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Find Out What It Means To Me 03/20/2009 - 10:56 PM

Novak1

By TW Contributing Editor Andrew Burton

Pete Bodo, our esteemed proprietor, has a maxim that things change very fast in tennis.  You think Federer's dominance will last for years?  Watch out, Rafael Nadal will break out from his clay court beach head and over run the grass and hard court battlefields.

And you think Novak Djokovic is the next challenger to the big two?  Watch out Novak - getting to the top is hard, but staying there may well turn out to be harder.

In every press conference he's given this week, Djokovic has stressed that tennis is a mental game.  Right now, if you put Djokovic and Jelena Jankovic side by side and asked the player with the greater confidence in their own game to step forward, you could probably watch the two of them walk backwards until their backs hit the wall.

Last year at Indian Wells, Djokovic played with a perceptible swagger - and he backed it up.  He could be pushed, but he'd push back harder, and he'd beat his chest in triumph just for taking the first set off Stan Wawrinka.  Then he brushed aside Rafael Nadal in the SF and met Mardy Fish in the final.  Fish fought back to take the second set; Djokovic earned an early break in the third set but then faced 0-40 on his own serve.  Three thunderous serves brought him back to deuce, the game followed, and Djokovic served his way through the set to the title with exultant chants of "Ser-bi-yah!  Ser-bi-yah!" raining from the high bleachers around the stadium.

Fast forward six months, and Djokovic booked his ticket to a semi final with Roger Federer at the US Open, the second hard court Major of the year.  Then, a major self-inflicted wound, the angry USA Network interview with Michael Barkan about Roddick's "SARS" comments before the match.  When Djokovic walked out in front of the New York crowd on Saturday morning to play Federer, he looked to me as if he was wearing a "Kick Me" note taped to his back.  The match was competitive until late in the third set, but when Federer broke and served out the set Djokovic was done.

The second self-inflicted wound didn't come from a heat of the moment remark - it was carefully planned and executed.  Djokovic switched in the off season to a custom designed Head racquet, and seemed to struggle to find his range with the new stick.  In Australia, Djokovic started his quarter final with Roddick brightly, but tired openly in the Melbourne heat and retired in set 3. 

A win in Dubai possibly signalled that Djokovic might be back on the upswing, and he came into today's match not having dropped a set.  He hadn't looked the all-conquering hero in his first three matches, but neither had Murray, Federer or Nadal - so Djokovic might have legitimately represented himself as a contender, as well as being the defending champion.

For the record, Djokovic lost today 6-3 6-2, but as the old saying goes, it wasn't that close.  Taking only 39% of the points in a match falls into the category of a thumping.  Sometimes you get thumped because your opponent was too good that day.  This wasn't one of those days, though.

As he walked into the press conference, you could see that Djokovic had taken the invisible "Kick Me" sign off his back, then put it on his front covering a vulnerable part of his anatomy.  And you could see that he'd been kicking away ferociously for a while:

Q.  Andy was too tough today.  What was wrong with your game and why this loss?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Well, overall it was a very bad day.  There's not much to say.  He played very solid.  I mean, he didn't do anything special.  It was all me making incredible amount of unforced errors.

I asked him if he'd tried to make adjustments during the match:

Q.  After you lost the first set, was there something that you tried to adjust in the second set to try and regain the momentum?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  I just didn't have any momentum on the court.  No feel for the ball, no movement.  Just no solutions.

Once I started to ... actually, I wasn't patient in any stages of the match.  I tried to put some first serves in, but it wasn't going in.  Just overall, not even one shot was, serving.

And so it went.  Novak had clearly been thumbing through the "Marat Safin Guide To Answering Press Questions"

Q.  You're obviously very down and disappointed.  When was the last time you ever felt like that on a tennis court?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  I don't know.  It's hard to remember, really.  This was one of the worst matches, certainly, I played.

Roddick, to his credit, didn't lay claim to brilliance after the match, noting wryly that this hadn't been one of Novak's best days. 

If you use a device like the one in Newsweek, the "Conventional Wisdom Watch," and apply it to the ATP Big 4, you'd likely have red "up" arrows against the No 1 and No 4 players, a sideways arrow against the No 2, and a red "down arrow against the No 3 player. 

Roger Federer hasn't impressed himself so far this week, commenting on his own rust.  But any time Federer seems to feel he's drifting towards negative territory, he quickly pulls himself back with a positive comment.  Federer was drubbed by Fish last year even more comprehensively than Djokovic was this afternoon by Roddick, but his press conference didn't betray self doubt, just wry bemusement:

Q. Are you well, Roger?

ROGER FEDERER: I'm well, yeah. How are you?

Q. I don't have to run.

ROGER FEDERER: Well, I didn't have to run much either, today. (laughter.)

Q. Is it very tough one to explain? Okay, he did play extremely well and hit some great shots. I suppose we are always expecting a little bit more from you.

ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, look, the danger of best-of-three matches is it can be over in no time. We all know that. Today it sort of felt like a practice match, you know.

He was just trying to go for everything and it sort of worked. Didn't even play particularly bad on the break points and I just -- every time, you know, he read the right side on the serve and he kept the ball in play. When he wanted to attack, everything worked. He would never miss, really.

When I needed maybe a miss once in a while. So that was just impressive by his side, and I couldn't do much to control it. I didn't even think he served particularly well. It was just impossible to return his first serve, which it normally is anyway, you know. But I couldn't get into his second serves, and that was the disappointing part about today.

DelPotro1No matter what happens, Roger Federer never lets you forget that he knows he's Roger Federer.  Novak Djokovic doesn't seem to be able to be Novak Djokovic right now, and when he and Jelena Jankovic are asked for ID at the airport both of them are going to need some help.

In the second ATP match of the day, Juan Martin Del Potro escaped with marginally more self respect than Djokovic, and a smidgen more than he was left with after his defeat at the hands of Federer in Melbourne.  Some uncharacteristic charity from Rafael Nadal allowed Del Potro to inflate his total of games for the match to six, coincidentally my over/under before the match.  However, I doubt that there were two people in the stadium, including Del Potro and his coaching team, who genuinely believed Del Potro had any chance whatsoever of winning today. 

