over to you, tsonga!

Posted on January 25, 2008

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Novak Djokovic finally held his nerve in a big game and beat a glum-looking, his-heart-is-not-in-it Roger Federer, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) in the semi-final of the Australian Open.

Now my money is truly on France’s surprise breakout player, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, to win it all in Sunday’s final.

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(Photo from Panaromic)

What an exciting match it is going to be! A serve and volley player like Tsonga against Djokovic the baseline slugger.

Even as I try to digest Federer’s loss and mourn his exit from the tournament, I wonder if we are witnessing a changing of the guard in the tennis world here.

Yesterday, Raphael Nadal was stunned by an unstoppable Tsonga, today Federer got dethroned by Djokovic.

In retrospect, Federer never looked like he brought his A game into the match, chalking up an appalling number of errors, while his serve, which had bailed him out countless times, deserted him today. The precision with which he usually places shots also seemed to have eluded him. Throughout the match, Federer just looked like he wanted to be elsewhere and never gave a determined Djokovic much of a fight.

Federer could have closed out the first set when he was up 5-4, after breaking Djokovic’s serve, but uncharacteristically sent many routine shots into the net, setting up opportunities for Djokovic to steal the set later.

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(Getty Images) 

What happened to Federer today?

It was one of his most off-color matches ever. He was not playing aggressively nor was he his usual dominating self. He did not even seem motivated.

After losing the first two sets in quick succession, the crowd in Melbourne was clearly behind the defending champion, cheering and willing him on to come back and win this in five sets. Strangely, Federer just could not get into gear and conceded this to Djokovic.

“I think he made the more important points today, it was a bit unfortunate for me,” Federer told the media. “It depends a lot on form, you can’t always play your best. There is no doubt I have played better before. I’ve created a monster that I need to win every tournament. Still, the semi-finals isn’t bad.”

Here’s hoping that this is just a glitch and Federer would be back in fine form very soon, although the reality of things is that his dominance is going to come to an end one of these days. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he could still beat Pete Sampras’ record in the number of Grand Slam wins before his era is over.

At the same time, let’s have some perspective here. After wowing us for years, perhaps our expectations of Federer have also grown way out of proportion. This is after all a semi-final match of a Grand Slam and Federer was beaten by the world number three – significant, yes, but not as catastrophic as some might make it out to be, nor the end, as some might have already declared, of the Federer era.

On balance, this is a good development for tennis as new blood is coming up and the final of a Grand Slam does not have either Federer or Nadal in it, much as I admire them both. The last time that happened was in 2005 in the French Open, which does make today’s result a landmark of sorts. Keep in mind too, that the Australian Open has been fertile ground for throwing up new stars, such as Marcos Baghdatis, Marat Safin and Fernando Gonzalez.

One last thing – there is no faulting Djokovic’s play today, he served well under pressure and produced great winners. But I can’t help getting the feeling that Djokovic needs to be taught some manners, the way he shouts at the ball boys to bring him his towel, or the arrogance he is already displaying, despite not yet being number one. He had also been unforgivably rude to the crowd throughout the tournament, yelling at them for cheering when he serves. You certainly don’t see Federer doing that.

Perhaps Djokovic’s manners would eventually mature the same way his game has and someone would tell him that he still has a lot to learn from Federer – that to be a champion, one ought to be a world-class person, not just a world-class tennis player.

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