Sunday, July 06, 2014

2014 WIMBLEDON: Men's Final Preview

Roger Federer (SUI) [4] vs. Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1]
The players in the men's final of the 2014 Wimbledon championships are set. For the 35th time, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will meet in a professional tennis match. Federer leads their rivalry 18-16 and won the one only major final the two contested (2007 US Open) as well as their one grass court meeting (2012 Wimbledon semifinals). Last year I correctly predicted Andy Murray would beat Djokovic in the men's final. This year I correctly predicted Petra Kvitova would win the women's title over Genie Bouchard. On the men's side I correctly predicted 2 of 2 men's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals. Here are my reviews of this year's men's semifinals and my preview of the men's final.

WHAT HAPPENED: Men's Semifinals Review
Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] d. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [11] 6-4 3-6 7-6(2) 7-6(7). This was one of the best matches on the men's side of the draw. The 23-year-old Bulgarian was playing in his first major semifinal while Djokovic has reached the semifinals of every major except one of the last 16 played. The #1 seed has reached 5 consecutive Wimbledon semifinals in the last five years. This match looked like it was going to be routine when Djokovic was a set and 3-1 up. However, after Dimitrov was able to escape out of a tricky service game he was able to break back in the very next game and finally earned a lead by holding serve and breaking again. The third and fourth sets were decided by tiebreaks but there were very different tiebreaks. In the 3rd set tiebreak the result was never in doubt while in the 4th set tiebreak, Dimitrov had multiple set points but the 2011 Wimbledon champion was able to close out the match and reach his 14th major final.

Roger Federer (SUI) [4] d. Milos Raonic (CAN) [8] 6-4 6-4 6-4. This should have been a tricky match for Federer to win because the Canadian youngster has one of the biggest serves in the men's game and thus one would expect plenty of tiebreakers, which one would often expect to go to the bigger server (c.f. John Isner). But as I said in my semifinals preview, Federer is quite experienced in blocking back huge serves, and because he had been serving so well in the tournament (broken just once, in the first set against Stan Wawrinka) he knew that all he had to do was take advantage of any opportunities he had on the Raonic serve and he would have a good day. Federer ended up having 7 breakpoints and converting on 3 of them. He had only one breakpoint against his own serve and saved it. That basically was the match in a nutshell. If rallies went longer than 4 or 5 strokes then Federer was completely in control of the point. If Raonic missed a first serve then you felt he was automatically in trouble, and because his return game is not strong Federer was able to hold his serve at love repeatedly. Federer is now 9-0 in Wimbledon semifinals.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN: Men's Final Preview
Roger Federer (SUI) [4] vs. Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1]. This is Federer-Djokovic XXXV, the thirty-fifth meeting between the 17-time major champion from Switzerland and the 5-time major champion from Serbia. Of the big four Federer's match-up with Djokovic has always been the most in The Maestro's favor. Obviously, his match-up with Nadal is disastrous and his match-up with Murray is very close (currently 10-11 in the Scot's favor). The fact that Nick Kyrgios eliminated Nadal and that Dimitrov eliminated Murray is great news for Federer's chances. 

Although I think many people think that Djokovic is going to win this match, I agree with Nick Bolleteri that Federer has an excellent chance at the "upset." In fact I don't even think it is that much of an upset if Federer wins another grass court title. The number of times he has lost on grass in his career is miniscule. He has only ever lost once in a Wimbledon final once, in 2008's "Greatest Match Ever Played." Federer has already beaten Djokovic twice this year (Dubai and Monte Carlo, both places where the Serb was the defending champion). He also beat Djokovic on grass in 2012 in the Wimbledon semifinals when Djokovic was playing some of his best tennis, having just reached the 2012 Roland Garros final just weeks before. Federer has won 99% of his service games in the tournament to date, and even though he has not had to face  a great returner like Djokovic, I still feel like he is delivering enough variety and power with his new racquet that this will make this aspect of his game even stronger. The area where Djokovic has improved is in his serve. He currently has 73 aces to Federer's 69 (but he has also lost 3 more sets than Federer) so far. With both players serving well I suspect this match will resemble a 1990s-2000s era grass court match of the Sampras era, which would suit Federer perfectly. If it becomes a match with long drawn out points, then that is advantage Djokovic. If it rains and the roof is closed, that is advantage Federer.
I definitely expect it to be a close match, not a mismatch like this year's women's final.

To me the best thing about this match is that I will be happy with whomever wins. If Djokovic wins, he will improve to 7-7 in major finals, surpassing the career major total of his coach, Boris Becker, and reclaiming the World #1 ranking from Nadal, most likely cementing the top ranking for the year. If Federer wins, he will win his record 18th major, improving to 18-7 in major finals, increase his lead to 19-16 over Djokovic, rise to World #3 in the rankings and break his tie with Pete Sampras for the most Wimbledon titles (7) won in the modern era. He will also become the oldest player (at age 32) to win Wimbledon, and (presumably?) the first married father of four to do so. By the time next year's Wimbledon comes around Djokovic will also be a husband and a father and statistics have shown this decreases your likelihood of winning major titles. That being said, I am still confident that even though I expect it to be close (probably 4 sets) Federer will prevail.

MadProfessah's pick: Federer.

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