Del Potro has joined Davydenko in the "Human Litmus Test" bottle - he can rough up the lower ranked guys, but he rolls over with little protest for the big dogs.  Even competitors like Nalbandian and Federer can get the thousand yard stare after playing Nadal for two hours.  Del Potro's slow unblinking shuffle started ten minutes in.


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Posted by Papo 03/20/2009 at 11:05 PM

1st

Posted by Papo 03/20/2009 at 11:12 PM

Roger Federer will have to raise his concistency for the semi vs Murray. He did win in straight sets vs Verdasco, but if I remember correctly he was down 0-40 on his serve no less than three times in the second set. He managed to hold off Verdasco two of those times, but tomorrow he'll face an opponent who's been beating him lately.

As for Rafa vs Roddick, Rafa played some of the best hardcourt tennis I've ever seen him play vs Randy in the IW 07 semi. This is an improved Rafa (AO champ) vs an improved Roddick. I expect the result to be the same.

Posted by Papo 03/20/2009 at 11:22 PM

Nice article, Andrew!

I assume Fed's Q&A is from last year's match vs Fish.

Posted by Papo 03/20/2009 at 11:24 PM

Err, of course it is. The first sentence of the paragraph before the Q&A threw me off : P

Posted by imjimmy 03/20/2009 at 11:32 PM

Andrew: Excellent piece! Top notch stuff. Thanks so much!
I am really disappointed for Djokovic. He tennis is so attractive when it's on, plus he has the potential to be the best. It's so sad that he's broken down mentally. Loss for tennis, I think.

Posted by Marian...wtg Rafa! 03/20/2009 at 11:36 PM

WTG Rafa, missed it (due to jetlag and Fox sports), but I knew it wouldn't be much to watch; instead I've caught most of Nole's errors...

I still think his choice of rackets is wrong, too many shanks with the new ones, it destroyed his FH! I know that his previous Wilson was pretty good though, so money aside, this looks like a bad decision, to switch to that funky power racket Head.

Posted by marron 03/20/2009 at 11:38 PM

Some lovely writing, Andrew. Watch out, TMB*, there's a young'un after you. I especially enjoyed the 'thousand yard stare' - never thought about it quite like that, but it is so apt.

*The Mighty Bodo

Posted by Annie 03/20/2009 at 11:41 PM

"Even competitors like Nalbandian and Federer can get the thousand yard stare after playing Nadal for two hours. Del Potro's slow unblinking shuffle began ten minutes in."

Andrew - really good stuff here. Thanks so much for this article. Del Potro's shuffle has always bugged me. His play is fine but the between points lethargy literally keeps me from wanting to see his matches. And what of Djokovic? Where has his swagger gone? We've all been saying tonight how much we miss it. Wonder how he would have responded to you if you'd asked him about that. maybe next time. Thanks for your reporting this week, Andrew. It's been stellar.

Posted by Rosangel 03/20/2009 at 11:42 PM

It was actually quite amusing watching Mark Petchey on Sky assess the Del Potro-Nadal matchup. They do a chart with categories such as "serve", "return", "mental toughness", "movement", "forehand", "backhand", "volleys", "court positioning", "playing conditions" and so on, and set the two names side by side, giving a tick to whichever player is assessed to be the strongest in that category. Often the ticks are fairly evenly spread; today for the first time that I've ever seen, one player (Nadal) got a tick in all categories; Del Potro none. It's a bad matchup for him. He doesn't like to move forward, and often, especially during the first set, was getting forced back behind the baseline.

As for Roddick, he's moving better than he was in '07. I'd guess the court conditions will suit Rafa, but I don't really expect a repeat of the '07 semifinal.

Posted by crazyone 03/20/2009 at 11:48 PM

*It was actually quite amusing watching Mark Petchey on Sky assess the Del Potro-Nadal matchup. They do a chart with categories such as "serve", "return", "mental toughness", "movement", "forehand", "backhand", "volleys", "court positioning", "playing conditions" and so on, and set the two names side by side, giving a tick to whichever player is assessed to be the strongest in that category. *

Rosangel, I think you'd have to go down to Davydenko for JMDP to get a tick in any of these categories (the serve). Though I guess some but not me would give JMDP the edge in BH over Federer, I don't think so, having seen some of their previous matches.


Posted by crazyone 03/20/2009 at 11:49 PM

by go down I mean go down the ranking list.

And I'd give JMDP the tip on BH over Roddick, but nothing else.


Posted by Rosangel 03/20/2009 at 11:50 PM

BTW, I currently see Davydenko as a tougher test for the top guys than Del Potro. Age and maturity are of course a factor, but JMDP has yet to post a win over any of the top four (he's 0-12 against them, with no sets to his credit); at least Davydenko has posted wins against Murray, Djokovic and Nadal. To me when he plays well he's a machine (I mean that as a compliment) in a way that Del Potro isn't - at least not yet.

Posted by crazyone 03/20/2009 at 11:53 PM

Rosangel, I agree. Davydenko's problem was always actually getting the W--he often pushed Federer and Nadal (even on clay) very hard, even when he didn't win. That's something I have yet to see JMDP do.

That said, JMDP has one set against Andy Murray.


Posted by Rosangel 03/20/2009 at 11:53 PM

I don't believe that Mark Petchey (Murray's former coach, for anyone who doesn't know - I love his commentary) has commentated a Federer-Del Potro match, so it was literally the first time I'd seen such a lopsided chart.

Posted by Marian...wtg Rafa! 03/20/2009 at 11:53 PM

Roseangel: You Del Potro didn't even get ticks for serve or volleys?

And hello, good bye everyone!

Posted by Rosangel 03/21/2009 at 12:00 AM

Marian: I'm afraid not:)

I heard one of the commentators (I think Peter Fleming) say during the rerun of the key parts of the Nadal-Nalby match that on average Rafa has added about 5 mph to his serve since Indian Wells last year. At least a couple of his biggest serves have been pretty impressive speed-wise. 5 mph on average is a good improvement at that level of the game.

