March 17, 2014
A weird and wonderful final saw Novak Djokovic take his first title of 2014 by beating Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3).
But Novak is still having trouble when it comes to closing out matches. And it wasn’t his own offensive stroke-play which carried the day, as he reversed Roger’s victory in Dubai a fortnight ago. Djokovic triumphed mainly due to his awesome defence, which caused a frustrated Federer to run out of steam just when it really mattered.
You might think it is harsh to criticise Novak’s game when he has just beaten one of the all-time-greats of tennis. But this was hardly convincing and he knows it. Having twice failed to close out against John Isner earlier at Indian Wells, Djokovic served for the title against Federer at 5-4 in the third set. Roger simply took him apart in what should have been the decisive game and battled back to lead 6-5.
This is when Federer had a chance to take advantage of the “doubts” which Novak later admitted he’d been having about his form so far this year. The problem was, Roger had nothing left. Why?
The answer was that it had taken something almost superhuman to get past that awesome Djokovic defence all match. So Federer had used up all his energy supplies by the time he reached a winning position. Due to sheer fatigue, there was no mental strength left to generate the high-risk winners and killer instinct Roger required.
It was still a shame to see Federer fall away so badly in that twelfth game and subsequent tie-break. He talked afterwards about being happy with his tennis, and Novak is right to say this Federer is far better than the one of 2013.
But these guys are perfectionists – and so they won’t mind me pointing out the inescapable truth. Neither of these two legends really showed how to close out a match. Both have work to do if they want to get back to winning Slams during the rest of the year.
Federer will feel he is generally heading in the right direction, though some will wonder whether he can achieve monumental things over five sets.
Djokovic will take confidence from this victory – and confidence is what he so badly needs. Is coach Boris Becker the man to give him more confidence? I have my doubts. Novak used to be the great Alpha Male of tennis. Now he isn’t even the great Alpha Male in his own camp any more – that’s Boris. How does such arrangement help your confidence in the long run?
For all its imperfections, this was still a gloriously unpredictable final in the American sunshine. You still felt privileged to be watching two giants trying so hard to find answers against each other. Both will come out with all guns blazing at Wimbledon this summer. Everything that happens before June is just the build-up.
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