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Quotable Quotes: Roger Federer Lashes out at Novak Djokovic, is he correct?

After squandering double match point to Novak Djokovic in an epic fifth set for the second successive year at the US Open, an unimpressed Roger Federer refused to hand out free compliments to his rival, criticizing his approach to the match from double match point down.

“I didn’t hit the best serve. But it’s just the way he returns that. It’s just not — a guy who believes much, you know, anymore in winning. Then to lose against someone like that, it’s very disappointing, because you feel like he was mentally out of it already. Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go…”


“Confidence? Are you kidding me? I mean, please. Look, some players grow up and play like that. I remember losing junior matches. Just being down 5 2 in the third, and they all just start slapping shots. It all goes in for some reason, because that’s the kind of way they grew up playing when they were down. I never played that way. I believe in hard work’s gonna pay off kinda thing, because early on maybe I didn’t always work at my hardest. So for me, this is very hard to understand how can you play a shot like that on match point. But, look, maybe he’s been doing it for 20 years, so for him it was very normal. You’ve got to ask him.

Recently, I’ve really begun to see huge parallels between Roger and Serena. We all remember Serena’s infamous “lucky shots” comment on Henin here four years ago and this is in the same vein. Much like the media whirlwind that Serena caused after this, it’s easy to call Federer “classless” and a “sore loser” (not that most of the media, who eat out of the palm of his hand, will) after this, but to me, his candidness is refreshing.

It may lead him to be reactionary after tough losses as he is here, but he speaks his mind 100% of the time and he isn’t afraid to give his own unbashed opinion on any given subject, even badmouthing his opponent if he sees fit. The idea that a player must “give credit” after losses has always disturbed me. Tennis is so much about mental strength and belief, and part of what makes him and many others such great champions is believing that no player has the better of him, and regardless of whether it’s true, he’ll go to bed thinking that Novak simply got lucky, and he’ll strive to right that wrong the next time the play. And of course, who doesn’t love a bit of bitchiness? You then look at Rafa, who for half this year has been lamenting about how tough it is to play Djokovic and find weaknesses in his game. Even though he will always go out and try his hardest, from where I’m standing he is losing these matches before they’re even played.

The funny thing is, to an extent, I actually agree with Federer’s comments. As he went match point down, the first thing I thought after seeing Djokovic’s reaction was “Novak has given up”. He walked to the deuce court shaking his head and smiling humourlessly, clearly disgusted and angry at the 25k people in the crowd who were roaring their support for Federer, rudely cheering Djokovic’s errors just as loud as Federer’s winners. And the return was certainly a split-second decision without much prior thought behind it.

However, being a champion is knowing, when your back is against the wall, when to close your eyes and trust your instincts and when to use your brain and common sense to dig you out of holes. Djokovic trusted both his brain and instincts so well in that final set. The return was not “luck”; he is the best returner on the planet and if anyone is capable of making such a shot off a first serve, it’s Novak Djokovic. And there’s no doubt that he has made similar shots in his career. Much like last year, he did close his eyes instinct simply took over, but unlike those juniors that Federer so diligently described, Djokovic’s risk-taking only lasted only one shot. Even though there was still one match point, Djokovic clearly sensed a shift in momentum, and from that point onwards he completely tightened up his game, smartly looking to prolong the rallies and asking Federer if he really had the balls to close him out after what happened exactly a year ago on that same court. Needless to say, he didn’t.

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20 Responses to Quotable Quotes: Roger Federer Lashes out at Novak Djokovic, is he correct?

  1. mattzemek September 11, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    This is a well-stated post. Djokovic was in a dark place of anger (at the crowd), and he wasn’t 100-percent locked into the match. There was a certain “damn the torpedoes” kamikaze quality to that return, and that’s obviously what Federer was reacting to… and he was in no way inaccurate to say so.

    However, in this complicated mixture of luck and skill, of desperation and toughness, Djokovic was good enough to go for broke and not send that return wide. Djokovic risked everything and succeeded. Few people can do that. There was luck involved, but also a lot of skill. Federer is reacting to the lucky part of the equation; Djokovic and his fans will rightly point out the skill it took to hit that return on the money.

  2. R September 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    I don’t think Djokovic was lucky. Diving for the ball with everything you’ve got is part of his MUSCLE MEMORY - he does that on every service game regardless of the score. We’ve seen Agassi reach for a ball in a similar manner on numerous occasions - that’s why he’s called the best returner ever!

