Novak Djokovic likens himself to a falcon: All of his tennis attires have falcons embroidered or printed on them.
His hats, wrist bands, shoes are all marked with symbols of a falcon. Back in January 2009, when Djokovic unveiled his signature ‘Falcon’ range for Adidas on an airborne court in Melbourne’s State Theater, he explained the choice of "the Falcon as my signature line as I believe my style of play is just like a falcon hunting. I live for great match-ups against strong opponents and this is now reflected in my apparel and footwear on court."
"Novak is falcon. His granddad was Montenegrin. He called him that. Falcon… Hunting in the air, pure, clean, efficient, dignified bird hunting! No worms, no crawlers, no unworthy! He’ll rather curse and act a play, than digging in, riding the wave, sticking out the storm, giving up the ghost.[of Federer]," Sasa Durutovic, my Balkan friend, once told me.
Recall Rebecca West's "Black Lamb and Gray Falcon," an ethnographic travel account of the Balkans. Crucifixion is not the price to be paid for the good of many. The gray falcon cannot be the tragic response to the black lamb's sacrifice.
To contextualize West in the microcosm of tennis world, the Serb cannot play the pacifist against the Swiss, just so you will have the joy of another Federer-Rafa final.
The Serbian No. 1, a forgotten contender, is back in the spotlight with his fourth straight US Open semifinal berth.
Aside from Roger Federer, Djokovic is the only other active player to reach the US Open four times in a row. In fact, only four other players in the Open Era have achieved the feat: Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, and Federer.
The Serb lost only to Federer in those three occasions. If Djokovic had won the first set in the '07 Championship match, he could have gotten a better result than 6-7(4), 6-7(2), 4-6.
The following year, he won the second set from Federer in another closely contested semifinal, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 2-6. Last year, despite fooling around the court, he lost with a respectful score, 5-7, 5-7, 2-6.
The Serb is second only to Federer on hard court: He is more accomplished than Rafael Nada on this surface.
Not only Djokovic has more titles on hard court than Nadal (13-9), but also winning record against the Spaniard (7-3). The Serb also has closed the gap with Federer since 2007 Canada Masters (4-5).
However, since his loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Australian Open quarterfinal, Djokovic has struggled through out the year.
He has won only one title (Dubai 500). He has not reached another final and has yet to beat another top ten player since '09 World Tour Final. All these recent results prompted most analysts, including me, to dismiss Djokovic from the list of US Open title contenders.
Djokovic's first match against Viktor Troicki did not change that belief. Climbing back from two sets and a break down, he barely won the match from the verge of defeat.
After his difficult survival in the hottest day of New York, many thought the ailing Serb might not last another round.
Surprisingly, in the subsequent rounds, the gritty Serb found his form to vanquish his opponents in straight sets
He has proved us all wrong.
As soon as Djokovic beat Mardy Fish, one of the hottest players coming into the event, it was almost certain that he would get another chance to play Federer in the semifinal.
After quickly dispatching Gael Monfils in the quarterfinal, he has more time to rest and retool for the next battle.
The dream of reaching his second Slam at Flushing has been rekindled but will not be fulfilled unless Djokovic plucks out an unprecedented will, together with mental toughness to contest at the highest level.
Tomorrow, he cannot afford another comedy central of the last year when playing the history's best player, Roger Federer.
The finger-wagging Djokovic of 2007-08 is not expected to suddenly show up tomorrow, but the '09 Basel Djokovic could be enough to cause an upset. He has to rise to the occasion and prove that he is the falcon he claims to be.
He has to muster resoluteness against the heavy favorite Swiss, against whom he has yet to showcase his best tennis on the Arthur Ashe court.
Djokovic still has the ability to xerox the court lines instinctively and discharge incessant down the line missiles from both wings.
Statistically, he tops the record of winning return games for this year. He will have to maintain that record one more time; continue to serve as well as he has in the last five matches (above 75%); run the opponent from corner to corner; avoid mid-court returns; forget about playing cute with drop volleys; and set a tent behind the baseline, believing that he can outplay Federer in baseline rallies.
Routinely, the Serb will have to disrupt the Swiss from getting into a rhythm, with varying paces and shots.
Wind can become a factor in determining how each can execute in adverse conditions. Djokovic proved in the match against Monfils that he could play in a worst windy condition. But Federer is no Monfils. He will have to get his shots much deeper and cleaner, yet remaining within the margin.
The question is not about spoiling the party of Federer-Nadal final but Djokovic re-establishing himself as the Top Dog on hard court.
It is not about denying Federer his sixth or Nadal a Career Slam: It is more about the Serb earning his second Slam and getting rid of the one-slam wonder tag.
It is about proving that he cannot lose to Federer for the 4th time in a row at the US Open.
And if he is able to beat Federer, Djokovic will have a lot easier time in dealing with the Spaniard. In a historical sense, that would be a gift to Federer, as well.
As a symbol of falcon, the Serb will have to use his speedy flight and rapid change of direction to render the Swiss clueless.
He can only find his atonement in the slaughter of Federer's ghost at Flushing and retrieve his iconoclastic self. It is about time to bid farewell to the myth of sacrificial lamb and turn upside down Benthamite utilitarianism.
Life is not about maximizing happiness but about reducing pain and preventing the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest number.
Prediction: Djokovic upsets Federer in a tight match and regains his No. 2 ranking.