Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

A thumping physical confrontation testing mind, muscle and sinew to the ultimate degree, and from which there could only be one winner. No, not the upcoming Rugby World Cup but the breathtaking confrontation between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the US Open final. Rain delays meant that for British audiences it didn't start till the small hours, and only we dedicated insomniacs could catch it. A pity, because it was one of the most bruising and thrilling of their 42 battles, stretching back over eight years. It even had a garnish of audience bad behaviour --what else do you expect from the Yanks? -- which Novak acknowledged with his characteristic amazing grace.

The score between these two great heroes is 21 matches each: has there ever been an individual sporting rivalry to touch it? In the end Federer won just two points fewer than the Serb though Djokovic's superiority (he won by three sets to one) felt just a bit more than that as the match unfurled. A highlights tape would last almost as long as the match itself, so intense and brilliant were the shots, full of astonishing defence, powerful net play, especially from the Swiss, incredible defence, as well as Federer's occasional assaults on his opponent's second serve: that's called Sabr, by the way -- Sneaky Attack By Roger -- where the Fed advances on to the court to take the second serve on the half volley. It is brilliantly executed and formidable gamesmanship. Roger's saying, 'That's what I think of your second serve.'

For me the extraordinary highlight was the tenth game of the second set, and I beg you to watch it if you can. It lasted a full 15 minutes with Federer leading 5-4 and Djokovic serving. In the end the world No. 1 held serve, though Federer went on to take the set two games later. The tenth game had no impact on the outcome of the match, but illuminates what exceptional drama these two giants have brought to our sporting life. …

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