Joker vs. Federer

One hell of a match. And one hell of a five hours.

Jim Rome
July 15, 2019 - 10:01 am
Roger Federer vs. Novak Jokic

USA Today


If you’ve listened to this show long enough, or even if you listened to it on Friday, you know how I feel about tennis. It’s a sport I go back with a long way. And love.

And it’s a sport that I used to talk about a lot on the show. Brad Gilbert used to come on a lot to talk tennis and the Raiders. Some of my favorite conversations on this show or my TV shows have been with Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors.

I don’t talk about tennis as much now. Not because I don’t like it, but because nobody really talks about it. And it’s kind of been that way for most of this century.

And I’m not going to beat you over the head with it or lecture you or say that you people don’t understand, or that you’re missing out. I get it. It’s not for everyone. I’m not going to go all “get off my lawn” guy on you and say that you should study the classics. Or that Breakfast At Wimbledon used to be a thing.

It’s not like it was back in the days of Borg, McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, Courier, Agassi, Sampras. But if you were near a TV, or phone, or laptop yesterday, for a brief window it was.

Here’s your final score: 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12.

If you know tennis, you know what those numbers mean. If you don’t, that’s cool, it probably sounds like I’m just rattling off stock prices.

Just know this - for 4 hours and 57 minutes, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer battled their absolute asses off in one of the greatest matches ever played at Wimbledon or anywhere.

I say one of, because nothing will ever top Federer and Rafael Nadal back in the 2008 Final, but this was close. Damn close. And the fact that Federer was involved in another epic final, more than a decade later, a few weeks away from turning 38, against the world number one and one of the best to ever pick up a racket, is unreal. Absolutely unreal.

And absolutely brutal that he lost both. He has 20 Grand Slam titles and is a blade of grass away from at least 22. But his performance yesterday was epic. Truly epic. That’s a word that gets thrown around way too much these days, but yesterday was an epic day.

It was so good that people are going to start throwing out clichés like “someone had to lose” and “tennis was the real winner” but both of those are actually true.

I’m not going to come in here and say that Roger Federer really won that match. He didn’t. He lost. In fact, I’d go as far as to say he let it get away. He didn’t choke, but he didn’t finish. He didn’t go into the tank but he did let it slip away. And no one knows it better than Federer. The guy is up double match point, and serving for the match; and to add to his legacy: you have to finish that. And he didn’t. You have to finish it because it been 71 years since a male player at Wimbledon had overcome match point to win; and Djokovic just overcame two! And that’s why you have to choke a guy out when you have the chance: esp. That guy, or he’ll come back and kill you. And he did. And as any great athlete will tell you, they remember the worst beats more than they do their best wins: and as great as Federer was yesterday, and as much as he says he’ll turn the page quickly on this and move on: he won’t. He knows, on the verge of turning 38, he will never have a better look at another Wimbledon title or even another slam than he did yesterday. And he let it get away. So to this notion that there were no losers yesterday, only winner, wrong: Federer definitely lost. The scoreboard says it and he knows it.  

And what has to be troubling to Federer that he was the better player most of the day.  Except on the bigger points; especially in the tiebreakers. Djokovic was not at his best yesterday; but like a pitcher having to find a way to grind out a win when he doesn’t have his best, Joker was mentally tougher and just played bigger on the bigger points and that was the difference. Something else Federer knows that is going to sting.

Federer has nothing to be ashamed of; he played his guts out; he left it all there; he has nothing to be ashamed; just don’t tell me it won’t stick to him. Because it will. In the meantime, the two of them put on a helluva show. If I’m talking tennis at all, on this show, it’s because put on a helluva show. If I’m leading this show with tennis, you know something historic happened. I’m going to crack you over the head with it; or say if you have a problem with that sport or that match, you got a problem with yourself. I really don’t care if you care about it or not. I’m fine if you don’t. But I do. And I thought was one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen. And given that no one is really talking about the sport much these days, it was my job to start the show with it, because it was the best thing I saw all weekend.

And seeing the Joker save two match points, at Wimbledon, in Federer’s house when everyone was going crazy for him, was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in tennis.   Because that doesn’t happen. That’s not possible. It’s sort of like blocking Kareem’s skyhook. Or walking off on Mariano Riviera in the 9th. There are just certain things you don’t happen in sports. That you just don’t see. That was Joker saving two match points with Federer serving.

And as for everyone cheering for Federer and no one wanting Novak to win: he knew that. And had a technique to deal with it, quotea; "I like to transmutate it in a way: When the crowd is chanting 'Roger,' I hear 'Novak.' It sounds silly, but it is like that. I try to convince myself that it's like that."

Transmutate? Holy crap. Just when you thought yesterday’s final couldn’t get any better, Novak goes and drops a “transmutate” on everyone in the media room.

And after he transmutated those Roger chants into Novak chants, he went out and transmutated the rest of that match into a Novak match.

And if your conclusion after that match was that Novak is just went legend, you’re wrong.

He was an absolute legend before yesterday. He had 15 Grand Slam titles already. That’s more than Pete, Andre, Rod, Bjorn, it’s more than everyone not named Roger and Rafa.

That’s a win that only magnifies Novak’s greatness. And it’s a loss that somehow magnifies Roger’s as well.

Novak didn’t need yesterday to prove anything. Just like Federer didn’t need yesterday to prove anything. Tennis needed yesterday and tennis fans needed yesterday. 

One hell of a match. And one hell of a five hours.