When talking about the best player ever on clay, only one name pops up in the mind - Rafael Nadal. Even though Roger Federer is considered to be the greatest overall, he is far behind the Spaniard in claycourt exploits.
But that doesn't mean Federer hasn't ever done well on clay. Over the years he has given a tough fight to Nadal and Novak Djokovic and many other great players on the slow surface.
In the semifinal of the 2011 French Open, Federer didn't just give Djokovic tough competition; he played so well that he managed to defeat the Serb, against all the odds.
Djokovic was in his prime coming into the 2011 French Open. He had a 43-match winning streak until the semi-final, one of the longest ever. His streak was halted in style by Federer, and even though the Swiss couldn't win the title as he lost to Nadal in the final, this match always remain special for him.
Played for a duration of 3 hours and 39 minutes, the match started with both the players holding their serve in the first set and taking it to a tie-breaker. Federer got the decisive mini-break and he took the first set 7-6 (5).
In the second set, Federer was in full flow as he regularly made Djokovic run from corner to corner before hitting a screaming down-the-line winner. He dictated most of the points in the set and got the decisive break of serve to take it 6-3.
Surprisingly, Federer played nearly every rally by standing 3 or 4 meters behind the baseline, which made clear his intention of pushing Djokovic back and dictating the play. Unable to withstand the baseline dexterity of the Swiss, Djokovic tried mixing things up by approaching the net, but even that was futile.
In the third set, a few unforced errors from the racquet of Federer gave a break point opportunity to Djokovic. He took it gleefully and with that the set, 6-3.
The fourth set witnessed an exchange of breaks between the two. Djokovic first broke Federer at 4-4 and Federer immediately broke back to level the set 5-5.
Again, the set went to a tiebreaker and there were some mind-boggling baseline exchanges that made the whole world drop their jaws in awe. But it was Federer who prevailed again, winning the 7-6 (5) and the match 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
Federer amassed 30 winners (excluding the aces) throughout the match, out of which only four came at the net. The remaining 26 winners were from the baseline, which was proof of the domination of the Swiss from the back of the court that day.
There have been many matches where Federer has fought hard only to lose eventually, especially on clay. In most of those matches he has mixed up his game by using drop shots and net approaches.
But in this match, he stuck to his baseline game and eventually came out the winner. He proved that he can adapt to any condition, and that he can be a strong defensive force as well.
Djokovic later went on to win Wimbledon and the US Open that year. Irrespective of the result, both these players have produced magic on the court in the 47 matches they have played against each other, and it will be a treat for the fans if they face off again at Roland Garros this year.Published 22 Apr 2019, 20:26 IST