Monday, September 14, 2015

U.S. Open Men's Final: The Cake Boss

For a while, it seemed as if the Tennis Gods just didn't want anyone to have any fun on this final Sunday of the U.S. Open. Hmmm, or maybe they just wanted to make us wait in order to garner our full attention.

In the end, it was worth it.

After (naturally) a nearly three-hour rain delay before the last U.S. Open final to be conducted before the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium is operable in 2016, world #1 Novak Djokovic and #2 Roger Federer faced off for the forty-second time in a match that promised to add a definitive footnote to the epic story about whether the Swiss 34-year old walking, talking immortal really COULD win another slam, or whether the Serb's still-growing collection of major titles was going to edge him even closer to forcing his name directly into every future discussion of an era otherwise dominated by the major event runs of Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Surely, this final would "settle things" on some level, right? Well, for now. On this day, at least. For a few hours... but that's about all.

Federer had been masterful on hard courts all summer long (even vs. Djokovic, who hadn't been in fine form of late). He'd been even more untouchable during the last two weeks in New York, bringing back vivid memories of his "clinic" days of dispensing with his "competition" as if pulling the wings off flies -- gracefully, of course -- while winning five straight Open titles from 2004-08. His form had gotten him safely and easily to his first final at Flushing Meadows since 2009.

But waiting for him there was Djokovic, who was surely going to bring a game and heart Federer hadn't seen this year in New York... nor when he faced and defeated him in straight sets in Cincinnati a few weeks ago.

As anticipated, the crowd was with Federer. And who wouldn't be under the circumstances? A possible Federer title run was a bit of history that WAS being talked about for this Open's future on Day 1, and in this case everything had played out to allow potential to morph into reality.

Of course, what some people sometimes forget is that to outwardly root for his opponent, or for that opponent to go out of his way to outwardly challenge him, often inspires Djokovic to call upon the fire-breathing champion's heart that has willed him to this place in his career. A place where there is NO one -- save maybe Rafa in the 5th set at Roland Garros -- that any ATP player would want to face in a crucial moment in the latter stages of a big match LESS than Djokovic. To poke him is to prod him, and when that happens he's usually the one climbing into the stands when everything is finished.

This day/night would be no different. Faced with match-long incursions by the veteran Federer into his service games -- including late "surprise attack" charges toward the service box on many second serves -- Djokovic was forced to put on his "big point pants" earlier in the match than might normally be the case. The Serb's personality is not to cower when faced with such situations, but to rise and fight and outlast. And he did just that on Sunday.

Djokovic rode a mid-set break all the way to the end of the 1st, winning it 6-4 after saving a break point in game #8 and then serving things out at love. He saved five BP in game #2 of the 2nd, only to see Federer finally convert on his ninth BP chance of the set to end it, taking the Serb's serve to win the set 7-5. It was a rare instance of Federer winning a truly big point in this match, a contest which he would have likely handily won against 99.99% of the rest of the players on tour. Or maybe against every one... except Djokovic.

With Federer's sneak attacks continuing, and with Djokovic sometimes thrown off by the tactic, the Serb still managed to persevere to hold serve and get a break in game #9 of the 3rd. Saving two break points one game later, he held to take the set at 6-4 and move to within one set of winning his second U.S. Open crown in his fifth final in New York in the last six years. In the 4th set, he jumped out to a fast start by breaking Federer in the opening game, then going up a double break at 5-2. Djokovic's surge toward the finish line all seemed to arrive in a rush as, having won seven of ten games, he was suddenly serving for the match.

Ah, but it wasn't going to be that easy.

After converting just three of eighteen BP chances in the match, Federer broke on his second of game #8 in the 4th, then held serve and forced the Serb to try to serve it out one more time. Again, Federer held three BP, but when the world #1 saved them all (making the Swiss just 4-of-23 on the day) he soon reached match point. A long Federer return ended the 6-4/5-7/6-4/6-4 match, as Djokovic made the historic "title turn" by moving into double-digit slam victory territory with #10, within arm's reach of Nadal and Pete Sampras' second-best total of fourteen and just seven behind Federer, once again denied the additional major title that he seems bound and determined -- and likely destined -- to eventually lift before he's finished.