Posted by Papo 03/21/2009 at 12:00 AM

I guess Rosangel is right about Roddick. Even though I expect the end result to be the same, it's doubful Rafa will repeat his super agressive performance of the 07 semi in tomorrow's match. The Rafa KAD in me always hopes Rafa will be at his very best in every match, LOL.

Talking about Davydenko, I wonder what kind of hit his ranking will take from not being able to play in Miami. Surely now he'll drop out of the top five.

Posted by Jenn 03/21/2009 at 12:01 AM

Rosangel - IMO, that 2007 semi that Rafa played against Roddick is still the best 2 sets of true hardcourt tennis I have ever seen him play. The match was a total beatdown, not as close as the 6-4, 6-3 score if I recall. I remember Andy doing a lot of shaking of his head and muttering as forehand after forehand whizzed by him.
I would love to see Rafa play another match like that!! But with Andy playing better and with more fitness and confidence these days, I am definitely not expecting that. That said, Rafa gets so many serves back in play and once he can neutralize the point, Andy is in trouble even in his service games, so I think it is a good match up for Rafa.

Posted by Marian...wtg Rafa! 03/21/2009 at 12:03 AM

Ty Roseangel!

When are the semis tomorrow? And will Fox show them?

As for Rafa's picking habit: I don't think he picked his butt, during the TB with Nalby the other day, but I could be wrong :P

Posted by crazyone 03/21/2009 at 12:04 AM

Marian, giving Del Potro the tick for volleys over Nadal? I wouldn't give it for serve either but at least DP hits a few aces and such. But no way is he even in Nadal's league when it comes to volleying.

Posted by Marian...wtg Rafa! 03/21/2009 at 12:16 AM

C-1: Haven't watched Del Potro much lately, but I thought he was more of a S&V kind of guy.

4:00 pm - 8:00 pm Indian Wells: Semifinals (M) FSN - LIVE

And Rafa plays second, correct?

Posted by Pspace 03/21/2009 at 12:17 AM

Regarding Nole: I agree with Juan Jose's sentiments on the previous thread. I just don't care any more. He's come out flat on several occasions this year, and is no longer the wonderfully exciting player that he used to be....in terms of demeanor and shot selection.

The question for the year is who has more upside - Nadal or Murray. Can Nadal make a run at a 16000pt season? And/or can Murray overtake Fed for No. 2? The clay season will determine a lot, with Fed playing a reduced schedule, and Murray with a chance to gain some ground. But, there's nothing in his past performance to suggest that he'll do well on dirt....just that he's too good not to.

Somewhere in all of this is the not-so mighty Fed. He seems to be in a bit of a rut (by his standards), and has stagnated a bit while others have been improving. I have no idea whether he has the ability or inspiration to make significant improvements, or to find a way to recapture some of his mightiness.

Posted by crazyone 03/21/2009 at 12:20 AM

Marian: no, he's a baseliner. His game doesn't really match his body, it's kind of strange.

Posted by rudy3 (proud Rafaelite since 2005) 03/21/2009 at 12:21 AM

Thank you Andrew, nicely done.

In the span of, about a month, last year Djokovic lost the opportunity to get the #2 ranking from Rafa 3 times (Hamburg, RO, Queens)...he hasn't done much since.

Conversely, look at the direction Rafa went.

Posted by Marian...wtg Rafa! 03/21/2009 at 12:25 AM

Pspace:

"Can Nadal make a run at a 16000pt season?"

Would he be able to carry over most of them?

Cause if not, other then the illusionary calendar GS, he should instead focus on the longevity of his career, imo.

Posted by Papo 03/21/2009 at 12:27 AM

TypeBad teasing me by showing a link for a final four preview by Steve Tignor which goes nowhere.

Posted by NP 03/21/2009 at 12:28 AM

Pspace, Nole was close to unbeatable in last year's YEC final, which, IIRC, was barely a few months ago. That was simply one of the most jaw-dropping performances I'd ever seen; the only exhibition in 2008 that might've topped that one is Tsonga's drubbing of Rafa Down Under, and I know you said he played outta his mind that day.

It's not unusal for great players to lose steam after their 1st GS win. I say give him more time and he'll come back. With vengeance.

Posted by NP 03/21/2009 at 12:31 AM

Guess I should've added that the omission of the indefinite article was intentional.

Posted by Pspace 03/21/2009 at 12:32 AM

Marian, I dunno. I sorta agree with Rafa's POV on this. People have been predicting doomsday for him for a long time. It's not happened yet. He's added enough aggression to his game that he no longer grinds out early rounds, only when he needs to.

Regarding the calendar slam - his chances are about as good as Federer's was in '06. He'll be tested in Wimby and USO, and may or may not pass.

Posted by Papo 03/21/2009 at 12:32 AM

Rudy3, I think Nole's challenge pushed Rafa to up his level and got him ready to overtake Federer. He seemed a bit too confortable in that number two position IMO. In that sense I'm greatful to Djokovic. Now it's Mandy who is challenging Rafa. I'm glad there is someone there pushing Rafa to constatly improve.

Posted by Pspace 03/21/2009 at 12:34 AM

NP, I certainly hope so. I didn't catch much of his run in the YEC, except for the match with Tsonga that he lost. It was a good win against Davydenko in the final, and Simon(?) in the SF. But, the racquet change came after that. *shrug*

Posted by Sher 03/21/2009 at 12:35 AM

[joined Davydenko in the "Human Litmus Test" bottle - he can rough up the lower ranked guys, but he rolls over with little protest for the big dogs]

aww c'mon why kick a guy when he's down and out? he's been injured since last year.

anyway, more to the point, have you seen that Rome match vs Nadal? I would not call it roll over.

Posted by Sher 03/21/2009 at 12:37 AM

By the way, Djokovic interests me a lot more now that he's all torn and conflicted than when he was one of a hundred other cocky young guys. Heh.

Posted by crazyone 03/21/2009 at 12:38 AM

I just went back and skimmed over the old CC thread, and saw this gem from Andrew:

*One final note - at every press conference, the British press want to ask questions about Andy Murray. You can just see them (I'm exaggerating, but only slightly) talking to Azarenka at 1pm: "Viktoria, Andy Murray and Ross Hutchins went down in the doubles yesterday. What impact do you think that will have on his match with Roger tomorrow?"*

LMAO, I knew it.


