It is not just a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final, it also a redux of the most compelling rivalry in tennis. Roger Federer continues to deny Father Time and reaches his 10th Wimbledon final while dropping just a single set. His straight-sets demolition of an in-form Andy Murray featured a clinical serving display. Meanwhile Djokovic has made his way through the draw with a workmanlike attitude. He has been extremely solid without being inspiring, dispatching a series of solid opponents until almost bowing out at the hands of Kevin Anderson in the quarter-finals (a match he squeaked out at 7-5 in the 5th set).
The two have met 39 times previously, with Federer leading the head-to-head 20-19. Although they are 6-6 in Grand Slam meetings, tellingly Djokovic (the fittest man in tennis) has won every 5th set the two have contested. They have met on grass just twice, and both of those meetings were at Wimbledon. En-route to the 2012 title, Federer brushed Djokovic aside in 4 sets, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. Few could forget their more recent Wimbledon matchup, when Djokovic prevailed in an epic five-setter 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-4.
Tale of the Tape
Serve: Federer – Federer is having a career tournament for serving. His performances against both Murray and Simon bordered on sublime. He has the edge in both first and second serve quality here.
Returns: Djokovic – Djokovic is arguably the best returner in the history of the sport. It is no surprise that he has the edge over the sometimes hot, sometimes cold Federer in this department.
Forehand: Federer – Still the premier forehand in the game, particularly on grass, Federer is the stronger off this wing. He has both more variety and more capacity and should dictate play with this shot.
Backhand: Djokovic – Djokovic’s backhand may not be the best in the game (that honor goes to Wawrinka), but it is close enough as makes no difference in this contest. Djokovic is both steadier and more dangerous off this wing than his opponent.
Volleys: Federer – Djokovic’s net play has improved in recent times, but his volleys are still by far the weakest part of his game. In truth he sometimes volleys more at the level of a rec league player than the #1 player in the world. Federer meanwhile has been crisp at the net and clearly is the stronger in this department.
Movement: Djokovic – Whether or not he is the greatest returner in the history of the sport, he is undoubtedly the greatest retriever. Djokovic’s ability to run down balls and stay in points is second to none. He is also not playing the Federer of old – 2015 Federer is a half-to-one step slower than Federer of 2004-2008.
Federer’s strategy is remarkably unchanged over his math with Murray. Both Murray and Djokovic have better backhands than forehands, and Federer’s primary goals are to dictate play when serving by pairing his serve with forehands, and then to break out of the backhand-backhand exchange as early as feasible.
Again look for Federer to utilize the wide serve on the deuce court in particular, and the backhand-body serve for second serves. This served him well against Murray (and in truth has served him well against everyone for years now) and he will see no reason to change. On the return Federer must do as he did against Murray – step up and attack the second serve of Djokovic. Djokovic’s second serve is of higher quality than Murray’s (with an extra 5-7 mph on average) so Federer will be forced to chip more than he wants and will be able to run around fewer of them.
As against Murray, we should expect Federer to use his slice backhand down the line off the cross-court backhand of Murray. He will also continue to move forward – his ability to shorten rallies plays away from Djokovic’s greatest strength. The more he can deny rhythm to the world #1, the better his chances will be.
For all the Djokovic’s backhand is overall his best shot, Djokovic really must play here to set up his mid-court forehand. His disguise on this particular shot is fantastic, and it is the shot he can finish points against Federer with most easily. Look for Djokovic to take his backhand down the line, then step up and take Federer’s defensive forehand high the court for a winner.
On the serve, Djokovic would obviously be best targeting the Federer backhand, and critically he cannot allow Federer to run around many second serves. Djokovic has been winning a phenomenally high percentage of second serve points this tournament, and if he can keep that number high his chances are vastly improved. On his return Djokovic’s focus must be on forcing Federer to hit a backhand as his first ball after the serve. When that happens Federer’s chances of winning the point are vastly decreased.
Above all Djokovic wants to turn this match into a lateral running contest. If he can engage the kind of play he typically does against Nadal – running side to side moving the ball around the court, then he will come out on top.
Keys To The Match
This is a match that is going to feature very few breaks of serve. We can anticipate more than one tie-breaker, and whoever takes the first set will likely be the winner. Keys to watch will be:
– First serve % at 70 or above. If his serve is off he is going to have a long day (or a terribly short one)
– Net approaches at more than one per game. This means Federer is on the offensive and controlling play
– Most rallies 1-4 shots. Federer must stay aggressive and avoid a war of attrition he cannot win
– Second serve points won above 50%. Murray won 50% and it wasn’t enough
– Most rallies in the 5-8 shot range. This means Djokovic has neutralized the Federer offense
– More than 70% of net points won. He won’t come forward often, but when he does he cannot miss easy volleys
Federer is playing grass court tennis the likes of which we haven’t seen in a few years now. It is a good matchup for Federer – Djokovic’s game is built around the shoulder-high ball and Federer can utilize his slice and a flatter ball to make Djokovic uncomfortable. That said Djokovic is at or near the height of his powers and if he can weather the Federer offensive then things will go well for him.
Federer in 4 sets (7-5, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 or thereabouts).