After the final point of the match-deciding tiebreak in the 2011 French Open Men's Semifinal, Roger Federer wagged his finger, a la Dikembe Mutombo. Was it to his opponent, Novak Djokovic? To father time? A friend of mine noted that it was similar to the Avon Barksdale finger-wag from Season 1 of The Wire.
In a sense, it was for everybody. Djokovic, father time, the critics who said he was too old after his exit at the Italian Open to Richard Gasquet, and the throngs of Djokovic supporters who believed this was Djokovic's tournament to lose.
Unforgiving of such premature dismissals, Roger Federer overcame long odds against Djokovic to advance to the French Open Men's Singles Final for the first time since his victory here at Roland Garros in 2009.
There is no love lost between these two opponents, who smile for the cameras but are fierce competitors on the court, especially in Grand Slam events. The competitive tension was thick, and Roger, usually a staid man of little emotion, was certainly emotionally invested in the outcome of this match.
The fist pumps, the shouts, and the little "mini-celebrations" (don't get me started on the word "celebration") in between points showed that this match meant something. Federer dispatched the hottest man in tennis in Novak Djokovic, cooling him down 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) as the sun began to set in Paris.
Federer succeeded in winning a vast majority of his service games. Despite failing miserably at converting break points (he went 4-for-25), he set the pace of the match with his serves, including 18 aces. Federer consistently painted the center line and corners with blistering 205-215 km/h first serves. There was a time in the second set where Djokovic would simply stand and watch the serves blaze past him.
Djokovic played well in his own right, fighting back with his flat forehands and excellent court coverage, but parts of the match certainly got to him psychologically and emotionally; the palms-up shrugs, the befuddled looks, all exposed a man who hadn't the mental fortitude, or the A-game required of him, to hang with Federer.
The near-constant conversing with his parents, the crowd, himself and at times the Virgin Mary and God, couldn't do enough to save him from the wrath that was Federer's godless forehands and surgically placed drops and slices.
To this point, Djokovic had won 44 consecutive matches to begin 2011. It's only fitting, then, that the seeming worldwide-consensus for the greatest tennis player who ever lived, would put an end to what is still a historically hot start. But Djokovic is in the past, now, and the cruel nature of the elimination tournament forces us to look forward to Sunday, where old (rather lopsided) rivals meet at the Final once again.
Roger Federer will face the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, at Roland Garros for the first time since 2008. Nadal has never lost to Federer at Roland Garros. Federer won three of the four major titles, three years in his illustrious career, but the French Open always seemed like a Lucy and Charlie Brown football kickoff, except Nadal was usually the one on his back at the end of play.
So comes the French Open Final many tennis fans were hoping to get, but weren't sure on account of Djokovic's strong recent play. That final is certainly here, and as is usually the case when Federer and Nadal meet, the 2011 French Open is sure to write another chapter in the pages of tennis history.
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