Fine Swine: Australian Open SF Preview, Djokovic vs Federer

Djokovic is 3-0 in their last 3 Grand Slam Meetings
Photo: AP/EPA

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are set for a 45th meeting on Thursday at the Australian Open semifinals. The series is tied 22-22 with Djokovic having won their last three Grand Slam meetings. The Serb won five of their eight meetings in 2015.

(1) Novak Djokovic vs (3) Roger Federer
If anyone thought Djokovic was vulnerable after his five set marathon against Gilles Simon in the fourth round, he erased all doubts in the quarterfinals. Djokovic still carries an aura of invincibility about him and perhaps that is something that rattled Kei Nishikori a bit. The 7th seed made 54 unforced errors against Djokovic and had trouble finding much rhythm to his game. Credit Djokovic for some of that as the Serb won nearly half of Nishikori’s serving points and had the man from Japan under constant pressure. Nishikori dished out 11 break points with Djokovic cashing in six of those. Djokovic conversely saved six of his eight break points. The Serb wasn’t perfect as he went through streaks where his serve was struggling, most notably in the first and second sets. The Serb was barely getting half of his first serves in play and that was allowing Nishikori opportunity to stick around, but the errors would never really allow for him to be a factor in the 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 Djokvic win.

Roger Federer also won his quarterfinal in straight sets. The third seed edged Tomas Berdych 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4. Federer’s final numbers look solid with 48 winners to 26 unforced errors, but he had some wobbly moments. Federer fell down a break in both the first and third sets, but was able to claw his way back into both sets. The Swiss’ serve was still mostly solid as he won 72 percent of the points and dished out nine aces. Perhaps it was the match Federer needed in advance of playing Djokovic. He started slow, but problem solved and elevated his game at the proper times to secure the key points. The third seed said he has enjoyed his strategy of coming to the net more and more. “I’m playing good tennis, fun tennis for me. I really enjoy being able to come to the net, more like back in the day.”

Grand Slam Quandary
Federer has shown that he can still get the best of Djokovic in the best of three format, but beating the top ranked player in the world in a slam has been difficult since Federer won his last slam at Wimbledon in 2012. They have met three times since with Djokovic winning in five sets at Wimbledon 2014, four sets at Wimbledon 2015 and four sets at the 2015 U.S. Open. Federer has rarely been thoroughly outclasses in those meetings with just 18 total points separating the points each player has won in those last three slam meetings. The bug-a-boo for Roger is breaking Djokovic’s serve. The U.S. Open last year was a prime example. He had 23 break chances off the Serb’s serve and converted just four. Conversely, Djokovic had 13 chances off Federer and broke him six times. The key conversions have been missing for Federer, while Djokovic has been able to make them. Quite frankly, that is going to be the tipping point most likely in today’s semifinal as well.

Court Tactics and The Ivan Ljubicic Effect
By now, Federer’s aggressive and short point playing style that was crafted under the guidance of Stefan Edberg is well known. Even with Edberg gone, Federer remains dedicated to coming into the net frequently and playing short, decisive ground rallies. Don’t expect that to change against Djokovic. What will be interesting is the new man in his corner, Ivan Ljubicic. Much was made when Federer made the move during the brief offseason to move on from Edberg and bring in Ljubicic. The move was made precisely for this match-up. The belief is that Ljubicic’s knowledge of the Serb and his game can perhapes close the gap on that 18 point differential they have seen in the last three slam meetings. The Federer camp seems to firmly believe there is some small difference Ljubicic can make that could hand the Swiss an elusive slam win over Djokovic.

If we’re keeping it 100, Novak Djokovic has not exactly lit the world on fire the last two rounds. His 100 unforced error effort against Gilles Simon was one of the worst displays from the Serb in years. The match against Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals looks fine by the numbers. A straight sets win where he was never really pushed, but a lot of that had to do with some terrible errors from the Japanese 7th seed. Djokovic looked ticked off at times with his own game and his first serve percentage was unusually low in the first two sets. That is the sort of thing that could help Federer close the gap in this tight match-up. One would expect Djokovic to take a look at the Federer backhand early to measure if there are errors to be found off the Swiss’ one hander. If not, then the Serb will just continue to keep the pressure on Federer with his ability to create angles and track down shots that others do not get to with Federer’s attacking style.

Bottom Line
This should against be a fascinating match with most of us remarking about how Federer is running out of time to get another Grand Slam title. He keeps defying that theory by remaining in the mix slam after slam. This one will be tough, but there may be some hope. There is Ljubicic and whatever extra he might bring. There is Djokovic not playing at his best level. Then, there is the roof closing most likely at Rod Laver Arena tonight due to a rainy forecast. That won’t do Federer any favors as the ball would become heavier in the more humid indoor air, meaning his quick attacks would lose some force. That plays into Djokovic’s hands. In the end, this looks just as close as the last three slam encounters and perhaps Ivan Ljubicic is a bald good luck charm. The Pig thinks it won’t quite be enough.

Djokovic wins in five sets


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