I’m hardly a conspiracy theorist who speculates about players tanking, or strategically conserving themselves at a tournament for some future benefit. Nor do I think Federer would resort to such tactics unless presented with clear, irrefutable evidence to the contrary. And yet I found myself watching McFudd lose to Satan dismally in straight sets on Sunday morning, feeling relatively unconcerned, and in fact, a little glad.
After all, a few extra days of physical and emotional recuperation might just be what the doctor ordered … for me that is. Being a McFed freak is hard work, ya know?!
From the very start of the match, it was obvious that Djokovic came to win. His semifinal performance was by far the most focused I have ever seen him since the start of the clay season, no doubt seeking to reassert dominance and create momentum going into the French Open. After all, this clay season has so far been more about Rafa and Roger than him, much like the good ol’ days when Satan was No 3.
For the vast majority of the match, Satan played solid, almost untouchable tennis, picking off Federer’s serves like cherries and breaking Wodge twice to seal the first set 62. From there on, Djokovic continued to cruise on serve while Federer held on rather laboriously in the second set, until 5-4 match point, when Federer finally found a terminal forehand in a rally against a seemingly impenetrable opponent. Roger would go on to break and then hold at love, suddenly hitting shots with much more control and weight than before, much to the manic delight of the entire nation of Italy, judging by the cheers from the crowd accompanying this turn of events.
No worries, Roger. Glad you showed up … about 17 games too late.
This unexpected momentum swing had Operation US Open Revenge written all over it, except for the fact that since taking over the top spot a year ago, Satan has matured into a mental titan. One mini break in the tiebreak was all that he needed to fend off Federer’s resurgence, as he closed off the match 62 76.
But lest you should be misled by the drama of the last 15 minutes and the raucous, gladiatorial atmosphere at Foro Italico (I’m sorry, it’s Rome, it would be illegal for me to write a post without using the word “gladiatorial”), the match was by no means close, and it wasn’t all of Novak’s doing either. Federer committed 42 unforced errors in 2 sets, over twice as many as Satan. His service percentage also hovered shockingly between 30-50%. Stats like that weren’t going to cut it against a lesser opponent, let alone the World No 1 holding 3 of the 4 slams.
Yet my relative unconcern over this loss stems from several reasons:
- As much as I would love to see Federer win on “real” clay and at a tournament he has yet to add to his growingly more comprehensive collection, it seems rather like the tennistical equivalent of a first world problem to bitch about McFudd’s failure to win his 8th title in 11 tournaments. This level of consistency would’ve stretched thin even back in the glory days of 2004-2007, and I am too astounded at Federer’s 2012 results so far to have any emotional capacity left for fan rage.
- I half expected Federer to pull out at the start of the tournament, or suffer a shock defeat in the early rounds to the “Volandri” or “Stepanek” of 2012 (Seppi, anyone?). After playing 9 matches in the past 11 days, the fact that he even made it into the semifinals had already exceeded my expectations.
- Between the prospect of a quick loss and early arrival in Paris, and the ordeal of gutting out a marathon against Satan, and then facing Nadal on clay in the final, you tell me which one is the lesser of two evils. (The fact that the final was delayed by rain reassured me in my judgement on this in hindsight.)
- From the very start of the match – and indeed the tournament, Federer and Djokovic have exuded contrastingly different level of hunger and focus. And after winning 5 titles by May and 2 of the 4 Masters in 2012, I can hardly begrudge Federer for being mentally too full for a tournament of Rome’s caliber.
Roland Garros, however, is a whole other kettle of fish. Operation USO Revenge, bitches. It is on.