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Two "Characters" in Search of a Semi 11/27/2010 - 9:51 AM

Novak

by Hannah Wilks, TW Contributing Writer

Sometimes you expect much more from a match than it delivers. This has been the case a lot this week, whether because of the weaknesses and flaws inherent in the round robin format or because sometimes it just happens that way. The strength of the ATP is so concentrated in its elite players that even among the top eight, a natural division has quickly emerged between the best and the rest. Three semi-finalists have already been settled, with the fourth to be determined by tonight's clash.

Surely this one won't disappoint. Two players from whom one never knows quite what to expect; Novak Djokovic, an unpredictable firecracker, prone to lapses of concentration and bizarre physical reversals, and Roddick, the workhorse who can be relied upon to give his all, but whose game can run the gamut from almost unbeatable to ineffectual.

Their head-to-head is 5-2 in Roddick's favour, which in theory looks one-sided, but most of those wins have come for the American during Djokovic's prolonged slump. I understand it's strange to use the word to describe the progress of a consistent trophy-lifter who has been, during his 'decline', as high as no. 2 in the world. But since Wimbledon 2008, Djokovic's game has touched for periods on every variant of toothless. His serve has been broken down and rebuilt, he's visibly struggled for confidence. He's often looked like a shadow of the cocky upstart who barged on to a world stage dominated by Federer and Nadal and demanded that they yield the floor.

But all of that has seemed like ancient history since Djokovic's September resurgence in New York, wher he defeated Federer and stretched Nadal in the final of the US Open. Surely this time he can take it to Roddick.

An extra frisson is added by the fact that at times these two don't seem to like each other very much. Whatever latent animosity exist came to the fore following Djokovic's last victory over Roddick at the 2008 US Open, when the Serb's attempts to retaliate against Roddick's mockery saw him booed by the New York crowds. That the spat was public seems inevitable, as both have well-deserved reputations for being entertainers, earned with Djokovic's impersonations and willingness to make fun of himself, Andy Roddick's sardonic wit in press conferences and on chat shows. They're frequently referred to as 'characters', actively seeking to be larger than life.

One thing that doesn't disappoint is Djokovic's entrance. Aware of the fact that the abiding impression he has made this week came when contact lens problems derailed what promised to be a classic encounter with Nadal, he takes the court accessorizing his grave expression with a rakish black eye patch. Solemnly letting the small mascot lead him to his chair, he fits the eyepatch on to her head and sends her on her way. It's possible to read the stunt as a plea for affection, but the twitch of his lips, betraying his own enjoyment, suggests that in the final analysis he did it because he knew he would relish the joke more than anyone. It's a generous piece of slapstick, and the crowd love it. It's hard to imagine Roddick doing the same thing.

There's an odd, tense atmosphere. The crowd are more well-oiled than usual, enthusiastic but ragged, with no consensus favorite. Someone yells out during Djokovic's service motion and is roundly tutted for his pains. On the evidence of the first few games, it's going to be a proper tussle - maybe not in terms of quality of tennis, but it promises to be a prolonged bout of psychological grappling. Roddick pushes from the baseline, mixing up spins and pace, giving the Serb all the rope he needs to hang himself. It works; the rallies end more often than not with an error from Djokovic. Seduced into these circuitous exchanges, Djokovic's aggressive instincts seem to desert him. It's puzzling;  how can Djokovic be out-defended when he's so much better at it? The simple answer is that Roddick seems to bring out the worst in Djokovic.

But Djokovic has come a long way. He rapidly gathers himself and finds purpose and aggression. As soon as he starts hitting forehands moving forward into the court, everything is different. You expect Roddick to hold his ground, but as soon as he meets with resistance, he crumbles, giving up the first service break with a backhand slice that drifts wide. He holds the next game, but cannot find the wherewithal to finish points. At one point, he was obliged to wait for Djokovic's third defensive, desperate lob to get the miss. Roddick gives up the set - and I do mean gives up - with another unforced error long over the baseline, and we plunge deep into the realms of the anti-climactic.

Djokovic has qualified for the semi-finals, and he knows it. All that is left on the line for the American is pride. It seems like that should be enough, but he still cannot capitalise on the momentary lack of attention with which Djokovic starts the second set. In fact, it's the American who is lacking in intensity. The usual audible heavy breathing, the huffing and puffing like a steam engine which seems to get him around the court, is absent. After a failed Hawkeye challenge, Roddick stares at the umpire with obvious displeasure. The crowd cheers, hoping for Roddick to shed his patience and get fired up. But his unbelievably passive play continues. Roddick has had his health issues this year, but this seems almost a trend, and it's worrying. How can such an energetic and forceful person play so timidly?

