Roger Federer vs Novak Djokovic: Federer looks to go back to the future in Wimbledon final

33-year-old Swiss on the brink of winning yet  another battle of the generations

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The Independent Online

Roger Federer knocked out Pete Sampras in the seven-times champion's penultimate Wimbledon, beat Andre Agassi in the American’s last Grand Slam final, saw his contemporary Andy Roddick into retirement and is still challenging for the biggest prizes at a time when Rafael Nadal, the young upstart who for years challenged his position at the top, has begun to look like a spent force.

Might the 33-year-old Swiss now be on the brink of winning yet another battle of the generations? Having destroyed Andy Murray in the semi-finals here on Friday, Federer will today aim to topple the 28-year-old Scot’s contemporary, Novak Djokovic, who for the last four years has been the most consistently successful of the “Big Four” players who have dominated the sport for the last decade.

While the majority of the British public might have preferred a  rematch of the 2013 final, when Murray beat Djokovic, in global terms today’s Centre Court showpiece is the perfect showdown: the world No 1 against the world No 2 in a repeat of their memorable final last year, which Djokovic won in five sets.

 

If much of the talk at last month’s French Open was of Djokovic’s failure to win the one jewel missing from his Grand Slam crown, we should not forget the barnstorming run that the Serb has been on since last  November. In the last nine tournaments that Djokovic has played at Masters Series level or higher, his only defeat was against Stan Wawrinka in the final at Roland Garros.

Being more than five years younger, Djokovic has yet to match some of Federer’s more remarkable statistics, but the world No 1 still has a superb record of consistency.

Djokovic, who turned his career around five years ago when he went on the gluten-free and dairy-free diet that has transformed his health and fitness, has won eight Grand Slam titles, equalled Rod Laver’s record of reaching 17 Grand Slam finals (only Federer, Nadal, Ivan Lendl and Sampras have played in more) and played in the last 43 Grand Slam tournaments.

Nevertheless, Djokovic would have to play in every tournament for the next five years to match Federer, who is contesting his 63rd consecutive Grand Slam event. That is seven more than Wayne Ferreira, who is the player in second place on the  all-time list.

In one of the most demanding of all sports – the leading men play around 80 matches a year from the beginning of January through to the middle of November – Federer’s career is as much a triumph of longevity and  endurance as it is of sporting genius and mental strength.

Federer gives much of the credit for his remarkable fitness record to Pierre Paganini, his long-time fitness trainer, but it is also down to his own careful planning. The Swiss plots his schedule meticulously, sometimes up to 18 months in advance, always allowing himself room for rest as well as time on the practice court. If he has been fortunate not to suffer any serious injuries, that is also down to the fact that he has always been careful to look after his body.

Playing such an attacking game helps too. Federer has always been an aggressor, seeking to win the point rather than grind his opponent down and wait for mistakes. The greatest contrast is with Nadal, who has always been a defensive counter-attacker. The Spaniard may be nearly five years younger than the Swiss but probably has more miles on the clock in terms of distance covered on the court. Where the grunting and groaning Nadal pounds along the baseline, Federer, the silent  assassin, dances across the court.

What motivates Federer to carry on? “I think the fans know why I’m playing,” he said. “At the end of the day, I enjoy it.”

Federer will be attempting to become the first man to win the Wimbledon singles title eight times, but insisted that the weight of history would not be an extra burden on his shoulders.

“It doesn’t matter whether  it’s No 8 or No 1,” he said. “The Wimbledon final is always a big occasion.”

Federer has won 20 of his 39 meetings with Djokovic.  They have met 12 times in Grand Slam tournaments, winning six matches each.  Djokovic has won five of their last seven Grand Slam meetings and eight of their last 12 in all competitions.

Serve and return were the key factors in Federer’s victory over Murray and the same scenario is possible today. Murray and Djokovic are the best returners in the modern game, yet the Scot was able to force only one break point in the semi-final.  Federer has dropped serve just once in the tournament; when Gilles Simon broke him in  the quarter-finals it ended the  world No 2’s run of 116 unbroken service games.

Federer said he would give Djokovic the utmost respect. “He’s become very match-tough,” Federer said. “He always shows up. It’s tough to beat him. He’s been very injury-free. He’s been good for the game. I don’t really think about the match we played against each other last year. I just remember it was unbelievably thrilling.”

Djokovic, who will equal his coach Boris Becker’s record of three Wimbledon titles if he wins today, acknowledged the part Federer had played in his own career. “He’s one of the people that actually made me a better player,” Djokovic said. “In the matches against him, I went through a lot of different emotions and things that allowed me to understand what I need to do to be a better player and to win against him and win Grand Slam trophies.”

There have been times when Djokovic has not reacted well to the crowd’s support for the player on the other side of the net. As the Serb appreciates, Federer is sure to enjoy the backing of the majority of spectators on Centre Court today.

“This is where he loves to play,” Djokovic said. “This is where he plays his best tennis. The Centre Court of Wimbledon, seven titles. It’s his court. He usually rises to the occasion. He’s always playing his toughest when it matters most.”

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