September 22, 2018
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic played together, laughed together and lost together.
In the end it wasn’t quite a marriage made in heaven.
But you know what they say. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Federer and Djokovic came into the vast Chicago arena in their own separate worlds. They seemed to leave the same way.
Such is life.
In between times there was undeniable chemistry, ignited by Novak’s wayward shot in the third game.
It struck the unsuspecting Roger in the area of his left kidney. That blow will almost certainly have left a colourful bruise.
Federer, who was looking the other way, was heard expressing his surprise and pain.
Djojovic put his hand over his mouth in a gesture of stunned shame. Then both men burst out laughing.
‘I think my heart stopped for a few seconds,’ Novak was heard to tell Roger apologetically at the next break.
But all was forgiven. Especially after the newly-matched pair took the first set 7-5 on a tie-break.
‘Happy we did this?’ Federer seemed to ask Djokovic at one point. Novak replied ‘very happy.’
Memories of Prince William and Kate Middleton on their wedding day. Well, almost…but not quite.
Novak was a strident partner. Brash. He had even thrust out his chest to bump Federer’s shoulder in celebration of their temporary success.
It proved premature.
Alas, the bromance passed through the honeymoon phase. Now it was about to experience “issues.”
There was the underlying problem that they had never been close. Not in all their years on tour together.
Djokovic had seemed jealous of the worldwide adoration Roger generated. He only received lukewarm affection by comparison.
Didn’t the world know that Novak deserved more love? Why couldn’t they see how brilliant he was too?
There had been resentment on Federer’s side as well. Because Djokovic had often shown such a steely refusal to go along with the romantic storyline.
Novak had beaten Roger in two relatively recent Wimbledon finals. He had done it again in 2018, to become the first man to claim all nine Masters titles.
Federer knew deep down this man really was as good as him. Sometimes he was even better. Roger secretly hated that.
So perhaps it was inevitable that cracks began to appear in their fledgling, on-court relationship.
Federer’s serve was vulnerable. Novak’s supportive work at the net wasn’t always reliable.
The combination created insecurity in both men. Particularly after Roger was broken and they lost the second set 3-6.
Perhaps that was partly why, with the decisive first-to-ten breaker in the balance, Federer double-faulted.
Things were never quite the same for Federer and Djokovic after that.
Their stolen whispers lacked conviction. Their passion for their partnership had passed.
But another bromance had blossomed. On the other side of the net.
Their names were Jack Sock and Kevin Anderson. The proverbial odd couple. But they had begun to generate some fireworks of their own.
And when Sock returned a Federer serve with match-winning ferocity, it was over at 10-6.
Anderson yelled. Sock echoed the passion. A sub-plot had come to fruition.
Not exactly the climax anyone had anticipated. But hey, life is full of awkward surprises.
And, for the record, though few particularly cared, Team World were back in the overall match at 1-3.
Team Europe’s latest representatives, Federer and Djokovic, trudged off. Their chemistry exploded.
They were straight-faced. Almost disconsolate.
We remembered their laughter. The promise the partnership had shown so fleetingly.
But it was over.
Mercifully there would be no divorce lawyers.
Would they go back to quietly resenting each other?
Only time would tell.
But it wasn’t quite a love game. Life had put a Sock in it.
By Mark Ryan