Sunday, 18 November 2012

WTF Final: A Shot to Nothing

ATP WTF Champion 2012: Novak Djokovic
Barclays ATP World Tour Finals
Final Match
Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer 76(6) 75

After two hours and 14 minutes of some of the highest quality tennis seen on the ATP tour all year, Novak Djokovic claimed the second World Tour Finals Title of his career, denying Roger Federer the last word on an undulating tour which has seen both men vie for the #1 spot.  And in many ways, the match they played was a perfect microcosm for the story of the 2012 season.

Reminiscent of the previous night, the Federer-loving crowd were jubilant as their favourite reeled off the first nine points. Djokovic, by contrast, seemed lethargic and only just managed to scrape onto the scoreboard in his second service game, his resilience eclipsed by the effortless play from Federer, whose gears seemed to be firmly set to autopilot. The World #2 rolled through the next few games with Djokovic just about managing to keep pace, and it was a long time before the Serb was stirred into attack as he pulled back the break and held to level at 4-4.

An immense cross-court winner from Djokovic brought up another break for a 5-4 lead, the first time he had been ahead in the contest. However, he failed to hold his nerve or his serve in the following game, letting a set point slip through his fingers as Federer levelled the match.

It seemed inevitable that the opening set would be decided on a tie-break. And it was the Serb who built a early lead in the breaker.  However, an unbelievable half-volley from Federer ignited the crowd.  Despite the backing of the crowd, the masterful shot wasn't quite enough to significantly disrupt the Djokovic rhythm and he went on to claim the opening set a couple of points later.

Set two followed the pattern of the first, Federer, with an early break and in the ascendancy for most of the set, seemed ever able to call on an ace to temper any threats from the other side of the net. However, serving for the set at 5-3 40-15, Federer found his forehand lacking, and errors gifted four straight points to the Serb and he obliged by pulling the game back on serve.  More sloppy play from a Federer who looked increasingly tired allowed Djokovic to break the Swiss man at the next opportunity, giving him the chance to serve for the Championship. When that championship point came, it played out as the match had before it. Federer was the attacking player, Djokovic pushed back to defence. But Djokovic was to sustain the barrage to flip the outcome, finally defeating Federer with a shot to nothing backhand down the line.  The hint of a Federer racquet on the passing shot would have won the point for the Swiss player with Djokovic scrabbling out of position.  As it was, the backhand was pinpoint in its accuracy, squeezed past the outstretched Federer racquet to claim the title for the Serb.

Game set match championship Djokovic, incredulous and animated in his celebrations as he shook his opponent's hand at the net.

It is the second time that Djokovic has lifted the Finals trophy, but the first since it moved to its current home on the bank of the Thames. The event also marks Djokovic's second time finishing the season as World Number 1, and the first time since Federer's incumbency that a player has successfully defended the #1 ranking over the course of a season.

Speaking of his second successive ranking-topping season, Djokovic philosophised that 2011 was the dream season, the almost unbelievable fairy tale, while 2012 was the gritty reality.

Djokovic was many things over the course of the season, not least of which was consistent. He was, for example, the only one of the top four to play three of the four slam finals. However, of greater significance is the mentality that sees him through matches. On three occasions during the WTF Djokovic was outplayed: against Murray in the group stage, versus del Potro in the semi-final and in the opening exchanges of both sets during the final. But like a metronome Djokovic kept rhythmically chipping away at his opponent, persisting with his defences and refusing to escalate to attack out of desperation. A paragon of composure, his defence may keep him in the rallies, but knowing when to transition to attack has steadied him through matches without resorting to rash and desperate tennis.  Perhaps the best example of this was back at the French Open.  Facing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Quarter final Djokovic looked unlikely to progress to the next round, some inspired tennis from the Frenchman bringing up match points.  But sticking to his game plan, utilising his mercurial talents to defend the French ballistics, Djokovic countered the match points to force Tsonga into the errors and keep in the match.  Tsonga was not to recover from the disappointment of the match being within his grasp, and Djokovic continued to wind the screw to further frustrate his opponent and move himself firmly into the ascendancy in the tie.

It is the lasting characteristic of the Djokovic season and separates it from the unbelievable aura of 2011, grounding it in a reality. It is, therefore, hard not to agree with Roger Federer, preemptive in his pre-event press conference as he intoned, "we know who the real number one is."  And Novak Djokovic has been that player for the best part of two years.

Photo from UniQlo Facebook


stuarty987 said...

It was a great final, everything we've come to expect from these guys. You always feel when these two meet that Nole is just hanging on until Fed misses a couple of shots before the real match begins.

Only downside of the finals was Rafa not being there. Always feel the draw is lopsided when it's only the big 3.

You've summed up Djokovic's 2012 perfectly, really enjoyed this one!

random cloud said...

Thanks for your comment Stuart. Agreed Rafa's absence was felt, particularly in the group stages.

Personally, though, I'd really like one or two of the other to step up and turn a big four into a big five or a big six - Del Potro, especially I'd like to see get back to his US Open winning form.

Djokovic was understated in his triumphs this season, and that's the mark of his deserving to be #1 after 12 months of contest.


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