It has been a few days since witnessing Roger Federer lose in heartbreaking fashion to Novak Djokovic in the US Open semifinals, after leading two sets to love and holding two match points at 5-3 40-15 in the fifth set. Right after that loss I was truly devastated. This was Roger's chance to make another Slam final and win his 17th major title. Alas, it was not to be, as Djokovic, the undeniable best player in the world right now, cancelled out both match points, one on a once in a lifetime forehand return winner, and won the final four games of the match, to make his third major final of the year, which he would win on a Monday final against Rafael Nadal, in a brilliant display of behind the baseline counterpunching tennis from both men.
That Nole dethroned Nadal most certainly eased the pain of Roger's defeat, although I still find myself asking what could have been. I have replayed the match over and over in my head, wondering what would have happened had Roger played those two match points (particularly the first one) differently. What if he had hit a serve up the T on MP #1 instead of trying to go out wide? What if he had gone out wide, as he did, but hit it better, stretching Nole to the limit instead of giving Nole a strike zone swing to hammer away at? So many questions that nobody can answer except for Roger himself, and I'm dead sure he doesn't want to think about it any more than he already has.
Without any doubt in my mind, that booming forehand return shook Roger up, and brought back haunting memories of last years' defeat at the hands of Novak, in the exact same fashion. It was clear to me that Roger was going to lose if he did not hold that 5-3 game. He faced a break point, hit an ace to save it, then faced another one an double faulted. I know Roger got many criticisms for double faulting on such a crucial point, but allow me to put things in perspective. Roger played so well in this US Open, and specifically against Nole in sets one, two, and five, because he went after his second serve. Roger, fully capable of hitting a big albeit risky second serve, used it to full effect when he needed to all tournament, especially with great effect against Tsonga, yet that same serve failed him when he needed it the most. Sometimes that is life. That is the nature of the beast. But looking back, who is to say Roger would have won the point if he had put in a second serve? I would much rather look at the "what if" situation had Roger gotten another crack at winning the match.
Now, enough about the actual match, time to talk about the aftermath of that epic encounter with the Unstoppable One. A 30 year-old Roger Federer took the much younger 24 year-old Djokovic, at the ultimate peak of his career, to his absolute limit. Roger, with his lethal serve, attacking all-court game, and boundless experience, was able to come within a point of beating Novak for the SECOND time in majors this year. Sadly, it wasn't to be. Sometimes things just happen that are unexplainable. Sometimes the bounces just don't go your way, and although it is hard to accept, it must be accepted. I know that the word "choke" is thrown around often, but I don't like to use that word. Sometimes matches get away. On the court, things happen, and we want to make sense of it. Sometimes sense can't be made. As with every athlete, Roger is getting older and losing a step, both mentally and physically, but nothing can change the fact that Roger is the greatest tennis player to walk this planet. That in 2011, at age 30, Fed could take Nole to the limit, and Nadal, five years his younger, couldn't, speaks to the Maestro's longevity and consistency.
Sport is a cruel creature, but a creature that can bring us to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. By supporting Roger, we give our faith to him and with his racket as a wand, can weave magic and make us feel such joy that is rare in this world. But with that faith, losses can become painful, shaking experiences. All we want for Roger is to see him succeed, and when that success fails, we question everything. It is only natural, but we must remember that everything happens for a reason. Life takes its unalterable course, and all we can do is hope that we can see Roger brought success at the highest level, even if it is only one more time.
At this late stage in Roger's career, it is time to appreciate his genius, and give him nothing but unconditional love and support. This man has given us so much over the years, and it has been such an amazing ride, we owe it to him to stand by him throughout thick and thin. I believe Roger has the greatest fans in the world, and we are those great fans because we accept Roger for who he is. We have cried with him, laughed with him, celebrated with him. As he gets older, success will become harder to achieve, but we shall never doubt this great man, for what he has given us is remarkable. What he has given tennis is remarkable.
In this final statement, let me say this: Roger keeps putting himself in a position to win majors. Soon, the cards will fall into place and he will win again. Fed is the greatest athlete and champion I have ever seen, and before the end of his career, we will see him triumph again. Hopefully, that triumph will come next January!