Roland Garros Flashback: The Day Federer Ended Djokovic's Perfect Season
Roger Federer has made plenty of history in his career. But one of the most memorable matches of the past decade was one in which the Swiss star prevented history.
Entering the 2011 Roland Garros semi-finals, Novak Djokovic was flying higher than any player in recent memory. The Serbian had won his first 41 matches of the season, putting him one victory from tying John McEnroe’s 1984 record for most consecutive wins to start a year.
High on confidence, Djokovic was pushing for his first Roland Garros title. Seven of the Serbian’s wins that season came against Federer or Rafael Nadal. But Federer was not intimidated.
"I've trained a lot during my whole life for these kinds of matches," Federer said. "There was an enormous amount of pressure on Novak, and he really played well."
Djokovic’s problem was that Federer played better. The Swiss snapped a three-match losing skid against Djokovic with a stunning 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) victory to reach the final in Paris.
Immediately after the match, commentators wondered whether it was the best match of the season. The quality was high from the early going, with few blips. Federer was far more dominant behind his first serve, winning 77 per cent of those points compared to 60 per cent for Djokovic, and he showed patience in longer rallies, not allowing the Serbian’s defence to force him to go for too much early in rallies.
Federer saved two set points in the 70-minute opening set, eventually taking it in a tie-break. The Swiss then swiftly opened up a 4-1 advantage in the second set as he took a commanding lead against the Serbian, whose perfect season was slipping away.
Djokovic faced the daunting task of trying to become the first player in 175 attempts to rally from two sets down against Federer. But the World No. 2 made a good start in that direction, immediately breaking in the third set and cruising through the rest of the set. After Federer framed a ball into the stands while facing break point at 4-4 in the fourth set, Djokovic was a hold away from sending the match to a decider.
Federer, the 2009 champion, battled hard to avoid losing his lead, breaking back with an inside-in forehand winner. Although Djokovic has proven himself one of the best returners of all-time, Federer’s serve was too strong under pressure in the ensuing tie-break, and he hit his 18th ace to clinch his third Top 10 win of the year.
"I was just trying to put in a good match and get to the French Open final, which I'm obviously happy I was able to do,” Federer said. “It almost feels like I've won the tournament, which is not the case."
There was plenty of anticipation for a potential Djokovic-Nadal showdown for the Coupe des Mousquetaires, especially considering the Serbian had beaten the Spaniard twice during that clay-court season alone. Djokovic was poised to try to add another blemish to Nadal’s sterling 44-1 record at the Slam. But instead it was Federer who earned a shot at the Spaniard.
''It was a great tournament. It was the best five months of my life, my tennis career,'' said Djokovic, who went on to win the next three Grand Slams. ''I cannot complain. It was definitely an incredible period. It had to end somewhere. I knew it [was] coming.''
Federer had a chance to win his second Roland Garros trophy in three years. Nadal, however, stopped him in four sets.