Consistently undervalued, underrated and overlooked, even with what-will-one-day-be-seen-as-legendary slam consistency and an ability to put himself right in the place he needs to be, it's never a bad idea to recount some of the numbers that Djokovic has been putting up for years. Namely, that he played in all four slams finals in '15, as well as at eight of the last ten, had reached 21-of-22 major semifinals and twenty-six straight slam quarterfinals. Today's match was the eighteenth slam final of his career (tied for fourth all-time, and just two away from tying Nadal for second behind Federer's record twenty-seven... a mark which could eventually be in jeopardy).

Of course, with three finals in the last six slams, Federer's late-career pick-up could still push his accomplishments beyond the reach of any mortal for a very, very long time. After being written off as a slam (and #1) threat before in the past, a healthy and seemingly even fitter and stronger Federer has come back with a vengeance in 2015. And they'll be no retirement talk from him. Uh-uh.

Federer has proven this summer, and the entire year, that there's no reason to even lightly question the notion about him possibly being the "best ever." Whoever thought that to be the case before, but were made to wonder considering Nadal's big match mastery of the Swiss great during the height of the Spaniard's career, can be content with the knowledge that Federer appears to have both arrived before and has likely outlasted Nadal as a continuing slam threat.

Djokovic is another story.

In the last twenty-one slams, Djokovic has played in sixteen finals, winning nine; while Federer stands at five with one, and Nadal in ten with six.

While Federer is already a living legend, and anything that comes his way the remainder of his career is icing on a very large and elaborate cake, Djokovic is still in the cake-making business. As much talk as there was about Serena Williams' near-Grand Slam season, Djokovic won three slams himself this season, and finally knocked down Nadal in Paris, only to fall short in the final against Stan Wawrinka. He got closer to the feat than Serena did... and no man has pulled it off since 1969. Djokovic will once again head into '16 chasing his white whale of a Roland Garros title. The longer the quest goes on, the more epic it becomes.

A win in Paris may yet be the high water mark that elevates Djokovic's status not above, but at the very least nipping at the heels of Federer, and maybe surpassing Nadal when his full career accomplishments are considered.

But those are just numbers for, you know, that ever-present "Numbers Guy" in the back room who is slaving away over the large accounting book that will eventually tell the tale of a Djokovic career that has played out in the middle and now back-end of an era rightfully named for Misters Federer and Nadal, and will likely carry on beyond the playing careers of both. Meanwhile, the next generation of champions still looks very, very green. Who knows, Djokovic's thirties might prove to be more productive than even Federer's have been... without his own personal "Djokovic" to block his path toward a handful of mid-thirties slam titles to pad the stats.

The "Numbers Guy" is going to be busy. Don't wait up for him.

...#1-seeded American Taylor Fritz won the boys title, defeating #5-seeded fellow U.S. player Tommy Paul 6-2/6-7(4)/6-2. Americans have won three straight junior slams in 2015 (Paul won in Paris, defeating Fritz in the final, and Reilly Opelka took Wimbledon).

LIKE ON DAY 14: Flavia celebrates!

LIKE ON DAY 14: Fabio celebrates!

IT-SHOULDN'T-BE-NECESSARY-NEWS-BUT-IT-IS ON DAY 14: But it won't have to be after this Open... at least not at THIS slam.

Even better, Asderaki was eagle-eyed and on fire!

CROWD MASH-UP ON DAY 14: Bend it like Wolverine 007

HMMM...HERE'S AN IDEA FOR DAY 14: Maybe one of these two can enter the U.S. presidential race?

Did someone mention something about climbing into the stands... ON DAY 14?:

LIKE ON DAY 14: The LAST year of dealing with this.

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #2 Roger Federer/SUI 6-4/5-7/6-4/6-4

#12 P.Herbert/N.Mahut (FRA/FRA) def. #8 J.Murray/J.Peers (GBR/AUS) 6-4/6-4

#4 M.Hingis/L.Paes (SUI/IND) def. B.Mattek-Sands/S.Querrey (USA/USA) 6-4/3-6 [10-7]

#1 Taylor Fritz/USA def. #5 Tommy Paul/USA 6-2/6-7(4)/6-2

F.Aliassime/D.Shapovalov (CAN/CAN) def. B.Holt/R.Smith (USA/USA) 7-5/76(3)