Posted by NP 03/21/2009 at 12:48 AM

Speaking of the '08 YEC final, Nole could've dispatched Davy even more decisively had he not slacked off in the 2nd set. (I'm sure most of you still remember the clapping incident and the ensuing mayhem here on TW.) IOW, the Djoker was being the Djoker even when he was playing his best tennis. The world-class talent is already there; he simply needs to shed his (deserved) rep as the least mature of the Big Four--which, unlike propensity for injuries, he can actually do something about. Tsonga would love to have such a weakness instead.

Posted by Papo 03/21/2009 at 12:50 AM

Apparently I can neither read nor spell :'(

Posted by NP 03/21/2009 at 12:55 AM

Pspace, I know JJ has brought up the issue, but I wonder if Nole's racquet change was mainly due to cash. Like JJ said it's perfectly kosher for players to keep using the same racquet after the brand camouflage. Maybe Nole did feel he'd found the right racquet?

Posted by Master Ace 03/21/2009 at 12:58 AM

Tomorrow is going to be very interesting to see how each player is going to execute their game plan.

Rafael played his best HC match ever against RAndy at IW 2 yrs ago. Andy had over 10+ aces but was destroyed in ALL other phases by Rafael. Will RAndy be patient enough to outlast Rafael?

Roger has a big problem to solve in MAndy as MAndy won their last 4 meetings including Abu Dhabi. What will Roger come up with tomorrow to neutralize MAndy. Normally, MAndy ups his serve when he plays Roger.

Posted by Master Ace 03/21/2009 at 12:58 AM

Tomorrow is going to be very interesting to see how each player is going to execute their game plan.

Rafael played his best HC match ever against RAndy at IW 2 yrs ago. Andy had over 10+ aces but was destroyed in ALL other phases by Rafael. Will RAndy be patient enough to outlast Rafael?

Roger has a big problem to solve in MAndy as MAndy won their last 4 meetings including Abu Dhabi. What will Roger come up with tomorrow to neutralize MAndy. Normally, MAndy ups his serve when he plays Roger.

Posted by Master Ace 03/21/2009 at 01:01 AM

Deciding point at 3-all set 2 and Max/Andy breaks.

Max/Andy to serve 6-2,4-3

Posted by Master Ace 03/21/2009 at 01:10 AM

Sorry about the double post...

Posted by Denizen 03/21/2009 at 01:11 AM

*Somewhere in all of this is the not-so mighty Fed. He seems to be in a bit of a rut (by his standards), and has stagnated a bit while others have been improving. I have no idea whether he has the ability or inspiration to make significant improvements, or to find a way to recapture some of his mightiness.*

Totally agree, PSpace. Rafa, Murray, Verdasco and Roddick have shown resolve to improve and have results to show for it. I really enjoy each of their games, as well as that of Gonzalez, who still has that wicked FH that is therapeutic to watch.

Granted, I'm a lurker and don't know the personalities here as well as I should, but I read a surprisingly angry post last night from a seething Rafa-hater who thinks Rafa is merely a "creature", apparently getting in the way of some more evolved and deserving player. IMO, if the world were populated with more "creatures" like Rafa, it would be a kinder, more beautiful place. :)

Posted by Pspace 03/21/2009 at 01:21 AM

NP, yeah, JJ cited (on the previous CC) an interview from IW, where Nole pretty much said that he made the change for monetary reasons. Also, he'd played with a Head before pre '06 and thought he could go the whole hog rather than using a paint job. I was certain he'd use a paint job and was rather shocked that he actually changed the frame. Though one good thing that has come out of this is this website:

http://www.speedlessons.com

Which is a really cool marketing campaign. Head hasn't released the specs of his racquet (to my knowledge), so it's hard to compare how big a difference that is making. It could just be a mental issue at this point, but one which could've been avoided.

Posted by crazyone 03/21/2009 at 01:24 AM

that lesson on the smash is a bit painful given how many overheads Nole misses these days.

And it's not usually about speed, but placement...

Posted by Papo 03/21/2009 at 01:29 AM

LOL, Head's executives must be pulling their hair out at the continued suggestion that Djokovic keeps loosing partly because he decided to switch to a Head racquet.

Posted by NP 03/21/2009 at 01:37 AM

Pspace, I'll need to read the whole transcript before I can confirm the Nole-the-capitalist admission. But if he also said he'd played with a Head before, maybe there was something nonmonetary involved in his decision? I find it unlikely that a pro at his level didn't know about and follow the usual paint route.

BTW c1 introduced me to the site a week or two ago. Of course you also wonder how she has the gall to call me a nerd after this, but that's a different subject.

Posted by Pspace 03/21/2009 at 01:43 AM

NP, yeah, I'm pretty sure it was more than just the money. Nole's a pretty smart guy. I'm even inclined to say that he's used to the racquet at this point. Hopefully, he can get a few good wins over top 10 players, and sort of use that to propel himself. Dubai was a start, but the loss to Ferrer and Nadal in Davis Cup might've undone that (even though it was on clay).

Posted by Papo 03/21/2009 at 01:43 AM

I must say, congratulations to Steve Tignor for correctly predicting the men's semifinalists. Here was his preview for the men:

http://tinyurl.com/czey6j

His prediction for the semis?

Nadal d. Roddick; Murray d. Federer

And the final:

Final: If this is indeed the final—a big if, as always—it will be a battle between a guy coming in on a mini-roll, Nadal, and the guy who, judging from their final in Rotterdam, knows how to play him right now. Unlike Federer, Murray has no trouble getting the ball into Nadal’s backhand, and Murray’s own two-hander is a serious weapon when he’s returning Nadal’s lefty serve, which spins in that direction. Still, you bet against Rafa at your peril these days.

Champion: Rafael Nadal

He he, "Still, you bet against Rafa at your peril these days." Is Tignor psychic? Could he have forseen that Rafa vs Nalby match?

