Giants do fall

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Another surprise as Federer falls

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Novak Djokovic
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MELBOURNE: A surprising Australian Open took its latest unexpected turn Friday when Roger Federer, of all people, failed to reach the final after failing to win a set against Novak Djokovic in the semifinal.The loss was not quite the press-stopper it might have been had Federer been at the peak of his powers here, but there had been enough visible cracks in his beautifully designed fortress over the past week for Djokovic’s 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory to feel more like an upset than an earthquake.And yet, even with Federer looking intermittently flat and off rhythm, this was still quite a psychological hurdle to clear for Djokovic, a 20-year-old Serb who will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, an unseeded Frenchman, in Sunday’s final.

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Federer had reached a record 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals. He had won the last two Australian Opens, and he has won 12 major singles titles in all.

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He also had beaten Djokovic in straight sets in the final of last year’s U.S. Open, a match in which Djokovic had often looked jumpy and had squandered multiple early opportunities. But young tennis players with extraordinary gifts have a way of maturing quickly, and with the pressure mounting on Friday night, Djokovic held very firm in the final two sets, particularly in his own service games.

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It’s an “indescribable feeling to beat No. 1 in the world, probably one of the best players this sport has ever had,” Djokovic told the crowd. “I’m very, very proud of myself.”

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The Australian crowd, used to more self-deprecation from its champions, reacted ambivalently to that comment, but perhaps Djokovic’s tendency to wear his confidence on his short sleeves is what is required to stop a juggernaut like Federer.

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He has been saying he intends to be No. 1 in the world since he was a boy growing up in a war-ravaged country who was trying to find a way to do justice to his talent. He has not stopped saying it since he joined the professional ranks, and matches like this one make it seem more a prediction than a boast.

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“It was a tough match, I thought,” Federer said. “You know, a lot of ups and downs, like the usual matches we have against each other. It always comes and goes. But I think he made the more important points today. It was a bit unfortunate for me, but he did play well and served really well when he had to.”

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Federer, in contrast, did not. With both players clearly fighting through nerves in the early going, he served for the first set at 5-4 and made three unforced errors in the final four points to allow Djokovic to get back to 5-5.

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Serving to stay in the set at 5-6, Federer was broken again, missing a backhand pass he would usually make and then making another unforced error off the same wing.

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In all, he would be broken four times in the match, as Djokovic jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second set and then held on the rest of the way as Federer’s level began to rise to a more familiar level. But the pilot light of his game, his whipping forehand, kept flickering under pressure, and Djokovic kept taking his time – bouncing, bouncing, bouncing the ball – and then pounding down big serves.

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He saved two set points in the third set at 5-6 and then got to match point in the tiebreaker with two more serves that Federer could not handle. The next and last rally ended with Federer smacking a forehand hard into the tape, with the sound dropping Djokovic to his knees.

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When questioned, Federer agreed that the case of food poisoning that cut into his preparation for this tournament might have played a role in his defeat. “Perhaps,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because of that, but I don’t think I moved as well as I usually do where I’m in a position to hit passing shots as I like to hit them, even with my eyes closed. That wasn’t the case here, except perhaps in the first two rounds.”

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The last man to beat Federer here was Marat Safin of Russia in the semifinals of the 2005 tournament. Safin then went on to beat Lleyton Hewitt of Australia in the final, which was the last major final that did not involve either Federer or Rafael Nadal.

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But there will be new talent on the new, blue court in Melbourne on Sunday: Djokovic and the 22-year-old Tsonga, who stunned, truly stunned Nadal in straight sets in his semifinal.

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Giants do fall

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No.1 Federer and No.2 Nadal got defeated ? What the … ? Well, who doesn’t get puzzled when they hear that these two tennis giants had fallen, being beaten down by young talents, unseeded Tsonga (22) from France and No. 3 Djokovic (20) from Serbia. The new young talents will meet up in the blue court in Melbourne and well, it will definitely be a fresh scene without the top two in the finals. Yeah, giants do fall. Since I am currently job hunting, it is surprising to see the big GE Money board behind the picture above. After doing a simple search at Google, I came to know that GE Money Australia is currently partnering with the Australian Open in the second of its three-year sponsorship agreement. Click here for details.

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