great serve, and got smashed by a world class reply. Federer had to know the ball was coming back.

  • Andrew Miller · October 13, 2011 at 3:11 am

    How about Agassi’s shot against Blake, down 4-5 in the tiebreak US Open QFinal 2005, with the huge forehand? Sure Blake rolled that serve in – but still, Blake took too small a chance! He set it up for Agassi to roll around his backhand and unleash the night’s best forehand!

    Or Blake’s shot, 5-6 down in the tiebreak, unleashing the night’s 2nd best forehand?

    Or Agassi, then unleashing one of the night’s best backhands, to go back up match point/

    Or Agassi, then unleashing the night’s 3rd best forehand, right down the line in the very furthest corner of the court, to win the match? At least Novak could go cross court over the low part of the match.

    So Novak’s shot was a GREAT one. And Novak certainly would have eaten Blake’s serves and sent him packing based on the softballs Blake was serving to Agassi during the tiebreak after going up 3-0 quickly. But you got to say, Agassi came up with some special stuff to claw his way out of that match.

    And so did Novak – he did some Connors (theatrics), some Agassi (shot making excellence) and some Novak – the man now has ice in the veins.

  • Michael · October 13, 2011 at 6:03 am

    “How about Agassi’s shot against Blake, down 4-5 in the tiebreak US Open QFinal 2005, ”

    I never got why people thought that match was so good. I was courtside for that one and I thought it was meh. 4 bad sets (each guy killing the other for two sets) and a good fifth that everyone suspected Blake wasn’t going to win. Can’t put any shot in that match against the Fed shot because it was just an old Agassi over a never going to win a Major Blake in a QF. Fed-Djoker was a huge match. Fed stops him in a second major and all of a sudden it’s not such an epic season. So that forehand shot is that much more magnified for me.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Resolved to loss? He might have feigned such a facade of that but I don’t think he gave up at any point, even between points, when he sometimes tends to look exhausted or down and out. Djokovic fought to the death and prevailed vs. Federer. I have a friend who does something similar. When he’s getting beat he acts like he is giving up, moaning and whining about it’s just not his day, like being really negative. But then after he vents and when the points resume he tries like hell. It took a while to figure it out but he’s faking and bluffing you into thinking he’s mentally throwing in the towel but he’s actually deceiving you and a few times he’s gotten back into matches with this bluff, until I finally figured it out and stopped feeling sorry and pity for him. Lots of head games in tennis Michael, at all levels!

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Don’t know what the betting odds were Steve but Roger had beaten Djokovic in their previous match in Paris and also had a winning streak over him at the US Open. That was pretty close to a pick ‘em match.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Good memory Andrew, that shot was ridiculous. So was that match. I have a friend who was a heavyweight boxer and OLY bronze medalist and he was freaking out watching that match on TV calling me up like every 15 minutes in total awe of how exciting and high level every point of that match was played at. That match was one of the finest ever played.

  • Steve · October 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    I found these odds for their Open match via a quick search:
    Novak Djokovic to win: 8/15 at Bwin
    Roger Federer to win: 13/8 at BetFred

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 13, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Wow Steve I guess that means both were favored and both underdogs, according to where you bet. And the match played out exactly as expected, could have gone either way. Those betting houses sure are sharp.

  • Steve · October 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    If you look at the pay outs listed you make much more on the Federer bet.

    The #1 player in the world having the best season (or 2nd best) in tennis history means something. I kind of expect great shots from him. I wasn’t in awe at the lucky flail.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    If you were in the stadium Steve, it was awesome, especially after he waved his arms and got back some of the stadium on his side. You could just sense it was an extraordinary moment and the crowd reaction was like the second punch staggering Federer even more. Maybe the most electrifying moment I’ve ever seen in tennis live.

  • Steve · October 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Then I guess, in the end, this question is 100% subjective because now you’re talking about the vibe in NYC which is not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m just not shocked that the #1 player on the planet hit a winner. #1 players tend to do that but to each his own. I still need the underdog element and a shot made with clear intent.

    I have to ask, does your Rios book have a boxing analogy on every page? :-)

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · October 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Actually no Steve, no boxing analogies in Rios. Though there is a story about Rios knocking someone out cold with one punch in Miami : )

  • Lazarus · November 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    @Michael
    and I quote you:
    “9 out of 10 times my arse MB. If Djoker could make it 9 out of 10 times I’m wondering why he doesn’t try to hit every forehand return as hard as he can for a winner. And for me it was without a doubt a greater shot than Fed’s ‘tweener for the reasons Dan stated.”
    ________________

    You should re-watch that U.S open 2011 finals match,how many return winners Novak had ? How many of them was crucial ?

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