One could also ask how someone as complex as Djokovic, with all the faults and fissures of his past, can play a game so miraculously smooth? I could watch him hit all night, not that Roddick seems likely to enable it. I've been searching for an image that describes the flight of his groundstrokes, when it comes to me; the limpid parabola of a stone skimmed across water. There's so much talent evident in every stroke. It's exciting to watch, simply because we don't know yet how his week, his year, his career, will turn out.

Roddick, it is plain, has no surprises left. He makes a gallant last stand to hold his final service game, but succumbs on yet another unforced error long over the baseline. He leaves London with no wins, but the crowd cheer him out of the arena with an affection that clearly demonstrates that Roddick is best-liked these days as a plucky loser.

Djokovic stays to chat, joking with the crowd, friendly and adrenaline-drunk. He's twenty-three years old and has proved he has the ability to stay in the mix; he has unnumbered chances left to shape the rest of his story. Roddick's opportunities are growing few and far between; his time in London has already run out.   


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Posted by Arun 11/27/2010 at 10:56 AM

That DS will cost you, Murray. Not the wisest choice.

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 10:56 AM

Hah. It was me! I'm definitely tense now!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 10:57 AM

VAMOS!!!!!

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 10:57 AM

YES!!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 10:57 AM

Deuce! Good! Now win next 2 straight points and hold serve, Rafa!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 10:57 AM

Deuce! Neither one of these guys wants to break today!

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 10:58 AM

Ah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Muzz just frittered away 3 BPS!!!!!!!! Dumbass!!!!!!!!

Another smart bod serve by Rafa, though. Deuce.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 10:58 AM

Damn:(((( k, save another one Rafa!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 10:58 AM

But Murray gets another BP. Let's see who wins this one...

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 10:59 AM

Darn it!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 10:59 AM

:((((( Definitely don't have a good feeling about this match now.

Posted by Arun 11/27/2010 at 10:59 AM

Amazing CC BH winner though!

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 10:59 AM

hmmm...this just got interesting...

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 10:59 AM

Shoot! Please break him back Rafa! Please!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 10:59 AM

And Murray takes the game! He will serve 4-3

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:00 AM

Darn it! Darn it! Darn it! Why did Rafa have to keep feeding the balls to Muzz's backhand? It's not puny Fed backhand, you know? Darn it. My Fedal final!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:00 AM

*really, really rues Rafa not breaking at the start of this set!*

Posted by Kristy 11/27/2010 at 11:00 AM

Yes!! Go Murray!

Boy, it's good to see him looking so fired up/dialed in.

Posted by Andrew 11/27/2010 at 11:00 AM

Terrific tennis. Murray gains 3 BPs, Nadal fends them off. But Murray forces a 4th, then works the point to get a pummelled flat CC BH. 4-3 Murray, with a break.

Posted by AB 11/27/2010 at 11:00 AM

Rafa plays a much safer service game and Murray makes him pay by upping his aggression at the right time.

Problem for Murray is his 1st serve % has dropped and Rafa is getting a bead on his 1st serve when he does hit his spots.

I think he will be working harder to hold, too.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:01 AM

lira vega, gotcha. And your English is fine. If you need an ego boost just take a look at the grammar and syntax of some native English posters here.

And Muzz takes the 4th BP with a FLAT CC BH winner. Attaboy.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 11:01 AM

Uh-oh!

Still, a nice long 3-setter here would be--well, might be--good for Fed... or Djokovic if he slips his way through again. There we go again though, everything from a Fed fan viewed through the Fed lens.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:01 AM

Muzz on a serious role now

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:01 AM

Wow Murray is on fire right now!! He is really taking it to Nadal.

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 11:01 AM

Geez Andy! Quit playing out of your head like that!

Posted by jodiecate 11/27/2010 at 11:02 AM

Is Rafa getting stressed when it's getting to 0-40 and all,
or it's just "business as usual" carry on?

(I don't have visuals so i'm just curious) :D

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 11:02 AM

I rare cheer Andy...but I am happy for his break. He deserves something in the match.

Posted by tina (ajde, Novak: handsome and talented Balkans #1, world #3, Davis Cup hero, AO 2008 titleist, reigning USO finalist, cutest butt in tennis, rapper, the face of Belgrade t-shirts, Novak water and Restaurant - don't u wish your polyglot was hott like me) 11/27/2010 at 11:02 AM

Master Ace posted about ESPN3 earlier, that's how I found out - sorry.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:03 AM

Muzz has won 10 of the last 13 points

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 11:03 AM

Murray's playing really well now... D'you think he can keep it up for a set and a half, though?