    If it wasn’t match point - let’s say if the score was 4 all in the first set and Djokovic played that return at 15-0 on Federer’s serve would Novak be called lucky again or just a great returner. I used to have tremendous respect for Federer but the more I watch his press conference the more I see signs of his underlying arrogance. Arrogance that seems to be almost absent in Nadal, who has been much more humble in his 5 losses to Novak this season.

    As for Serena and Justine don’t even get me started - let’s just say attitude has a lot to do with why Justine is my favourite women’s player and Serena my least favourite.

  3. mattzemek September 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    See, here’s the thing: As was mentioned in the original blog post, Djokovic - just before digging in to return that serve - visibly expressed his disgust with the crowd. He was cranky and irritated, and he was about to have that familiar “woe is me” expression because the crowd didn’t love him as much as his opponent. That’s not bad behavior - it’s just Novak’s style - but it DOES (and DID) reflect that a part of him was thinking, “F— it, I’m just going to let loose and see what happens.” By Novak’s OWN admission, moreover, he said he was lucky. He more precisely (and admirably) confessed (actually, it didn’t really seem like a confession so much as a frank statement of fact) that he was “gambling” on that return. “It’s a risk,” he said. “If it goes in, it goes in.” Spin the roulette wheel and see where it ends up.

    This is what Federer was speaking to. There was skill mixed with the luck, and immense self-belief was added to that mixture of skill and luck. Luck, while hardly the whole story, was certainly part of the equation on that shot.

    Federer doesn’t (and hasn’t) shied away from acknowledging that he’s been lucky to win matches on many occasions. Wimbledon 2009 Final, Wimbledon 2010 first round, and so many others. I know why he comes across as arrogant - there is a certain champion’s arrogance in his comments, similar to Serena’s - but that arrogance is not disrespect for competitors so much as it is connected to the tunnel-vision mindset athletes need to affirm inside their minds, for themselves more than anyone else.

  4. R September 11, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Well said. And to some extent I agree. Perhaps some of it was “luck”. But all i’m trying to say is that taking a risk or a gamble at such a stage is not necessarily a bad thing. In his frustration and anger, Djokovic could have given up, tightened up and stood still as Federer served up an ace to win the match. But he didn’t. He saw the humour in the situation (as was evident in his smile) and relaxed. He decided that he could give up, lose and go home or give it one last shot. Put everything he’s got on that last spin of the roulette wheel - and doing so paid off. Refusing to submit to a great champion like Federer is what made Novak great yesterday.

    Second, if Federer has admitted to winning matches in the past because he’s been lucky, then that’s even more reason for him to gain some perspective and not be angry at or criticise Novak. People didn’t stop calling Federer great or start calling him a lucky player because he admitted that luck played a factor during a crucial win.

    Lastly, let’s not forget that Federer had TWO match points. He lost the first one because Novak was “lucky” but he lost the second because of his own mistake. Novak dealt beautifully with a serve straight to his body and Federer’s return caught the tape because the return wasn’t good enough, it was risky playing so close to the net. Let’s also not forget that Federer does have himself to blame because after losing two match points, he still had a chance to serve out the match at Deuce, but HE couldn’t.

    *I’m not basing my opinion of Federer (and his at least slightly arrogant or less than humble nature) on one press conference. I made a typo in my first comment, I meant to say ” the more I watch his press conferenceS…”.

  5. R September 11, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Just read this in the Guardian (after writing the post above) - On Federer, “There followed a string of excuses and justifications which not only were barely sustainable given the evidence but seriously disrespected the winner.”

    On Novak, “Djokovic was honest enough to admit the shot was a gamble – but Federer was reluctant to give him credit even for that courage in a crisis, preferring to regard it as desperate.”

    Here’s the link:

    • footfaulter September 12, 2011 at 2:29 pm

      That has to be just about the first time in living memory that Fed has been portrayed as the baddie, and Novak as the “honest” person with class.

  6. Michael September 11, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Believing that no player is better than you does not really make you a great champion. It’s a nonsense to say something like that. In such a way you can justify everything.

  7. mattzemek September 12, 2011 at 2:47 am

    “Believing that no player is better than you” is an attitude based on the belief that you always take the court expecting to win. It’s not a refusal to acknowledge that Djokovic is the No. 1 player in the world - a point which Fed has not disputed or even hinted at disputing. Sure, Fed is grudging and limited in his compliments to Djokovic - I won’t deny that - but that doesn’t make him graceless. He’s trying to strike a balance between being candid and competitive, between giving Djokovic his due and - on the other hand - not ceding too much psychological territory to Novak. This should all be readily obvious. What we all know as tennis observers is that Rafa’s lavish praise of Federer has made Roger look very grinch-like and miserly as a giver of compliments to other players (save for Delpo).

