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Clash of the Titans: Djokovic versus Federer US Open preview

Novak Djokovic has suffered a shock loss at the Aussie Open. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
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13th September, 2015
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There was never any real doubt we’d end up here.

Just to remind everyone who the two best players in the world are, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer took on strong opponents in the semi finals (Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka respectively), and proceeded to swat them out of their way like Mr. Miyagi would a fly.

In any other era, the form of one of these men would all but assure them of the title.

But this is no normal era.

Titans of the game have and continue to clash, and with every heartbreaking loss comes increased determination to raise an already stratospheric level.

Once again, this golden era of tennis has served up a situation where two outrageously talented and determined players will clash once more, already head and shoulders above the rest of the pack but not content with sharing the spotlight.

It’s fitting this match take place in the city that never sleeps, because it may not get a chance to from the moment these behemoths of the game go to war in the centre of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The form
If the Mr. Myagi comparison wasn’t enough to convince you of their form, perhaps a more straightforward explanation will do the trick.

First, Djokovic took centre stage against the defending champion Marin Cilic. Then, 85 minutes later, he came off having won 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, setting the record for the most one-sided US Open semi-final in open era history.

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Federer’s reply was an obliteration of fifth ranked countryman Stan Wawrinka, extending his set winning streak to 28, having not lost once since his loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon in July.

Since the start of Djokovic’s barnstorming 2011 season, he has won more titles (26) on hard courts than he’s lost matches (25).

There are more unbelievable stats, but you get the picture: much like Tina Turner’s 1989 smash hit, these two players are Simply the Best.

The rivalry
“That’s what I like about the rivalry… I think it’s just a straight shoot out”.

This was Roger Federer’s comment on his rivalry with Djokovic, and, for a man who has English as a secondary language (one of the 67 different languages he speaks), he couldn’t have summarised it better.

The pair will meet for a record 14th time at a Grand Slam (Djokovic leads 8-6), while Federer’s recent victory in Cincinnati gives him the slightest of edges in the total head to head (21-20).

Already having no love lost between them, Djokovic’s coach Boris Becker added further fuel to the fire by criticising a new tactic of Federer’s – but more on that later.

The game plan
Apart from one exception, this match will play out as so many Federer-Djokovic matches have.

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Federer’s serve will be the most important shot in the match. Manage a high percentage (75% or above), and he becomes the favourite to win. Anything lower, and his chances will drop immensely. The Federer serve is simply a non-negotiable, particularly against the best returner in the game.

For Djokovic, the backhand down the line has always been a barometer of his game and confidence in it. Against Federer, who guards his backhand side in his positioning of himself on court, Djokovic will need to look to pull the trigger whenever possible. Even if he doesn’t kill the point, this shot will open up Federer’s backhand, an area where Djokovic will look to relentlessly attack throughout the match.

The one exception mentioned earlier is Federer’s incredibly aggressive attack when returning a second serve, where he’ll half volley it while running straight into the net. The tactic has been dubbed (because everything has to have an acronym these days) ‘SABR’ – Sneaky Attack by Roger.

While it won’t be used too often in the match, the possibility of it will always lurk in the back of Djokovic’s mind, and could provide some moments of friction between both players should it occur during the match.

The verdict
I’ll be honest. I’m torn. Both players are performing at such an incredibly high standard that differentiating between them is nigh on impossible.

The head says Djokovic, simply because he continues to conquer all before him when it matters most (this year’s French Open the only exception).

The sentimentalist says Federer, because once more the 34-year-old has given Father Time the finger and played tennis like only he can.

In the end, to quote Highlander, “There can be only one”, and to appease the acronym-savvy readers out there, look for a GDV: Grinding Djokovic Victory.

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Prediction: Djokovic in four

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