Posted by crazyone 03/21/2009 at 01:54 AM

yeah, I was wondering that about Davis Cup...getting his rear end handed to him twice was probably not how he wanted to kick off the American spring HC swing and clay season.


Posted by NP 03/21/2009 at 02:01 AM

Pspace, I forgot to mention that. A sharp Nole shouldn't lose to Rafa in straights--even on clay--let alone to Ferrer. Let's hope he's going thru a recession, not a depression.

Posted by Spacenoxx (El Stupido aka The Moron From Majorca) 03/21/2009 at 02:52 AM

Denizen @ 1:11 AM

Hi Denizen. Good to see you put down the lurker hat :-) The Rafa hater you were talking about was Nancy. She actually is not a Rafa hater. INstead, she is a die-hard fan of Nalby and based on what I could make of her posts and general opinion. She is 'literally' sick after a Nalby loss...I mean she is THAT devoted.

She was a bit rude yesterday, but that probably is understandable when your guy has 5 matchpoints and then goes on to lose it that way with a bagle.

Posted by Fudoshin 03/21/2009 at 02:54 AM

When one gets to the top 5, one looks up, and there is a tremendous gulf. Being a champion is more than hitting a ball. It is often been said that it is a mental game at that level. Outside the court, the player's behavior shows his values and his upbringing or the lack thereof. Everything contributes towards the make up of a champion. Regardless of ball striking abilities, obviously some people are not ready to be champions.

Posted by linex 03/21/2009 at 03:48 AM

Del Potro is very young he may well figure out a way to win over the top 4. Not all players develop as early as Rafa.

He maybe less talented than Nalbandian or Coria to cite other argentines but he seems to have the intention to work hard for his goals. I do not know though how his body will put up, all this height is an adavantage and a disadvantage at the same time.

However, niether Del potro or Nole impress me in the creative-artistic deparment, their games are rather machine like. Not too entertaining to watch.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/21/2009 at 04:23 AM

Hey all.

I am envious of all you people who have stopped caring about Novak...the more down and hangdog and "kick me" he gets, the harder I root for him, and the harder it is when he loses.

And he looks so damn sad, it just about breaks my heart. (admittedly, looking at a hedgehog or a donkey foal will do the same thing, but still.) It hurts to see Nole so beaten-down.

I'm not sure about the racquet change; he didn't seem too unused to it in Dubai; admittedly he wasn't playing his best even then.

And I'm not sure it was all about the money either. Complete speculation - I think he sees himself as the family fortune-maker, and I guess financial security (and general security) for the family is very, very important to him.

"I find it unlikely that a pro at his level didn't know about and follow the usual paint route." - suggesting Nole has some integrity? I agree with that. :)

I wonder if he just doesn't play so well when the pressure of defending a title is there? Maybe he'll win in Miami...

As for not being ready to be a champion, well, Djokovic already has one Slam. It's only been just over a year and he could still be in that transition period. Doldrums now but hopefully he'll come out of it.

Yes, the talent is there but I'm not so sure some hard work in practice and conditioning (including working out a way to overcome breathing problems, etc) isn't needed to back it up.

Also wonder if the missing of overheads is a confidence issue?

Poor Serbs! Ana seems to be getting something back, though. (typically, my least favourite of them all...)

All credit to Roddick yesterday though, he played consistently well, served well, and he did have to save a few break points, as I remember from the comments.

I doubt looking at the match-up is all that amusing for an Elf fan, to be honest (and I'm slowly beginning to be one, I love his slouchy moody on-court demeanor, and I find his groundstrokes nice to watch). He does need to make that step up, though.

FWIW - Nancy is not a hater. And I don't think she meant that comment like that at all. Tough, tough, tough loss for Nalby and his fans.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/21/2009 at 04:30 AM

eek, essay. *hides face*

linex - sometimes I think we forget how young Del Potro is, he still looks a bit awkward in his body to me, and perhaps he still has some growing/filling out/stabilising to do.

Posted by julie 03/21/2009 at 05:38 AM


Andrew - entertaining blog, and I totally agree about Novak's "kick me" sign. Even someone as anti Djokovic as me couldn't take pleasure in his defeat. Much as I disliked "Cocky Nole", having a number 3 who spends more time kicking himself than beating his opponent is bad for the game. Although I wouldn't object if my countryman replaced him as number 3.
jewell - really? I like Ana slightly more than JJ and a lot more than Novak. All the same, felt bad for Nole yesterday, he looked so dejected I couldn't work up any antagonism towards him. I like Roddick's press conferences a lot more than his game, so wasn't that excited about him winning. Still, he worked v. hard in the off season and is reaping the rewards. The slower IW courts do favour Rafa imo, but I'd never count Andy R. out.
I'm hoping Federer beats Murray but if he does one of his second set walkabouts Andy M. will take this one. Seeing as I'm a "miserable Scot" myself, Murray's dourness has never bothered me, and I love his game. Apologies in advance for my small essay, btw!

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/21/2009 at 05:53 AM

Julie - yeah. I quite like her, she's ok (I didn't mean to sound quite so dismissive), and I admire her game when it's on...but I *flove* JJ. And Novak has really grown on me over the past two years, quietly sneaking his way in to my heart.

Posted by julie 03/21/2009 at 06:07 AM

jewell- no problem. I've liked Ana since her FO final against Justine and think her post match interviews are amazing. Though sometimes I'm like, "Seriously Ana, take a breath before you hyperventilate!" I do like JJ too and hope she gets back to winning ways soon. Watched an interview with her on FD a few weeks back, and love the way she says "Oh my goodness" (don't ask me why!) Considering my attitude to Novak, it would be totally unreasonable to call you out on your indifference towards Ana :)

Posted by Corrie 03/21/2009 at 06:23 AM

I love all your writings Andrew, they're one reason I enjoy reading stuff here, speaking as someone fairly new.

I'm sure Novak will break out of his funk, so I don't feel too sorry for him, just pleased to have a, probably brief, respite from the rude, arrogant, chest beating Novak with his family egging him on.

On whether Fed will improve: is he just too old to be able to change anything much? Has any player after the age of 27? I can't even recall too many - Connors? Sampras and Agassi and the odd one slam wonder like Gomez - even winning a slam after that age.