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:03 AM

Crap. 2nd set is gone. My Fedal final----. ugh ugh ugh.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:04 AM

Please at least make him serve it out, Rafa!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:04 AM

Jodiecate,
Rafa appears very calm to me. Maybe he needs to get angry to change momentum again ;-)

Murray holds for 5-3

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:05 AM

Rafa seriously off the boil now:(( regroup FFS!

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:05 AM

Muzz consolidates. 5-3.

"Master Ace posted about ESPN3 earlier, that's how I found out - sorry.:

Oh, OK. MA, this is your fault, then. :)

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:05 AM

Rafa is now helping Murray along. As much as Murray's level has increased, Rafa is making some very uncharacteristic UEs

Posted by AB 11/27/2010 at 11:05 AM

Murray is playing brilliantly right now and Rafa's level has dropped a tad.

Rafa going for more and making more UFEs.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:05 AM

0-30:((( Toni far from happy.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:06 AM

Rafa is missing shots just by a couple inches now. Fatigue?

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 11:06 AM

WHAT'S with the ufes Rafa??? Where is the important colm...?

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:06 AM

Or not. 15-40 now

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:07 AM

Well-timed and timely CC RoS winner by Muzz. 2 SPs.

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 11:07 AM

WHAT'S with the ufes Rafa??? Where is the important colm...?

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 11:07 AM

Murray grabs the second set in a blaze of glory. Crowd liking it, right? Or maybe just happy they're getting a third set.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:07 AM

Crap, desperate situation require desperate response. Muzz, fall down, poke your eye, sprain your hip, ~~~~. We want Fedal final and I've said it at least 10 times already...

The match is completely turned now. Darn it. 3-6 2nd set gone. I hate this! Fedal final~~~~~~~?

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:07 AM

Well, getting broken twice in a row is gonna just do wonders for Rafa's confidence:(

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:07 AM

Well I was hoping for a third set but I didn't expect it to be like this.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 11:07 AM

wow...two breaks just like that...third set is gonna be intense...

Posted by Andrew 11/27/2010 at 11:07 AM

Egad. Murray goes on a tear and Nadal can't follow: first time I've seen him look flatfooted this week. Habemus matchem.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 11:08 AM

Now we are talking...bring it on.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:08 AM

And he takes it. Muzz at his best, for sure. 17-9 winner-UFE ratio in the 2nd set for the Scot! (Rafa's 9-10.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:09 AM

"third set is gonna be intense..."

Or not, I'm with NP maybe Rafa is tired? Murray is playing well but during a set and half Rafa's intensity was a lot higher.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:09 AM

please friggin regroup, Rafa!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:09 AM

This is all your fault, those who rooted for Muzz. I mean c'mon. I know it's the "usual" for Fed fans for root for Rafa's opponents and vise versa, but we are talking about Fedal final here! Why can't you think straight! No one care for Muzz-Djoker final!

Posted by manuelsantanafan 11/27/2010 at 11:09 AM

Rafa got his wish.

He gets to receive to start the third set.

Murray has shown that he'll punish mediocre Rafa volleys.

For much of this match, both players have generally failed to take advantage of their opponent's second serves.

We'll see if that trend continues in the third set.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:10 AM

I think Rafa had to keep the pression on Muzz and close this out in straights.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 11:10 AM

We all know Murray takes a while to warm up...he "gives away" the first and then wins them (at least against old man Fed)...but Rafa doesnt give zhite away. Lets see.

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 11:10 AM

gosh this is icky stuff from rafa....braincramp? or murray's ros just too good? pfff...rafa u sucked big time, but oh well why do easy when u can do hard, yes?
one f-ing break point and poof there goes the set!

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 11:10 AM

x-fan: err, I was talking about the fans... :)

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:10 AM

And before anyone jumps on me, I'm not making excuses, Murray won that set fair and square. Just trying to comprehend the change in momentum.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 11:10 AM

Rafa needs to find his second wind.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:11 AM

*terrified for Rafa's service game*

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 11:11 AM

Kajeez Murray is loading and delivering. What's going on? Never thought he could zip a FH like that

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:11 AM

Rafa is totally gone now. He is gassed. Stupid Muzz, he should have folded already and now look at this crap! Now Muzz is winning left and right at will.

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 11:11 AM

Hi all.
Where did that come from? Well done Muzza for fighting back, big change from yesterday's matches.

