November 17, 2015
Inventive Roger Federer grew some stubble before he went into battle against Novak Djokovic – and the facial hair produced more than a scare as he ended the Serb’s three-year, 38-match unbeaten record indoors.
The rugged look seemed to suit the much-loved Roger, as he showed even more inner animal than the world number one to pull off a famous victory in the O2 arena -Novak’s first defeat there since 2011.
Federer never let Djokovic breathe easily or enjoy a moment of composure and confidence. The cool Swiss ran away to enjoy a surprise 7-5, 6-2 victory, even before Novak had time to settle.
The immaculate Federer joked later about his sudden stubble surprise: ‘The water in London is very special. I shaved this morning and got this beard this afternoon.’
And yet it wasn’t just Roger’s appearance that gave him the edge and grazed the favourite’s aura of invincibility when it came to the early psychological battle. Federer even stole Novak’s towel station before the match began, thus unsettling and confusing his adversary before he took to the court.
A bewildered Djokovic couldn’t quite believe how he had been “psyched” during the preliminaries: ‘I don’t think you’re advised which bench you should take as a player, I don’t think it’s a tactical approach from him, maybe I’m wrong.’
Noval might well be mistaken. All-out aggression and a mixed, relentless attacking strategy are what worked the miracle for one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. But Federer wasn’t keen to share his tactical secrets, knowing he might yet meet Djokovic in the final.
He explained: ‘I won’t tell you [about tactics] because we might play again.’
One of the beautiful twists of the World Tour Finals is the fact that Djokovic may well have the chance to take his revenge on Roger before the week is out. If it happens, Novak may not be so generous next time. The Serb claimed: ‘I made too many unforced errors, I handed him the match, especially in the second set.’
For now, however, Federer is fully entitled to savour one of his greatest victories, one that qualifies him for the semi-finals already.
Federer added: ‘It’s definitely always a thrill to come here and win at the O2 – and after the year Novak’s had it’s even more special. I tried to hit some serves out wide and made it quite often but I made it down the middle too.
‘I got a little lucky at the right time but at the same time I pushed him my way. The last couple of years I’ve played up the court a bit more and it’s paying off. I’m serving more consistent with the new racquet and that’s been key too. Aggressive tennis pays off sometimes and you have to mix it up against Novak.’
Although many know the required approach, few can put it into practice. And that’s why Federer’s battling performance at the O2 must go down as one of the best of his entire career.
Given how unexpected it was and how emphatically the 34-year-old imposed himself against a player six years younger and unrivalled indoors in recent times, no one would dare to write Federer off now. And if he wins the World Tour Finals, it would bring the house down.
Who knows, he might never shave again.
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