"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"...
One minute I held the key, next the walls were closed on me and I discovered that my castles stand upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand."
Oh who would ever want to be king?"
Anyway, wow. I did not give Jokey Smurf a snowball's chance in Smurf Hell to win this match. He wasn't *that* great against Jo and while he has been finding his form I still didn't think he'd have it. Add to that the fact that it was a day match in the wind? Pfft.
But unlike yesterday's Elf/Rafa match, Nole's not going to get mad props for the game he played today. He didn't take it Fed and he didn't "win" it so much as Fed "lost" it (in more ways than one). But the fact is that this is exactly the game he had to play. Muzz has opened up the playbook on Fed and has broadcast it for the world to see. Why try and outhit him? He'll just force you to miss. Force him to beat you. And luckily Nole realized that before it was too late:
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, I felt it. I felt that I have a game -- eve from the start of the match I felt I played well. But then in important moments, break balls, I just make some really uncharacteristic unforced errors. As I said, later in the match it changed. I just waited more, being more patient and creating the opportunity to make a winner in the point and waiting for his unforced errors. We kind of changed the roles. I think, yeah, on 3-2 second set it was a key game. Afterwards, I started playing much better.
Q. Is that a shock when you see a player like Roger Federer with his class and greatness give you just points on some of those forehands that he would never miss a few years ago?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, look, if you make him work - if you make anybody work on the court - it's normal that, you know, if he's not on the top of his level he starts making mistakes.
That's where you need to step it up and use the opportunity. That's what I did today: I returned really well and I always made him play another extra shot, which was important.
Q. He's been somewhat unpredictable lately. How does that change your attitude going into a match? Do you tend to want to sit back and see what he's doing, or go and play your game anyway?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I needed to adjust, and that was really necessary after the first set. It was obvious that I wasn't doing something right, and that he wasn't playing anything special. He just wasn't playing anything really special. He was just playing really wisely and changing the pace and playing a lot of short slices on my backhand. That's where he opened up the opportunity to make, you know, offensive shot. That's what it did. Afterwards, I was the one who was changing a lot of pace and I was playing a lot of spins and just waiting patiently.
So you always need to adjust in the match. You know, even though you prepare the tactics before, sometimes it doesn't got the way you imagined or planned it to be. You just have to change it in the match.
While a few years ago that might not have worked, it seems to be working now. Think of Fed's three losses to the Big 3 this year. Does anyone argue that Fed's the one that collapsed in all three of them? He gifted that fifth set to Rafa at AO, and he absolutely crashed and burned against Muzz in IW and today against Nole. Is it a footwork issue? A technique issue? A health issue? Hell's if I know. All I do know is that it's happening, it's happening with frequency, and it's happening in big matches against players who believe they can beat him (sorry, A-Rod, you're not in that club). He's choking and the top players are taking advantage of it. I never thought I'd mention the "C" word alongside The Mighty Fed.
My theory on it? It's nothing groundbreaking. The guy had it "easy" for a while there. Other players just didn't believe they could beat him. He stepped on the court with no pressure and his game just flowed unconsciously. I mean, isn't that the beauty of Fed's game? That he makes it look so easy and balletic? He built up a kingdom where his enemies never truly believed it was worth it to storm the castle. Yes, he really was *that* much better than everyone else, but the belief aspect is really what spearates the men from the boys in elite individual sports.
But then, starting with Rafa, things slowly started to change. He had a challenger who could beat him, but in his mind, only on clay. So he succeeded that part of the kingdom to Rafa and protected everything else. Well to the shock of many, that toehold would created a powerhous that would lead to his defeat at Wimbly and his loss at AO. Add that to the fact that he's not exactly Lancelot anymore, and we've got a huge problem that escalated a little too quickly for him to adjust to. And now he's besieged on all sides and the walls *are* closing in.
It's actually quite sad to watch. Jon Wertheim twittered this after today's match:
I personally think Fed's got 3 more Slams left in him. And that's even if he doesn't do anything to change his game. I think he's that good. But it's starting to get really uncomfortable to watch, even though he's losing to my stable of players.