  8. Robert Sanchez September 12, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Ridiculous comment by federer, sore loser, classless……dont hate on Djok cause you couldnt finish the match out, what is he supposed to do on match point? let you have it, now anyone who plays sports knows a true champion fights till its over and that is what Nole did, he saw himself in a match ending point and did what he had to do to come back. This is just utter garbage that Fed would say this, learn from your rival Nadal what true sportsmanship is about, (when Rafa loses he gives credit where credit is due), who by the way you can never seem to beat and admit when a player has outplayed you and outclassed you. Djok has lost 2 matches all year and has always been respectful of his opponents. Its time to face reality Fed, you got beat fair and square. Accept it you arrogant punk.

    • Gia June 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm

      I’m a Federer fan and I just reviewed that shot Nole made and it didn’t look lucky to me. It looked like the crowd pushed Djokovic, he got mad and was like: I’m going to show ALL you [email protected]#$%^& and he hit that shot.
      Fed internalized that shot, you could see it on his face and rather composing himself and refocusing and closing out the match, he clearly got mentally distracted (I’m so glad I didn’t see that match). Fed KNEW he screwed that up but I think his response was a little bit of misdirected anger (he may have apologized to Djoker behind the scenes later — or not. Anyway THIS was the best article I’ve read in awhile, great job.
      - @ohworldgirl

  9. Win or Lose, I lose. (@WinOrLoseILose) September 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Can’t believe Nadal is always portrayed as the one who knows what sportsmanship is about. Gimme a break. That fake modesty for a guy who has won 10 GSs annoys me a thousand times more than the candidness of Federer.
    Was Nole’s shot luck ? Of course it was. If not, he would return every serve that way. The fact is Djokovic had totally locked out of the match, which his demeanor showed very well. In poker terms: his pot was down to the last chips, he went all in with 22 and flopped another 2. Nothing else.

  10. BruceLee September 12, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Djokovic did exact ROS at least once more in that match (3rs set 1 0, Federer serving). So it was regular (for Djokovic) return, only stakes were much higher. There is nothing lucky about the shot.
    Hard work and extraordinary mental preparation only.

    More interestingly, I would like to hear opinion of behavior specialist who would analyze body language on Federer press conference. What’s happened to Federer hand? Why he was touching and covering his mouth? And nervous hand twitching? Was he lying? That is not normal behaviour…

  11. Win or Lose, I lose. (@WinOrLoseILose) September 12, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    What was he lying about then ? He didn’t really lose the match ? He actually won it, but lied about it ? wtf

  12. nat September 13, 2011 at 12:08 am

    I am not a big fan of the joker but Fed is a sore loser. He was appearing classy because he was winning. See his class now. Again, what a sore loser.

  13. Tiago September 13, 2011 at 2:09 am

    The problem was not being “lucky”, but the fact that Federer chose to serve wide and by doing so gave Djokovic the opportunity to risk a cross shot, when aiming for the middle would more effective. The serve in the middle would leave no angle to Djokovic to risk a “lucky” shot.
    Not acknowledging the fact that Djokovic had a superb comeback in the match, being 2 sets down, and especially in that game, is very pretentious. Federer didn’t lose because of bad luck, simply because he wasn’t competent enough to finish it.

  14. Kris Schaefer (@krisherdown) September 13, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    I don’t think anyone (even Novak) disputes that there was luck involved with that shot. It’s the comment about losing matches in juniors that way that makes it sound like sour grapes on Roger’s part.

  15. d4m1r September 14, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    You gotta understand Fedex.
    He is frustrated, he hoped rly hard to win something this year…
    He served something he hoped was ace to the guy he concidered broken, but he returned it beautifully with trollface on.
    Lucky? So what, major sport moments that made ppl/team famous were based on 99% luck, being misses or good shots. Luck is just part of equasion here.

  16. slavko September 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    What about total number of games won in their both US Open semifinals 2010 and 2011?
    If you compare those figures try to answer who has got more skill and who has got more luck?

  17. geba December 5, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    That particular shoot could have been luck. Even Novak acknowledged that.
    What many forget though (even Federer) is that Federer still had a second match point after this “lucky” shoot, and 5:3 lead. Novak did not only take the lucky shoot, but yet another one (another lucky one??), and then 3 games in a row. To do this, and against Federer, you must be really, really lucky - big time!?!?

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