Djokovic has to ensure it goes distance

Roger Federer has an 18th Grand Slam title in his sights, but must wrap it up quickly

SOME people who purport to know a bit about tennis have ridiculed me for stating the view that Roger Federer is playing better tennis now than when he was winning three Grand Slam titles a year almost a decade ago. I stick by my belief, however, and I’m convinced it is the reason the great Swiss will win a record eighth Wimbledon singles title today.

If Federer manages to perform the same way today as he did against Andy Murray in Friday’s semifinal, serving with a superb rhythm and hitting the lines more than I have ever seen any player do before, then no matter how well Novak Djokovic performs, I don’t think the defending champion will live with him.

Let’s not beat about the bush, there is no love lost between the two players this afternoon and, frankly, Federer had the opportunities to win last year’s final against Djokovic but let them slip. So that will most certainly add to his motivation and fire him up that little bit more.

I maintain that Federer is in better form, shape and frame of mind this year. He is volleying much better, which probably has something to do with Stefan Edberg’s influence as his occasional coach, and I’d go so far as saying that his game has improved 20% in the past year.

Ever since the Australian Open back in January, Federer has been saying that his best chance of winning an 18th Grand Slam title is here at Wimbledon, and the way he breezed through the first five rounds here at the All England Club backs up the theory.

Only the big Australian Sam Groth has even managed to take a set off of him and that was in a tiebreak.

Things have been conspiring in Federer’s favour. The hot, sunny weather has made the court surface hard and fast, which is pretty much perfect for him.

The draw was also very kind to him and the extra week in the calendar between the French Open has helped. After a couple of days resting up after losing to his fellow countryman Stan Wawrinka at Roland Garros, Federer used the extra time to get the feel of grass and then routinely won the title in Halle.

Federer feels more at home at Wimbledon than any other player, Murray included, and a quick glance at the statistics will tell you that Federer has allowed six different opponents just four break points. Murray, who is one of the best returners in the game right now, only got one opportunity in the very first game, which came to nothing.

Of course, now comes the difficult bit as the stakes go up another level against the champion, world No 1 and top seed who hasn’t dropped his serve on the way to the final and will be determined to atone for letting the chance of completing his set of major titles get snatched away by Wawrinka at the French Open.

Federer will have to play the same way that Wawrinka did at Roland Garros, attacking Djokovic relentlessly and forcing him to change his game plan, so exposing weaknesses like his ability at the net. However, there was sufficient evidence in the win over Murray to suggest that will be the case this afternoon.

I am assuming that Djokovic’s shoulder is OK. He said after his semi-final win over Richard Gasquet that he just woke up with a bit of stiffness but he does not see it as being a problem in the final.

Sure, Djokovic called for some on-court treatment against Gasquet but he is never reluctant to do that in big matches, as we all know. Let’s be honest, there are plenty of similarities between the playing styles of Djokovic and Murray.

When it comes to mental toughness, Djokovic has the edge and he possesses a much better second serve but Murray volleys better at the net.

Of course it’s hard to believe that Federer can have a better day than he did against Murray but everything has fallen perfectly for him. The big question as I see it is: can he play two matches back-toback at such a high standard? If anyone can do it then it’s Federer.

Both of these guys were born to play tennis. They have the two best, lightest, most flexible bodies in the game. Nobody knows too much about how they get themselves in such superb shape, aside from the fact that Djokovic went gluten free a couple of years ago, but whatever they are doing is working superbly.

The only real great unknown in this contest is what will happen if the match extends to five sets. Federer has gone the full distance only once in the past year and that was against Gael Monfils at last year’s US Open. He rallied from two sets down in the quarter-finals to win.

I would assume there is still plenty of gas left in the tank as he has not even played 10 hours to complete six matches so far, which is more than three hours less than Djokovic, but these days there are doubts about whether Federer’s game is as effective in the fifth set as it is in the first. After all, the guy is going to be 34 years old in a couple of weeks and no matter how hard he trains, age is going to take some kind of toll.

I’m not sure whether my heart is dictating my head in this case but I would love to see Federer win the Wimbledon title once more to underline his undeniable greatness. However, he really has got to achieve it in three sets, or maybe four at a real push.