Posted by tina 03/21/2009 at 06:51 AM

I wrote a long post that got eaten last night. Someone had suggested that Nole is feeling pressure from having to support his family. There seems to be a mistaken assumption that they are from some Serbian lower class, when they're not. Indeed, for years they had the ONLY tennis court in Serbia.

"Rude, arrogant, chest-beating Novak" was a winner, Corrie. Meek, self-doubting Novak is a loser.

Posted by Corrie 03/21/2009 at 07:28 AM

Tina, you're right and I was being provocative but I did want to make this point: I'm sure Novak will find his winnining ways again, but I hope he and his family do tone down some of the comments he used to make, because he doesn't need to do that to win. In fact, the USO on court interview certainly worked against him in the next match.

Posted by tina 03/21/2009 at 08:20 AM

Djokovic has said that he feels everyone is against him when he plays Roddick, especially in the US. So he tenses up, and it's clearly apparent. However, the USO on court interview wasn't the old brash Novak at all, but rather the first look at the new self-defeating one.

I'm one of the few people, maybe the only one on TW, who isn't bothered by his family in the slightest - I thought it was nice when he toured with them and looked to them for support, regardless of Mama's outlandish statements. None of the other guys were out there with their families, and so were not subjected to the same criticisms. I couldn't recognize Roddick's mother to save my life. And the fact is, Novak played with more confidence when they were there. Still think he should set up some arrangement with Seles, though. I'd love to see Monica be "Billie Jean" to Novak's "Martina", and nobody new how to fight it out like Seles - while keeping a sense of humor.

Posted by lottis 03/21/2009 at 08:21 AM

I guess Nole might just have some trouble adjusting, he was so close to get that #2 ranking last spring and it’s a whole different thing to be amongst the hunted then the hunter. Then he did some not so great tournaments and it got tough for him. He probably start to question how he plays, how he acts and then he changes the racquet for some reason, it is a lot to deal.
At the same time the guy who is the same age is getting the praise and attention being talked as a future #1 that he got just a year ago. Most bug him a lot, but it’s something all top players go through.

I think it’s to early to say what will happen with Nole in the future, it depends on him. He should keep his head down, work on his game (talent alone isn’t and never will be enough to be at the top) and eventually the results will most likely follow.
I’m sure Rafa wasn’t feeling all that great in the fall of 2007, start of 2008 when people even thought he should get a new coach but he got on with his job, worked on his game and after some time the work started working in matches and suddenly he had won Wimbledon.
You can't be on top all the time, and it's a learning process to get through the times when you aren't playing great, the results are lacking and still have the faith that you can turn it around.

Posted by † Hallelujah 03/21/2009 at 08:47 AM

del potro will get better

Posted by Andrew Miller 03/21/2009 at 09:03 AM

I find it hard to knock Niko Davydenko. The guy shows up. He may never beat Federer, but he's a proven competitor.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/21/2009 at 09:54 AM

tina - didn't mean to assume that at all, sorry if my comment came across that way. Just that Nole seems driven by family concerns and insecurity, and he wouldn't be the first to mistake financial security for something else. *shrugs* It's all pure speculation on my part, anyway.

Just saw Davydenko is out of Key Biscayne. *sad face*

Posted by parkp67 03/21/2009 at 10:05 AM

Hello All,

Thank you AndrewB for this really nice article/post(I still don't know the correct term)

Could I just squeeze in here and say, that I miss Nikolay as well...(Defending men’s champion Nikolay Davydenko also withdrew because of a foot infection. The tournament begins Wednesday.)

I am so sorry he is having injury problems..and now I read that he is out with a foot infection...Poor Koyla....I used to think he had no personality/that he was bland....but he wrote a blog for the atp site for a tournament and just won me over...such a nice self-deprecating personality and family oriented with true love for his brother/wife and nephew who were all with him...I hope he can come back soon!!

I don't know tennis as many of you do---just been a fan for so many years, so my posts sort of fall on the psychoanalysing side rather than the tennis technique side :-)...but I feel there really is no reason Andy should have a better H2H than Roger...it's so strange for me..Andy just seems like he is a little brother who has to beat big brother no matter what...he doesn't boast or gloat after the wins (not that I have read--could be wrong I guess), but he still praises Roger...If Roger could get off the baseline more with Andy...serve out wider...make Andy run more...much more (as Andy has great movement on court) just to tire him out and frustrate him...and for the love of Switzerland...SERVE BETTER...he should win this semi-final.

For me, I would add all those things if he should play Nadal...but add Run around his Back-hand more...he has been doing this more...in his Dr. Ivo match and a few times with Nando...can't remember if I saw it in Gonzos match...but I am in agreement with some...while the others (including Roddick) are actively and visibly trying more and just going for broke..Roger hasn't gotten to that point yet...and I would like to see him do that...MAndy has gotten you the last 4 times...so just go for broke...don't worry about being passed down the line..just step out of what has worked for the last 10 years and even if you lose..so what...you're still Roger Federer!! :-)

Posted by Syd 03/21/2009 at 10:18 AM

"Somewhere in all of this is the not-so mighty Fed. He seems to be in a bit of a rut (by his standards), and has stagnated a bit while others have been improving. "

I'm not so sure that "stagnated" is the right word. Nor does Roger need to make "significant" improvements. "Inspiration" though might be more apt.

Roger has done what he had to to get through to yet another semis of an important event. Against Verdasco he was moving brilliantly, and returned with some superb shotmaking—the old cat still has it. It was the failure to serve out the match that was most disturbing. Match on his his racquet and for some reason, he just could not do it. To my mind that speaks either to a lack of fire in the belly, or more worrying, a lack of self-confidence.

Posted by . 03/21/2009 at 10:19 AM

What is this now? Earlier, when Novak was positiv after losing he was called arrogant etc., now when he admit he was not god - he is again wrong? What do you want from him? Leave him alone!

Posted by Syd 03/21/2009 at 10:22 AM

...and at the net, Fed was superb against Nando; don't have the stats, but would love to see them.

Posted by gauloises 03/21/2009 at 10:27 AM

Just wrote a long post defending JMDP and then deleted it. What's the point?

