| Roger Federer, after his loss, on Monday |
New York: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and defending US Open champion Andy Murray warned those dismissing Roger Federer’s hopes of a return to the top of the men’s game that it is too soon to dismiss the 17-time Grand Slam champion as a spent force.
Federer was unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament in the fourth round in straight sets by Tommy Robredo, completing his worst set of results at the Grand Slams since 2002, the last year that he did not at least reach a final at one of the four majors.
Djokovic, who dropped just three games in beating Marcel Granollers to book his spot in the quarter finals in New York, believes the Swiss is suffering a slump in form rather than a dramatic decline.
“Roger did not play close to his maximum level so it’s always a question of why is he not playing well,” Djokovic said.
“People need to give him a break a little bit, because I think it’s normal to expect that he’s not moving as well as he did when he was No. 1 and he was so dominant.”
“For me, he’s still playing really well and definitely deserves to be one of the top five players in the world, no question about it.”
Federer arrived at the US Open as the world No. 7, his lowest ranking in a decade, after his shock second-round exit at Wimbledon and an American hard court season curtailed by a back injury.
Djokovic said it was not for him to advise Federer on what his future plans should be amid speculation over when the 32-year-old might retire.
“How long he’s going to play? That’s a question for him. But he’s what, 31, 32 years old? Tommy Haas is 35 and close to the top 10.
“So I think people are seeing Roger always being a top-three, top-two guy and competing for Grand Slam titles. That’s not happening, and all of a sudden it’s a huge surprise.”
World No. 3 Andy Murray admitted it was a surprise to see Robredo beat Federer, his first victory against the Swiss in 11 meetings, but believes a series of wins could restore Federer’s confidence and status among the game’s elite.
“I think a lot of players go through periods where they’re not playing their best tennis, and that has obviously been the case with Roger since around probably Wimbledon time,” said Murray, who will face Stanislas Wawrinka for a place in the semi-finals in New York.
“He had a few issues with his back this year as well. He’s still hitting the ball well. He still has the same strokes. It’s just when you lose a few matches you are supposed to win, then you lose a little bit of confidence. That’s huge in this game.”
Djokovic finished off the fourth-round match in just 79 minutes.
“I played one of the better matches I’ve ever played here in my life,” Novak, who has yet to lose a set in the tournament, said on court. “I had everything working, every part of my game and that's a great encouragement.”
“Today, the second and third set have been some of the best tennis that I’ve played on Arthur Ashe in my career,” said Djokovic, who has flashed some wondrous form on the Centre Court over the years.
“I was wishing to be more aggressive as the tournament progresses and to be able to stay committed to play every point, to win every point, regardless of what’s the score.”
Djokovic said he has been spending a lot of time on varying his attack and improving his net play.
“I know I can defend well and I have a good transition, but also it’s obvious that my game is based on a baseline,” he said.
“I have many opportunities during the match to come to the net and finish out the point earlier.
“That’s one of the things on the practice agenda that we have with our team. We are working on the serve, getting more precise, efficient, and using the opportunities to just make a winner and come to the net.
The new-look Djokovic, rushing to the net to finish off quick points, could prove to be an undeniable force as he takes aim on a second US Open title. “It’s a great joy. It’s a fantastic feeling when you’re playing this well,” said the Australian Open champion.
“You love spending time on the court and experiencing such great zone where you are at that moment.”