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Novak Djokovic Refreshes Roger Federer's Memory

by Guest Andrew Prochnow


COMMENTARY | The sport of tennis, historically played in a pair of white slacks and a v-neck sweater, has never been a hot bed of trash talk.


Not so long ago, wearing black socks and jean shorts was almost enough on its own to create a "bad boy" image.

Given how muted and subtle the atmosphere around tennis can often be, a recent exchange between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer reads a bit like an all-out Twitter flame war when one accounts for the more reserved style of such exchanges as compared to other international sports.

Curiously, the drama has boiled over at a stage when the actual on-court rivalry is at a competitive low. Djokovic has won 9 of his last 12 matches against Federer, including three straight on the Swiss Maestro's preferred indoor hard court.

Back in November, I reported that some comments made by Roger Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals this year didn't necessarily match reality. Prior to his match against Djokovic in London, Roger was quoted by The Telegraph in saying, "The French Open is always going to be hard as long as Rafa Nadal is around. But on the other surfaces, if I am playing well, it's more in my racket than in anybody else's racket."

Had Federer simply stated that he felt any given match was still on his racket, it might have been taken as simply a statement of confidence in his own abilities. Certainly, there's no shame in believing in one's natural talents.

What made the comments newsworthy was Federer's decision to credit Rafael Nadal for his prowess on clay, while failing to highlight the recent achievements of anyone else -- particularly those of Novak Djokovic.

It was this rather large omission that was almost deafening in its silence, especially given the dynamics of the professional tour in recent years.

Rafael Nadal has of course been his usual competitive self, but Novak Djokovic has arguably been the most consistent of all the top players since the start of 2011. A small, but key detail that Federer appears to have overlooked in his assessment of the recent competitive landscape.

The issue is that in carving out a niche for Nadal on clay, Federer implied that the other two surfaces, hard court and grass, remain tightly in his grasp. Simply stated, that's not an accurate reflection of reality, which in turn is probably the reason Novak Djokovic appears to have taken issue with the comments.

In the aftermath of his title at the very same ATP finals, Djokovic was quoted by TennisWorld in responding, "Federer is probably capable of winning a Grand Slam tournament next year, but many will show up with the intention to win it. So, it does not depend solely on him but also on other players."

Though soft in tone, it's difficult to view this message as anything but a clear and strong rebuttal to Roger's earlier comments. Djokovic was probably even being a shade too reserved in his inclusive use of the phrase "other players," as opposed to simply stating his own name.

A review of Slam results over the last few years seems to confirm it is indeed Federer that may need a reality check, as Djokovic suggested.

Aside from his 9-3 control of head-to-head competition against Federer in their last 12 meetings, Novak Djokovic has also appeared in seven of the last eight Grand Slam finals on hard court. As a comparison, Roger Federer appeared in only one of those eight finals.

The reality is that if Federer wanted to break out clay for Nadal, it would have been appropriate for him to do the same for Djokovic on cement. Barring that type of concession, he could have at least referred to the other surfaces as "more up for grabs."

Given that Roger Federer has seven titles at Wimbledon, including his most recent in 2012, it's arguable that he could indeed be considered amongst the favorites in a tournament played on grass.

Outside of that two-tournament consideration, it's virtually indisputable that over the last few years, any given hard-court tournament is more on Djokovic's racket than on Federer's.

Whether Federer chooses to accept the fact that Djokovic has supplanted him on cement is ultimately up to him.

Regardless, that type of slight shouldn't in any way minimize the substantial impact Novak Djokovic has had on the sport for more than a little while now.

Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a tennis buff by night. Tweet him @AndrewProchnow.