I think I'd rather gouge out my own eyes than watch Nadal-Roddick, but Murray-Federer should be fun.

Posted by Headless 03/21/2009 at 10:31 AM

Tignor has posted a new piece previewing todays' matches - picking Murray & Nadal for the wins.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/21/2009 at 10:35 AM

*hugs gauloises* - because some people would read and agree or even maybe think again?

Posted by Syd 03/21/2009 at 10:38 AM

Gauloises:

I thought Del Potro showed he's a real competitor in the second set, and was very happy to see that. He really dug in and had, I think, 2 or 3 break pts on the Nadal serve. It's just you know who always comes up with something special when he's at break point. People criticise Roger for not being able to break Nadal's serve, but apparently it's next to impossible.

This sort of a match was good for Juan, his coach can point out some of the tactics he might employ in the future. He's only 20 years old.

Posted by Budour 03/21/2009 at 10:39 AM

Eventhough I was delighted with Andy's win, I really felt sorry for Djokovic. He looked totally out of sorts and so lonely outthere. I'm not a fan, but an in-form, fired-up, focused Djoko is great for the game...and yeah, I forgave him about the infamous USO interview.
This is a big day for my boy and I'm already frazzling. It will be so painful if Andy ends this week empty-handed. Now that my Bryans lost, I wouldn't be torn in the doubles final. As for the singles...I prefer not to think about it right now. I'm so damn nervous...well make it scared.
Andy, darling, play well, for the love of everything holy.

Posted by just a note 03/21/2009 at 10:42 AM

Love your writing Andrew - and your sense of humour - as well as your interviews of the players. Haven't read the comments yet but wanted to say Nole seems to have gone from one extreme to the other - chest-thumping, strutting, verbal Nole to vulnerable, having no answers, slightly slouching Nole. I'd like to believe he will come back and find his middle ground along with his great game and personality.

I remember hearing how Leyton's parents (father mainly?) put lots of pressure on him and how difficult it was for him and I'm thinking Nole had some of the same pressures (mother mainly?). Also, I think it must be some adjustment for him without his family support (no matter what form it took) around him.

On Davydenko, I like him and his game; I'm sorry he's been derailed again for medical reasons. I hope he's able to come back.

As for DelPotro, I really would like him to stand up straight;))!!

Totally OT - I'm watching Madeline Kahn in "Blazing Saddles"; how I loved her!

Off to read, hope to be back later.

jan

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/21/2009 at 10:42 AM

Syd - agreed about the fighting Elf, I didn't see the second set - but he was fighting hard even in the first.

Posted by Syd 03/21/2009 at 10:44 AM

Jewell, I desperately need some of your tea. My boss is coming over late tonight to look at my "set up." *blanches with fear and loathing.*

Posted by gauloises 03/21/2009 at 10:48 AM

I don't have your strength for the good fight, jewell :)

I think my basic point was that - in what I saw of the match last night - I was proud of JMDP. For living up to his seeding and making the quarters, and for working and fighting hard right up until the end (which must be pretty hard when you see that guy across the net). Also, he's only 20 and he's really still brand new to the top of the game, having risen so quickly. He has plenty of time to develop and plenty of areas in which he can.

Don't write him off, is what I'm saying, I suppose.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/21/2009 at 10:51 AM

eek, Syd...*sends tea* Hope it goes well!

Posted by gauloises 03/21/2009 at 10:55 AM

Good luck, Syd. You'll be fine, I'm sure ...

Posted by Budour 03/21/2009 at 10:58 AM

That's exactly my feeling about Fed - Murray, Gauloises. Thank God it's not the final. Pity there always has to be a winner. Wish both could lose...
And as much as I want Andy R to win, if he had to lose, a loss to Nadal is less unbearable than a loss to either Federer or Murray.

Posted by just a note 03/21/2009 at 10:59 AM

gauloises - I for one am not writing JMDP off. I felt my last post was too long so didn't say - I may not like that he doesn't stand up straight;)), but he fights and he did give a good showing last night (IMO) even with what appeared to be some difficulty with his wrist. As you say, he is only 20; I hope he keeps at it because as we saw last year, there is some good game there!!

jan

Posted by CL 03/21/2009 at 11:02 AM

Andrew - chiming in from the 'better late than never' seats; Really nice piece of writing.
Brilliant to side/by side the Djoker/Fed pressers. FWIW, I think Fed is a genuinely positive person...occasionally this can lead him into denial or near delusional thinking..but overall, I think it serves him very well.

The Djoker is like someone treading water, trying to decide whether to strike out and swim into deeper waters or head back to shore, where it is safe.

Posted by Mary 03/21/2009 at 11:04 AM

Will be a tough match against Rafa but rooting for Andy.So hope he can get through & go onto win the tourney.Go Andy!

Posted by Budour 03/21/2009 at 11:05 AM

Good luck, Syd. :)

Posted by Syd 03/21/2009 at 11:09 AM

Thanks Gauloises & Jewell :)

Posted by lottis 03/21/2009 at 11:30 AM

Budour;
So I’m not the only one that wishes Murray vs. Roger matches would end with a losing tie instead of one having to win. Hate it when Rafa loses to either one of them. But I’m trying to be a good girl this year so as long as Rafa wins they can do whatever.

Posted by izidane 03/21/2009 at 11:30 AM

'Novak Djokovic doesn't seem to be able to be Novak Djokovic right now'

This about sums it all up. Maybe it's the financial pressure (connected to the new tourny in Belgrade) or mental pressure. The new stick doesn't help, he seems to be framing a lot of his shots esp. his fh. I'm still a fan, we're just going to have to ride this out....but it's disheartening.

Posted by Marian...wtg Rafa! 03/21/2009 at 11:38 AM

Jewell, were Nole to do a paint job now, it would be hard to fool anyone- the rackets have a different shape etc

I don't think that in Dubai he was going for his FH as much as last night, when he shanked them...

Posted by linex 03/21/2009 at 11:48 AM

I cannot believe that the raquet is such a big issue for Nole. Watching a past match one of his first remarkable matches which was against Coria in Roland Garros 05 in youtube I saw that he was using a Head raquet.