Posted by Servus 11/27/2010 at 11:11 AM

Rafa is imploding as fast as the Spanish economy...

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:11 AM

Muzz must've read and heeded my words of wisdom. How about a small token of appreciation after the match?

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:12 AM

Well I think Rafa is now playing like he did last year. This third set shouldn't take long.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:12 AM

Please, please don't get broken for the third time in a row here, Rafa!

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 11:12 AM

What's happened to my Rafa??? :(

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:13 AM

0-15:(((

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 11:14 AM

not trying to count the chickens before they hatch...which Fed is going to come this afternoon? the-oh-so-casual frowning Fed with unbelievable winners and amazing UFEs or the-oh-so-casual frowning Fed with unbelievable winners and amazing UFEs ?

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 11:14 AM

Surely not, Rafa! It's your job to lose the first set and then win the next two, not the other way around.

Posted by temes 11/27/2010 at 11:14 AM

Andy has had enough with losing all the big matches. Though I'm sure Rafa has something to say in that still.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:14 AM

Rafa has won like 4 of the last 20 point:((( 0-30 now:((((

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:15 AM

Jackson,
I think he's done for this match, sorry to say. I'm really not rooting for either player. I was hoping for a couple of sets like the first one but it seems to me that Murray is probably the only player who can outrun Rafa.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:15 AM

Why is Rafa serving to Muzz's backhand now after having success to serving to forehands? 0-30. I told you. Rafa is done... So much for my Fedal final.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 11:15 AM

This is not over yet folks. Remember the Roddick match? eh?

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 11:16 AM

I am having a hard time staying with this match...flatlining. Maybe I am hungry.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:16 AM

Looks like the blockbuster match is living up to its name...and ESPN3 deserves five stars for carrying the SFs and Fs on their stream.

xfan,

My pick just lost a set..

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:16 AM

Vamos! Now, pls, pls avoid a bp!

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 11:16 AM

Murray is grunting chipping the ball back in play. it has come to that.

Posted by tina (ajde, Novak: handsome and talented Balkans #1, world #3, Davis Cup hero, AO 2008 titleist, reigning USO finalist, cutest butt in tennis, rapper, the face of Belgrade t-shirts, Novak water and Restaurant - don't u wish your polyglot was hott like me) 11/27/2010 at 11:16 AM

Hey, old man - given Rafa's ability to come back from the brink of defeat, why are you giving up on your "dream"? And after enjoying so many years of Fedal, some of us are ready for new rivalries. My dream is a Rafole final.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 11:17 AM

Guys, guys, it's okay. He's injured. Shoulder tendinitis, remember. It doesn't count.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:17 AM

TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion, you're comparing to puny Roddick baseliner and Muzz?

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:17 AM

Phew!!!!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:18 AM

Ladyjulia,
Didn't you pick Fed and I Nole?
You're confusing me here... or are you just talking about your pick for this particular match?

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:18 AM

Muzz wasn't expecting another bod serve, especially a 2nd. Rafa's serve is more variation than pace now.

And he digs himself out of a 0-30 hole. 1-all. But he should be careful. Muzz is attacking Rafa's 2nd serves right now, which won the Scot the 1st pt and almost that last one if not for the net cord.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:19 AM

Rafa's disgusted

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:20 AM

Whoever counts out Rafa at 1-all in the third set is going to lose their money..

xfan...am looking at you..how dare you count out my pick???????????

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:20 AM

He also looks tired and has headband creep:(((

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:20 AM

xfan

I picked Fed to win the WTF?

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:20 AM

Rafa is now over-slicing which is a sign to me that he doesn't have much left in the tank.
uNless he can find a second wind or Murray's serve goes off the rails again, I don't see him winning this. I oculd be wrong of course.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:20 AM

Alright, it's official: Rafa is gassed. Just recall that lame retrieving and flubbed slice on the last pt.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:20 AM

xfan

I picked Fed to win the WTF?

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:21 AM

BTW, these two play so slow! It's 2 hours and only 2 sets. The old man would have finished a match, taken a shower, rolled around his gold and money, taken another shower, shopped for a 2nd lux private jet by now. These kids, you know, Rafa, Muzz, Djoker. They don't know time is gold. Learn from oldie in Fed, Roddick, Safin, etc.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 11:21 AM

old-man-fed

I am not. The constant here is Rafa.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:21 AM

Damn:((

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 11:22 AM

C'mon Rafa and Andy...give us a great set of tennis ....

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:22 AM

Maybe more fatigued than gassed, but the drop in form is unmistakable. But why is he so fatigued already? Only one of his 3 RR matches went the distance.

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