We can hope for a classic between two of the all time greats
Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer
This match is getting 2016 off to a bang. Roger played well in Brisbane to reach the final and has yet to drop a set in Melbourne. Novak dominated Qatar and has looked strong in Melbourne minus a tough match with Gilles Simon aka human crazy glue.
Fed in Form?
Brad Gilbert among others said Federer passes the eye test as having played the best tennis to this point in the tournament. We have seen this before at both the 2015 World Tour Finals and US Open events. Roger reached the final of each event looking to be on a roll only to fall to Djokovic.
Semifinal vs. Final
I think it helps Roger to be playing Novak in the semifinal round. It is hard enough to beat a dominating #1, but Roger wondering if this is his last best chance to win major title #18 only adds to the weight of such a match. Here it may be more about Roger vs. Nole especially considering Roger is 0-2 vs. Nole on Plexicushion* winning only 0 of 6 sets.
Return to Sender
Novak Djokovic’s return of serve pressures opponents in huge ways. Roger will either have to generate and convert multiple break points or serve at a very high level to pull the upset. Novak’s return on this surface is lethal as the court produces higher bounces than what one experiences on most Decoturf II courts.
Novak’s Aussie Philosophy
Roger has won the Australian Open title 4 times and is his 12th semifinal appearance in 13 years. Still, Novak owns the blue courts down under. The world number one has claimed 5 Australian Open titles including taking home the big trophy at 4 of the previous 5 events. This surface is ideal for Novak as it produces some high bounces but also gives him sure footing to allow his preternatural defensive skills to rob a few points from opponents. Novak can win by dictating and can win by counter-punching on this surface. Finally, his defensive skills and returning acumen force opponents to try to hit shots a little too finely.
Ivan Ljubicic’s hiring was lauded by Novak Djokovic who also spoke of how odd it would be to see his close friend coaching one of his main rivals. I don’t think this will matter, but Ljubicic has faced Novak which is something Edberg had not done.
Tomic Adding Fuel to the Fire
Questioning a legend’s abilities sometimes leads to unexpected excellence from an older player. Steffi Graf in 1999 defeated Martina Hingis to win Roland Garros. Steffi admitted Hingis’ dismissive attitude toward Graf’s chances while Graf was recovering from knee surgery contributed to her motivation to return to the top level of tennis. Pete Sampras’ 2002 US Open run included a few helpings of crow for Greg Rusedski and much of the tennis media. Michael Jordan famously fed off of any perceived slight. Roger doesn’t seem to do this, but when facing an obstacle like Mount Djokovic, Roger might dig for any edge he can find. Given that Novak did not deliver the slight to Roger, if Federer wins Novak should send a sarcastic thank you note to Bernard Tomic.
What I think will Happen
These two players know one another’s games. Both guys know their history on this particular surface. I think Roger will empty the kitchen sink and dig deep, but Novak Djokovic is currently the man until someone proves otherwise. I think Novak’s return of serve and court coverage do what is needed for him to advance.
Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5
* Roger did defeat Novak at the 2007 Australian Open in straight sets on Rebound Ace