Plus isn´t the wilson raquet a difficult one to hold? isnt the wilson raquet a disadvantage for Federer for example as many people noted?

I guess Nole is in the downward train after he failed to compete with Rafa for the number 2 position. The last really good match I saw from him was the Queens final against Rafa.

Obviously he had the shots and the tennis to be in top but he is not as good a player as Roger or Rafa.

Posted by Tom 03/21/2009 at 12:00 PM

I think Djokovic's playing is a sign of bad times in the economy. Djokovic, as is the case with many people these days, is trying to be very cost conscious. He figures, I paid for the whole racquet (well, Head gave them to him) so I might as well use the whole racquet, including the frame. That explains the three framed balls in the first set. He also didn't want to wear out his shoes so he decided that he would not play much in the first set, play tough for six games in the second set and then give up altogther (not the usual Djokivic surrender - this time he stayed on the court till the end) thereby saving the soles of his shoes for another day.

Posted by Ndesque 03/21/2009 at 12:09 PM

For those who have reached the 'I don't care' stage with Novak (JJ, lollipop, or other Nole-fans) - I'm really, truly sorry that this has happened. It makes me sad that Nole has reached a stage where people don't see him coming back from, or can't summon up a care for him. It's an incredibly tough time to be a Djokovic fan, but hey, its never been easy. Now, especially more so when he himself doesn't seem to know what the problem is. It's tough to get behind a guy who looks like he doesn't want to be there, who looks lost and invisible. Still, for me, I think I can remember what he had: potential, the ability, a smile, firepower, determination, and hold down the fort for a while longer. He needs to exorcise his demons - on-court, off-court, and in himself - which isn't going to happen overnight. He needs some time, and I think I can give him that, hoping that there will be something worthwhile waiting on the other end. He's learning and growing, if by mistakes, and stumbling in the dark. Sooner or later, the shore will come into sight. I think I'll hang on until then. Hopefully it doesn't take too long, but I've decided to put my feet in this boat.

Posted by crazyone 03/21/2009 at 12:32 PM

*Plus isn´t the wilson raquet a difficult one to hold? isnt the wilson raquet a disadvantage for Federer for example as many people noted?*

linex, every company makes a wide range of racquets. Federer and Djokovic were never playing with the same racquet. Some people think that Federer's racquet is a disadvantage for him on clay, but it's not the company but the head size which they think is a disadvantage, because he plays with the smallest racquet head on tour, and Wilson makes bigger racquet heads both for other players and for normal people to buy. So it's not the company per se because every company can make racquets to meet the player's specifications of head size, weight, etc. So there's nothing more difficult about "Wilson" versus "Head", though there might be something more difficult for a certain player's playing style about one particular Wilson racquet versus another particular Head racquet.

Posted by Tom 03/21/2009 at 12:42 PM

Ndesque: you said: "I'm really, truly sorry that this has happened. It makes me sad that Nole has reached a stage where people don't see him coming back from, or can't summon up a care for him."

According to the people in the locker room, Djokovic has become one of the mose despised players on tour. He has adopted the attitide that it is him and his parents (rememeber how classless they were in Australia '08) against the world. On FSN yesterday, they said that Novak had become the villain on the ATP tour. While many have played this role in the past, they enjoyed being the villain. Novak doesn't.

Posted by lollipop 03/21/2009 at 01:02 PM

Hi Ndesque
I haven't reached the "i dont care" stage yet. I know he has to make mistakes, it's all part of the learning process. This is tough for him- if you think about it, he has pressure from all ends: fans, media, parents, and as Tom suggested, players themselves. Novak loves to be loved. In fact in so many ways, he needs it. there is nothing wrong with that, but right now he isnt getting much love. And to be honest, doesn't look like he likes himself very much either right now. Dejected, upset- watching him yesterday was not fun.

I think i really was just upset about his comments about the "financial specter". and the switch of his racket. but i donno if his problems even have much to do w/ the racket. I think he's had self-confidence issues, and the racket may have just proliferated them.
As you said, being a fan of his is not easy. True, I mean it's such a roller coaster; but i think of it in this way: if it's this hard to be a fan, imagine how hard it is for him to deal with everything. I mean i realized yesterday- that he's only 21. He's dealing with a whole big thing here- I hate to be cliche, but the whole "me against the world" thing. So yeah i understand, and I hope he'll get over this fast.
I know it would prolly just be easier to follow someone like Rafa- who almost never dissapoints. But dissapointment is a part of life. And who knows, maybe Nole will come back and be even better than he was before?

Tom- Do his peers really hate him that much. It's a pity, cuz i'd expect him to be the kinda guy with tons of friends laughing at his jokes.

Posted by Pica_pica (Ajde Ana! Davai Vera!) 03/21/2009 at 01:14 PM

Being a Novak & JJ fan, I had expected a depressing read, but it turns out to cheer me up a bit. Good and fair analysis. Yes, they both have no confidence. Thanks for the funny language written here. I cracked up at "human litmus test" (Kolya the Dwarf test and Delpo the Troll test). It saves my miserable day after Nole's loss and JJ's confession diary.

Posted by Marian...wtg Rafa! 03/21/2009 at 01:19 PM

Linex: "Plus isn´t the wilson raquet a difficult one to hold? isnt the wilson raquet a disadvantage for Federer for example as many people noted?"

Lol there are many Wilson models, Roger's being the most difficult to use, while Nole not so much ( it was pretty decent actually for a top player like him)!

Posted by Marian...wtg Rafa! 03/21/2009 at 01:20 PM

To add to what C-1 said, on the contrary Wilson is the most used brand and for the top players a couple of models are very popular.

Posted by Tom 03/21/2009 at 01:21 PM

Yes, the players do not like Novak. He used to be funny with the imitations and all, but he has evolved into an arrogant jerk. It's hard to respect someone who is fist pumping in the first game of the first set and then later quitting the match. This is an image he will have to overcome. Based on Murray's performance at Indian Wells, he may soon take Djokovic's third spot. Luckily for Djokovic, although he lost 750 points this week, he only has 10 to defend in Miami.

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