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Djokovic and Federer fight off spirited opponents to set up final showdown

Anand Datla
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843   //    12 Nov 2012, 15:45 IST

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 03: (L-R) Andy Murray of Great Britain, Roger Federer of Switzerland, Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina talk to the guests during previews for the ATP World Tour Finals Tennis on November 3, 2012 in London, England. The world’s top eight tennis players arrive at the Royal Court’s of Justice for the official Barclays ATP World Tour Finals Gala, hosted by Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, and generously supported by Moet & Chandon.

The stage is set for a climactic finish to this well contested season of tennis. The top two men as anointed by the rankings system of the ATP will face off in the finals of season ending Championships in London’s spectacular O2 Arena. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer strode into the final match of the tour in contrasting styles that so characterised the manner in which they earn most of their victories. The Serbian showed yet again why he is such a tough conquest, when he scripted another of those come from behind victories to clinch his spot in the finals. Djokovic outmanoeuvred the towering Juan Martin Del Potro into submission 4-6, 6-3 and 6-2 despite being pushed to the back foot. Federer, on the other hand, was unstoppable once he hit his stride as he outclassed Andy Murray 7-6(5), 6-2 to reach the finals here for the third straight year.

It was an uncharacteristic start from Federer, who made four unforced errors to surrender an early break to Murray. The Scot has been a picture of aggression under the studied tutelage of Ivan Lendl and he was un hesitant in going for his shots from the moment the men teed off inside the impressive arena glowing under the vibrant night lights. At 2-0, Murray had an opportunity to take the match farther away from his seasoned opponent, but an ambitious forehand return sailed wide allowing Federer to survive the moment.

Murray would have another sniff at 0-30 in the fifth game. But with Federer on second serve at 15-30, Murray’s unbridled aggression cost him the opportunity when his powerfully struck forehand return flailed just wide. Federer survived yet again to hold serve to 2-3. The early jitters were taken
care of by this time and Federer was slowly but surely beginning to get his feet to dance to the rhythmic harmony of his steadier shot making skills. It was only a matter of time, before Murray’s aggression turned circumspect under the growing weight of Federer’s considerable skills.

MASON, OH – AUGUST 19: Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Roger Federer of Switzerland pose for photographers after the trophy ceremony during the final of the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 19, 2012 in Mason, Ohio.

Energised by the change in tone of the contest, Federer seized the opportunity when Murray ran in on a short ball only to send his backhand pass long to offer break point to the Swiss in the eighth game. The vigour with which Federer commanded the net on the next point to draw level at 4-4 pointed to an unmistakable shift in the drift of this pulsating contest. Federer had successfully turned the tide that was threatening to sink his hopes of making the final and it was Murray now who feeling hunted despite the comfort of being among an army of British fans.

As both men held ground, the set slipped into a tie-breaker and it was Federer again that fell behind 1-3. A forehand winner helped the Swiss even matters before he stepped on the gas at 4-4 when he forced Murray to find a difficult pass off a venomous forehand volley. Murray failed and the
nervousness showed when he dumped a routine backhand in the net to offer two set points. At 6-5, finally Federer sealed the set when he drew Murray deep and wide, a position from which the Scot lacked the ammunition to stay in the battle. The crowd roared its approval and Federer added to the
noise with a guttural scream of his own.

At 1-1 in the second set, Murray seemed secure at 40-0, but a drop shot that lost its disguise even before it passed the net allowed Federer to swipe a forehand winner that initiated an unlikely sequence of five consecutive points for the Swiss. It was a break that came out of nowhere and Federer embraced it with paternal warmth while Murray slid into yet another of those typically juvenile rants at his alter ego, the racket. Any hopes of the Scot breaching the Swiss castle were vanquished when Federer struck a brilliant backhand winner to earn a second break for an insurmountable 5-2 lead. Federer sealed his accustomed spot in the finals with yet another signature backhand winner that brought out a roar of approval from the 17,000 British fans. They did not seem to mind that victim came from within the family, a clear indication of where their loyalties shall rest come Monday night. “It was the third time in London this year for the two of us and the crowd was electric,” Federer said, as he acknowledged the flow of energy from the full house. “I have been around the block a few times and that was something. You can’t tire of nights like this. That is why I keep practising in front of no people, it inspires you to keep working hard.”

MASON, OH – AUGUST 19: (L-R) Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Roger Federer of Switzerland hold their champagne bottles after the final on day nine of the Western & Southern Open at Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 19, 2012 in Mason, Ohio.

In a match that played out earlier in the afternoon, Djokovic made yet another daring escape when he reversed fortunes from being a set and a break down at 1-2 in the second set. Del Potro was pounding the world No.1 into submission with his big serve and even bigger forehand, when Djokovic stepped up his game to declare his intent for battle. It took four break points, but it was all the Argentine could do before surrendering the advantage in the second set. Back on level terms, the match swung firmly to the indefatigable Djokovic in the eighth game.

Down 15-40, Del Potro fought off a break point, but dumped the ball in the net on the next and the picture that followed spoke more than any  articulation from even the best of commentators. The Argentine’s towering frame shrunk on the court as he stood with his head bowed, the hands on the
hips holding his frame from dissolving completely. Djokovic held serve to take the set and with it the momentum as he stole the wind under the Argentine’s sails.

It was probably too much to ask of Del Potro to stand up to the world No.1 in the deciding set and so it proved. Djokovic reeled off eleven points in a row for a commanding 3-1 lead in the third set, including a break to love. Not content with the scale of destruction, Djokovic found yet another break in the seventh game as he stamped his authority on the match. The comeback was complete, when Djokovic held at love to put Del Potro out of his misery. “I believed that I could come back,” said the Serbian. “I believed that I could turn this match around in my favour and I’ve done so. I’ve played, from that moment on when I got the break back, very flawless tennis. That makes me very happy and also confident before the final.”

The finals will be the 29th career meeting between Federer and Djokovic. The world No.1 will seek to continue his unbeaten run this week as he tries to recapture the title he last won in 2008. The pair have split their four meetings this year and while Federer will draw confidence from his exploits at the indoor arena, it will be vital for him to have a good start. Djokovic, as usual will look to prolong the rallies and force the Swiss into errors and rely on his defence and returns to earn victory and cap off yet another brilliant season at the top of the game.

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Anand Datla
Sport and character are the cornerstone of life. A middle aged writer with a child like love and passion for sport and its bottomless treasure of tales.
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