Tennis Prose



Looking Back On Djokovic’s First Win vs. Federer

By Scoop Malinowski

Novak Djokovic leads the career rivalry vs Roger Federer 27-23 and perhaps the most important, influential and overlooked of those 27 wins was the first one which came in the 2007 Montreal Masters Final.

I did not realize I recorded this match on VHS tape back in 2007 and finding it had been saved in an old box last week was a pleasant surprise. Re-watching this classic clash fifteen years later was a special gift.

Federer, at 26, was at the height of his powers, he had won three Grand Slams in 2006 and in 2007 had won AO, finaled at Roland Garros and just won Wimbledon vs. Nadal. The dominant force of tennis, Federer had won six of the last eight Grand Slams.

He was also 4-0 career vs Novak Djokovic up to that point of the Montreal final (wins at 2006 Monte Carlo 63 26 63, 2006 Davis Cup in three sets, 2007 AO R16 62 75 63, 2007 Dubai QF 63 67 63).

20-year-old Novak was ranked no. 4 in the world but ruthlessly determined to go higher. The Novak vs Fed Montreal final was a fascinating duel which proved to be a foreshadow of their later Grand Slam epics.

Novak leapt to a 3-0 first set lead on Federer, striding around the court with a machine like countenance and an intense focus that silently, confidently, and defiantly asserted, “I have no fear of the greatest player of all time and I’m here with one purpose – to slay this dragon.”

Federer rallied himself back into the contest and would serve for the set at 5-4. Federer earned triple set point at 40-love but shockingly would lose six set points, the game and then the first set tiebreaker 7-2. It was a stunning collapse, or was it evidence that the master had found his greatest adversary? Djokovic somehow managed to summon his very best tennis in the most precarious, high-stress moments. How much these set points saved by Djokovic on Federer would later factor in the critical junctures of their future Grand Slam encounters is a question with an obvious answer.

Djokovic first set, set points saved:

1 – Federer forehand just inches long.

2- Federer nets backhand first shot off Novak return.

3- Federer shank backhand two yards long.

4- Federer nets short backhand up the line off Novak return.

5- Federer forehand long.

6- Djokovic forehand winner inside in off Federer backhand.

Djokovic finally won the game with another forehand winner inside in off a Fed backhand – it was the fourth break point of the game.

After losing the first set to Djokovic, Federer regrouped and won the second set 6-2. The third set would proceed to a tiebreaker and this time Djokovic was too smart, too cool, too clever, too accurate and he prevailed 7-2, the championship point featured a Djokovic lob that Federer desperately chased down and tried to hit a tweener winner that flew well long. Djokovic collapsed on the court in joy and awe, at age 20 he had managed the near impossible – to conquer the eleven time Grand Slam king and greatest tennis champion of history.

Federer of course would win their next showdown at the US Open final 76 76 64 for a 5-1 career head to head lead, but Novak won meeting no. 7 in the 2008 Australian Open semis 75 63 76. Novak would win the 2008 AO final vs Tsonga, his first Grand Slam title win at age 20.

What they said after…


Q. You played against him before. How much do you think he improved?
ROGER FEDERER: I played four times against him. Never lost.

Q. So?
ROGER FEDERER: So? (Smiling) No, he played well. Like I said, he’s an up-and-coming youngster who is improving almost by the day because they’re so young, you know, they learn a lot with all the matches they play, with the travelling. So for this reason he definitely played great tournament. He’s been able to back it up now since basically a year now.
If he keeps this up, you know, he’s going to create some chances also at the Grand Slams because he’s been able to come to two semifinals already in his career. This obviously might be a breakthrough tournament for him.
I was impressed the way I played, but nothing to the point where he surprised me. I knew how he was playing, so that was a good thing.

Q. Looking at the big picture and your aims for the whole year, how significant is a defeat in a final such as this? Is it significant or not?
ROGER FEDERER: Insignificant (smiling).

Q. Do you appreciate the look of his game, a little more similar to yours, than Rafa? Do you appreciate that part of his game compared to Rafa?
ROGER FEDERER: No, not really. I mean, he plays like many other players on tour. You know, I mean, he’s steady off the baseline, he’s got a pretty good serve.
But, yeah, I mean, like himself, he says nothing outrageous in his game. Always pretty predictable, which is a good thing.
Yeah, you get some good rallies against him because he scrambles well, moves to the ball well, moves the ball around very nicely. Yeah, I enjoy playing against him.

Q. How would you rate your form today? What were you happy with and what weren’t you happy with?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, the way I came back, you know, because I was down quite a few times in the first set. Second set it was tough, you know, after what I went through at the end of the first. Then the third set, as well.
I could never really breathe. Maybe that was a bit my problem today. It’s such a pity, you know, when I start a match against a player like him serving so bad in the opening game.
It was quite windy at the beginning and I was just not sure how much risk I should take on my shots. So all in all, it was not a — too bad of a performance. Too many ups and downs. Then totally missed my chances when I had them. Like I said, he hit very freely in the tiebreaks.