#2 Mackenzie McDonald (UCLA) def. #4 Gonzales Austin (Vanderbilt) 6-2/7-5

#1 Shingo Kunieda/JPN def. Stephane Houdet/FRA 6-7(4)/6-3/6-2

#1 S.Houdet/G.Reid (FRA/GBR) def. M.Jeremiasz/N.Peifer (FRA/FRA) 6-3/6-1

2007 Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic
2008 Roger Federer d. Andy Murray
2009 Juan Martin del Potro d. Roger Federer
2010 Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic
2011 Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal
2012 Andy Murray d. Novak Djokovic
2013 Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic
2014 Marin Cilic d. Kei Nishikori
2015 Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer

17 - Roger Federer, SUI
14 - Rafael Nadal, ESP
14 - Pete Sampras, USA
12 - Roy Emerson, USA
11 - Bjorn Borg, SWE
11 - Rod Laver, AUS
10 - Bill Tilden, USA
17...Roger Federer
14...Rafael Nadal
10...Novak Djokovic
2...Andy Murray
2...Stan Wawrinka
2...Lleyton Hewitt
2...Marin Cilic
2...Juan Martin del Potro

27 - ROGER FEDERER (17-10)
20 - Rafael Nadal (14-6)
18 - NOVAK DJOKOVIC (10-8)
8 - Andy Murray (2-6)
4 - Lleyton Hewitt (2-2)
2 - Stan Wawrinka (2-0)
2 - Robin Soderling (0-2)
1 - Marin Cilic (1-0)
1 - Juan Martin del Potro (1-0)
1 - Marcos Baghdatis (0-1)
1 - Tomas Berdych (0-1)
1 - David Ferrer (0-1)
1 - Kei Nishikori (0-1)
1 - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (0-1)
[Slam Finals - Open era]
27 - ROGER FEDERER (17-10)
20 - Rafael Nadal (14-6)
19 - Ivan Lendl (8-11)
18 - Pete Sampras (14-4)
18 - NOVAK DJOKOVIC (10-8)
17 - Rod Laver (11-6)
16 - Bjorn Borg (11-5)
16 - Ken Rosewall (8-8)
[U.S. Open - acitve]
3...Rafael Nadal (2-1)
2...Lleyton Hewitt (1-1)
2...Andy Murray (1-1)
1...Marin Cilic (1-0)
1...Juan Martin del Potro (1-0)
1...Kei Nishikori (0-1)
[2015 ATP]
6...Andy Murray, GBR (4-2)
4...Rafael Nadal, ESP (3-1)
4...Kei Nishikori, JPN (3-1)
3...David Ferrer, ESP (3-0)
3...Stan Wawrinka, SUI (3-0)
3...Dominic Thiem, AUT (3-0)
3...Kevin Anderson, RSA (1-2)
3...Tomas Berdych, CZE (0-3)

2007 U.S. Open - Roger Federer 7-6/7-6/6-4
2014 Wimbledon - Novak Djokovic 6-7/6-4/7-6/5-7/6-4
2015 Wimbledon - Novak Djokovic 7-6/6-7/6-4/6-3
2015 U.S. Open - Novak Djokovic 6-4/5-7/6-4/6-4

109...Jimmy Connors
94...Ivan Lendl
87...Roger Federer
77...John McEnroe
67...Rafael Nadal
64...Bjorn Borg
64...Pete Sampras
62...Guillermo Vilas
60...Andre Agassi
57...Ilie Nastase
49...Boris Becker
47...Rod Laver

44 - Djokovic vs. Nadal
36 - Lendl vs. McEnroe
35 - Connors vs. Lendl
35 - Becker vs. Edberg
35 - Connors vs. McEnroe
34 - Agassi vs. Sampras
33 - Federer vs. Nadal
[ATP Finals]
22 - Djokovic vs. Nadal
20 - Lendl vs. McEnroe
20 - Federer vs. Nadal
16 - Agassi vs. Sampras
16 - Becker vs. Edberg
15 - Connors vs. McEnroe
13 - Becker vs. Lendl
[Slam Finals]
8 - Federer vs. Nadal
7 - Djokovic vs. Nadal
5 - Djokovic vs. Murray
5 - Agassi vs. Sampras
5 - Lendl vs. Wilander
4 - Borg vs. Connors
4 - Borg vs. McEnroe
4 - Federer vs. Roddick

All for now.

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