Roger Federer is on again.
Not that he was ever actually off, but to hear his critics, the 2010 season was the beginning of the end for the 29-year-old Swiss tennis master.
You would have a tough time convincing Novak Djokovic, the No. 2 player in the world today, of that.
Djokovic became the latest victim of this “over-the-hill” tennis great in a match that began strictly as a one-man show but wound up being a three-set nailbiter.
It was Federer early and Federer late as the “old man” bested the 23-year-old Djokovic 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 to book his spot in the final opposite world No. 4 Andy Murray.
With Paul Annacone, a recent addition to his coaching staff who may or may not be in that same position after the U.S. Open, sitting courtside, the attacking Federer was back in play carrying the game to Djokovic who simply had no reply.
Through that 6-1 first set, which took all of 26 minutes, Djokovic looked like a guy who had his bags packed and ready for the next stop on the tour.
Federer, meanwhile, was putting on a clinic, the kind that had to make Scotland’s Andy Murray who was awaiting the winner, and undoubtedly watching the game on his hotel television, extremely nervous.
As good as Murray was in taking out Rafael Nadal in the earlier semifinal, Federer looked even better in dismantling Djokovic in that first set.
Djokovic, though, eventually did re-locate his game in the second set and when he did he was every bit as dominant as Federer had been in the first — at least temporarily.
As for where his game went in the early going, not even Djokovic was completely sure.
“I don’t know,” Djokovic said. “I just made too many unforced errors from the backhand side. I don’t know the reason for that ... I knew Roger was going to take the ball early and try to put pressure on me. He did it extremely well. I kind of didn’t find my rhythm, you know.”
Where Federer was hitting those angled shots that no one on the planet gets to in the first set, Djokovic was hitting cross-court winners with ridiculous regularity in the second. Djokovic would go on to win the second set 6-3, setting up the dramatic decider.
Both players had their moments in the third set until Federer grabbed the ultimate advantage, breaking Djokovic at 6-5 for the match.
As the match ended, a smiling Djokovic approached the net and said something that made Federer laugh. “He told me that I should have won the match earlier ... I was like, ‘Yeah, I kind of agreed,’ Federer said.
“You know, he’s a good sport and we enjoy the tough rivalries. I think we’re to some degree thankful that the other guys is around, too. Sometimes, of course, we wish that they weren’t there so the road maybe to victory would be a bit easier, but at the same time, it’s great playing against such good, quality players.”
Make no mistake, though, Federer isn’t going anywhere win or lose this afternoon against Murray, who owns a slight 6-5 edge in career matches between the two men, but the last three have all gone Federer’s way.
“It’s exciting that I still have so many years ahead of me,” Federer said, “and I’m going to give myself many chances, I’m sure. ... Right now I’m just focussing on what is next.”
With the win, Federer regained the No. 2 seed he lost following Wimbledon with Djokovic dropping back down to No. 3.
Nadal remains No. 1, but you can be sure Federer has that spot in his sights as well.