Q. He’s long stated his ambition to be No. 1, which not a lot of players do. No one has pushed you for that ranking in quite a long time. Do you view him as more of a threat than any other player or in with the crowd?
ROGER FEDERER: I see him second after Nadal. That’s my opinion.


THE MODERATOR: I’d just like to say that Novak is the first player since Boris Becker in Stockholm in 1994 to beat the top three players in the same tournament. He’s also the first player to beat Roger and Rafa in the same tournament. We’ll open it up for questions.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Wow (smiling).

Q. How does that feel?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: That was pretty impressing, you know, just to hear that. Well, you know, where to start? It’s been an amazing week for me, amazing tournament. Probably next to Miami, the best tournament of my career. I can say that this was even bigger success because I managed to beat first three players of the world in the last three rounds, you know.
I can’t describe the feeling I have right now. It’s like a dream come true, especially against Federer in the finals, to win those tiebreakers was just incredible. I managed to win these tiebreaks against a player who probably has the best score in tiebreakers, who is the strongest player mentally in the world right now.

Q. Can you take us through the match. You were in good shape in the first, bad shape, then good shape.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s normal, you know, to have ups and downs, especially if you play the finals against the world No. 1. He feels comfortable wherever he plays, on whatever surface he plays, against whoever he plays. He doesn’t care.
For me it was, you know, a big motivation to play him in the finals, another experience. I never played him in finals. I played him couple of times before on different surfaces so I learned a lot of things. Just tried, you know, to maintain the high level of the play which I had this week, and I tried to stay with him every point because, you know, he’s the best player in the world because he uses every opportunity. If you give him right away, he can win every game. He has all the strokes he needs for every surface.
It’s unbelievable win for me. You know, sometimes he has to lose, as I said on the ceremony. He can’t win everything (smiling).

Q. What kind of impact does a win like that have on the upcoming weeks going into the US Open on yourself?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Of course, you know, if you manage to win the tournament like this and to win against players like this, you get a lot of confidence, probably motivation for the upcoming tournaments and challenges. The most important tournament in this US Open Series is the US Open, the last Grand Slam of the year. We’ll all try to prepare ourselves as much as we can and to be hundred percent ready to perform well on that tournament.
As I was saying last couple days, for me it was very important on the start of the year to perform well on the most important tournaments, the major ones, which I did. I showed it again. I show my quality. I deserve to be here right now. As I said, it was very important for me to win against world No. 1, which I didn’t manage to do last four or five times we played.
So I can say that now I have a little bit different picture about everything.

Q. What is your mindset for the six set points for Federer you fought off in the first set? What a turning point.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, that first set probably was very crucial and it was very important for the both of us to win.
I lost my serve on the 5-All. Even I was 40-Love up, I lost it. You know, usually you expect from the player who loses such a tough game, you know, No. 1, to win easy the next one. But, you know, I was just trying to calm myself and not think about things that already happened. I was fighting really every point. It was really close. So, you know, I managed to get to the tiebreak.
Looking at both of the tiebreaks, you would say, wow, it was pretty easy. But nothing is easy if you play against Roger. You have to stay focused. You just have to stay with him and just play your game and don’t get too nervous.

Q. You said coming into today that you would hope to learn what it would take to be No. 1 because you were playing No. 1. Did you learn what it would take?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s still a long way to the first place of the world for me, even though I’m third in the world. I can’t exactly say that I’m, you know, thinking about becoming a No. 1 next year, in two years. You know, just try to keep my focus and do what I did till now: just stay on the right way.
Yes, I learn every time I play against Roger or Rafa. I learn from those matches always something new, try to, you know, improve on some things which I need to improve. Obviously, you know, from the past matches we had since then I improved and am really happy for it.
That’s my lifetime goal, to be the No. 1 player of the world. But, again, I have a lot of time.

Q. When you broke early in the third set, did you start to get a little bit nervous, especially when you lost your serve?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I needed to calm myself after that second set which, you know, we finished pretty fast. After 2-All, it happened so fast, everything. I just — he was on the roll, you know. He was playing pretty good. I just made some really unforced errors. I didn’t serve well.
Of course, he used his chances right away and won that second set. It was important for me to take, you know, a break, whatever, just refresh and get to that third set ready, which I managed to do. I broke him this first game.

You know, it was kind of like I started first couple of service games in that third set, I served really well, but then that game on 4-3, I put that pressure on myself without any reason. I was not supposed to do that. Again, you’re playing the finals of a big tournament against the No. 1, so it’s all expected.

Q. You played him five times now. Is there some point when you started thinking you could beat him?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, yes. You know, every time I played him, as I said, I learned something new. I just tried to put away all the negative things I did and try to, you know, improve on some elements in the game so I can be dangerous for him the next time.
I’m really happy and satisfied with the way I played today. I was just struggling in some points. You know, of course it’s normal to have ups and downs. For me the success is even bigger, considering the fact that I won two tiebreaks.

(That week in Montreal Djokovic defeated Nicolas Kiefer 63 63, David Nalbandian 62 63, Andy world no. 3 Andy Roddick 76 64, world no. 2 Rafael Nadal 75 63 and no. 1 Federer in the final. Djokovic regained the no. 3 ranking the next day.)

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