There’s no denying that Novak is (like Foreman was) the favorite heading into the match. Novak’s dominance over Federer in the last year has been seen time and time again.
Indeed, although Federer leads their head-to-head record 14-12, Djokovic has beaten Federer six times in their last 10 matches, including a 2012 victory in the semifinals at Roland Garros, a semifinals victory at the 2012 ATP World Tour Masters 1000, and a semifinals victory at the 2011 US Open.
But Federer is still the dominant player he once was. He may be older and slower, and he may lack the same amount of finesse that defined his dominance, but he is still a genius on the court. And a win against Novak Djokovic can further define his legacy and establish himself as a true master of the game.
Like Ali, it’s time for Federer to rely not on his physical skills but his mental skills. He needs to display the type of strategy that encompassed Ali’s “rope-a-dope” win over Foreman.
And although Novak appears to be unbeatable, he is in fact vulnerable, having lost to Andy Murray in February at the Dubai Tennis Championships, John Isner at Indian Wells, Janko Tipsarevic at the Mutua Madrid Open and Rafael Nadal at the ATP World Masters in Monte-Carlo and Rome, as well as at the French Open at Rolland Garros,
The key for Federer is to abandon the idea that he can outslug the Serb and win on overall skill. Rather, Federer needs to expose Djokovic’s weaknesses and use Novak’s strengths to his advantage. He can’t rely on beating Djokovic in the manner in which he did at the US Open in the 2007 finals and the 2008 semifinals. Djokovic is a stronger player.
Instead, Federer needs to attack the net. He can’t rally with the Serb from the baseline and expect to win.
In addition, Roger needs to exploit Djokovic’s backhand. It’s not enough to play a ball to the backhand side every now and then. Rather, Federer needs to attack the backhand, on his serve as well as his ground strokes.
And overall, Federer needs to have confidence in his game, which is something that he has clearly lacked when playing Djokovic in the past year.
Ultimately, if Roger Federer does pull off a win against Novak Djokovic and once again plays host to breakfast at Wimbledon on Sunday, we will undoubtedly concede that his greatness cannot be questioned.