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