Give credit to US Open men’s singles finalist Kei Nishikori and champion Marin Cilic, but you just know top-seeded Novak Djokovic and No. 2 seed Roger Federer were bummed out about the lost opportunity to win a major without having to go through Rafael Nadal, who missed the final Grand Slam of the year with a wrist injury.
Djokovic, who seemed disgusted with himself following his semifinal loss in New York to Nishikori, decided to skip Serbia’s Davis Cup World Group Playoffs tie against India this weekend, citing fatigue. But most observers also think Djokovic mainly wants to spend time with his recent bride Jelena, who is expected to give birth to their first child at the end of the year.
Federer, who has children in multiples of two (he has infant twin boys and twin toddler girls), isn’t too tired to answer the Davis Cup call for Switzerland this weekend as the squad strives to secure the championships for the first time.
The fact Djokovic has already led Serbia to a Davis Cup triumph (2010) certainly played into the world No. 1’s decision to sit this one out. He can do no wrong in the eyes of his countrymen, so Djokovic needn’t worry too much -- unless he really is all-in when it comes to playing for his country. A loss by Serbia on grass in Bangalore will be a humiliation, and it would relegate the nation to zonal play next year. And that means Djokovic will be under a lot of pressure to bring his nation back into the elite World Group in 2015.
Federer’s situation is far less complex. He -- along with reigning Australian Open champ and Davis Cup teammate Stan Wawrinka -- is on the cusp of a historic achievement for Switzerland, as well as on an unstated mission to fill the last hole on his résumé. And they’re in an excellent position to make that happen.
People who don’t buy into the Davis Cup narrative might just shrug and ask of Federer’s quest, “Who cares?” But Federer, a great traditionalist and a champion with real reverence for the history of the game, knows that Davis Cup matters. He knows that all of his most cherished peers, past and present, have led their respective nations to victory in the Davis Cup -- sometimes in ways that have become part of their respective legacies (for instance, Pete Sampras in 1995 winning both singles matches and a doubles match with Todd Martin to lead an unexpected U.S. sweep in Moscow, on clay no less).
Federer may not be required to perform such heroics. He’s ranked No. 2, Wawrinka is No. 4. The Swiss are at home on a fast surface against an Italian squad led by a head case in No. 17 Fabio Fognini. The scenario becomes less certain -- and more fun -- should the heavily favored Swiss advance to the final. They will be on the road against the winner of the Czech Republic versus France tie.
Thus, Federer has plenty of motivation to see him through the rest of this year. The same cannot be said for Djokovic, who seems to have been struggling with motivation since he won Wimbledon. If Serbia loses to India, Djokovic probably will take at least a little heat at home. And if Federer leads the Swiss to their second Davis Cup final (they lost at the U.S. in the 1992 final), he will be one step closer to filling that final remaining hole.
Perhaps Federer is lucky that after the US Open disappointment he still has something to look forward to career-wise this year. Djokovic has to be content with stewing in his own juices, and anticipating the joy of changing diapers.