Tennis fans got exactly what they were hoping for on Super Saturday, when the semifinal showdown between world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and the winningest player in tennis history, Roger Federer, went to five sets on Arthur Ashe, with Djokovic coming back from a two-sets-to-love deficit to win 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 in 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Following the match, Djokovic called Saturday’s win one of the greatest victories of his career. “And it's probably, under the circumstances, the greatest victory I had in 2011,” he added. “Because I was two sets down, and I haven't won many matches in my life when I was two sets down. Five, six years ago was the last one. Especially against Roger… when he's in control of the match he's confident, and it's really hard to get back into the match.”
After a slow start from Djokovic, Federer took the first two sets by repeatedly attacking the Serbian’s backhand. But just as Djokovic found his groove and an answer for Federer’s strategy, Federer cooled off and dropped the third and fourth sets, shocking the crowd, who was behind the five-time US Open champion throughout the match. It was in the fifth set when the fans got the battle they were looking for, with long rallies, angled shots and impressive gamesmanship from both players.
The turning point for Djokovic seemed to have come in the second set when serving at 1-3, a fan whistled during his serve and distracted him. Djokovic stopped play and craned his neck to glare at the fan all the way in the upper deck. It turned out that a fan had fainted from the heat and another fan was whistling to get the attention of an usher to help the fan down and out of the stadium. The play stopped for the duration of the minor disruption and Djokovic came back to hold serve and then immediately break Federer for the first time in the match. Though he still lost the set, Djokovic began to find a rhythm after that stoppage in play, and perhaps the interruption affected Federer’s rhythm as well.
After Djokovic began playing as he has been all year in his near perfect season during the second and third set, the fifth set began just like the first, with both men holding serve and posting nearly identical stats, until Djokovic began serving in the eighth game. Federer took the first two service points from Djokovic, reading the court perfectly and blasting two winners. Djokovic then double-faulted and followed that mistake with a critical unforced error -- a forehand hit wide -- handing Federer the opportunity to serve for the match.
But Federer couldn't capitalize, and serving at 5-3 allowed Djokovic to break him back, squandering two match points and putting the set back on serve. Djokovic then went on to hold serve and break Federer one more time before taking a 6-5 lead and serving for the match.
“I don't want to say I've been in control of the fifth set, because that's not true,” Djokovic said of his go-for-broke play when Federer had match point in the fifth set. “He was serving for the match. He [had] match points, and I could easily lose. But this is what happens at this stage of a tournament when two top players meet each other. Just a couple of points decide the winner.”
Federer and Djokovic had a very similar box score at the end of the match, with Federer notching 11 aces to Djokovic’s eight, Djokovic hit 48 winners to Federer’s 49 and they had almost the same first serve percentage with Federer slightly edging Djokovic with 61 percent to Nole’s 59 percent. Where Federer fumbled was in his errors. The 16-time Grand Slam champion had 59 unforced errors on the match to Djokovic’s 35.
If fans were experiencing déjà vu while watching Saturday’s semifinal match, it may have been because Djokovic and Federer played each other in the semifinals of the 2010 US Open, with the same result. In that match, Federer and Djokovic exchanged sets to send it into a fifth, which Djokovic won 7-5 and earned a trip to the Finals.
This is the first time since Federer won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003 that he hasn’t won at least one Grand Slam in a year.
“It's awkward having to explain this loss because I feel like I should be doing the other press conference. I didn't play so well at the very end. Sure, it's disappointing, but I have only myself to blame,” a dejected Federer told the media after the match.
“That's why we all watch sports, isn't it?,” an introspective Federer continued. “Because we don't know the outcome and everybody has a chance, and until the very moment it can still turn. That's what we love about the sport, but it's also very cruel and tough sometimes.”
In what will be his third appearance in the US Open Finals, Djokovic will face Rafael Nadal on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday, in a rematch of the 2010 US Open Final.
- This is only the fifth time the top four seeds have made up the men’s semifinals. The last time this happened at the Open was in 1992
- Federer put an end to Djokovic’s 43 match winning streak earlier this year in the Roland Garros semifinals.
- This was Federer and Djokovic’s ninth meeting in a Grand Slam, they are tied for second place for most number of meetings at Grand Slams.