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Beyond the Baseline

Bold play pays off for Djokovic in comeback

Luck or skill? It depends on whom you ask.

For the second straight year, Novak Djokovic saved two match points and came back to beat Roger Federer in a U.S. Open semifinal. Last year, Djokovic faced the two match points on his own serve and saved them with two of the gutsiest forehands you will ever see:

This year, Djokovic was in an even tougher position. Down two sets to love on Saturday, the Serb took advantage of a lull in Federer's game and reeled off the next two sets before the two became deadlocked in a high-quality fifth set. Djokovic blinked first, playing a horrible game at 3-4 to allow Federer to break at love and give him an opportunity to serve for the match. With the rowdy crowd firmly on Federer's side (cheering for double faults and unforced errors from the world No. 1), Federer found himself with two match points on his racket, serving at 40-15.

Djokovic looked down and out. The crowd was getting to him and the match had slipped away. So what does he do? He steps in and rips this forehand return winner on the first match point:

Federer was asked about the shot after the match: Was it a matter of confidence, risk or luck? Let's just say he didn't exactly chalk it up to skill.

"Confidence? Are you kidding me? I mean, please," Federer said. "Look, some players grow up and play like that. I remember losing junior matches. Just being down 5-2 in the third, and they all just start slapping shots. It all goes in for some reason, because that's kind of way they grew up playing when they were down. I never played that way. I believe in hard-work's-gonna-pay-off kinda thing, because early on maybe I didn't always work at my hardest. So, for me, this is very hard to understand how can you play a shot like that on match point. But, look, maybe he's been doing it for 20 years, so for him it was very normal."

Told that Federer seemed shocked that he would take such a risk down match point, Djokovic shrugged. "Well, if you're playing somebody like Roger, you have to take your chances when they're presented; otherwise you're losing a match," he said.

This will be the first time since 2002 that Federer will go a season without a Grand Slam title and his disappointment was palpable. He had the match on his racket and he played fantastic tennis to get himself in that position, only to fail to finish the deal. After being unable to convert the two match points, Federer double-faulted on break point to make it 5-4. Djokovic would go on to take the next three games.

"It happens sometimes," Federer said. "That's why we all watch sports, isn't it? Because we don't know the outcome and everybody has a chance, and until the very moment it can still turn. That's what we love about the sport, but it's also very cruel and tough sometimes. It got me today. It hurts, but it's fine. Could be worse. It could be a final."

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