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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 eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 11:22 AM

yeah we're either over-frazzling more than usual, or the wind has really change direction gasp say it aint so...murray plz cramp,belly ache...this potential fedal final aint looking so hot right now..

ok i've gotta think positive, rafa is going to squeeze through like he did against andy roddick and he wasnt even playing all that well in that first match...

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

Deuce again. Pls, pls make something happen, Rafa!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:23 AM

xfan

oh yeah...now i remember..i changed my pick to Fed after picking Rafa.

Sorry for forgetting..I am getting old...

And Muzz is going to get broken here...

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:23 AM

Ladyjulia,
huh??
You first picked Nadal but then changed it Fed! I'm sure of that :)
Not sure if we're talking about the same thing though ?

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 11:24 AM

Fantastic response to losing the second set!

Vamos Rafa!!!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:24 AM

Pls, pls somehow break. Vamos!!!! Now, somehow keep holding!!

NP: when Rafa's come back from breaks (i.e. last year, at the beginning of the year) he's talked about how he gets tired more quickly cause he loses match fitness.

Posted by zenggi 11/27/2010 at 11:24 AM

Nadal seems tired. How can that be? He hasn't played in weeks.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:25 AM

Muzz hands Rafa a BP with yet another dumbass DS attempt. And Rafa takes it with an uncharacteristically aggressive RoS, on a 1st serve to boot. Muzz, you're a dumbass.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:25 AM

Rafa is so dead tired that Muzz is toying with him now. He is so confident that he donated that game to Rafa. Look at you, Rafa. even Muzz feel pity for your lousyness. 2-1. Now repay by calling a trainer with a plenty of gratitude!

Posted by wilson75 11/27/2010 at 11:25 AM

I think it may be Murray who's tired not Rafa.

Posted by Andrew 11/27/2010 at 11:25 AM

Monster momentum shift. Murray had gone five games in a row, then Nadal with a good hold, and a break, as Murray's head implodes. Weird passage of play by Murray. Nadal 2-1, with a break.

Posted by Master Ace 11/27/2010 at 11:26 AM

Nadal breaks as Murray played a bad service game from 40-0

Nadal to serve 7-6(5),3-6,2-1

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:26 AM

Pls pls consolidate!!

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 11:26 AM

Rafa needs to find his first serve.

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 11:26 AM

HOLD Rafa...for the love of Roger!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:26 AM

He can't buy a FS:((

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

Look at Rafa now. Can't even make a puny 100mph 1st serve and miss by 3 feet. So tired and so cold.

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

Ladyjulia,
Ok. No problem :)
I thought you meant that you were picking Nadal for this match.

Rafa got a little lucky there but I'm sure he and his fans will be more than glad to take it.
Let's see how Murray reacts.

NP,
I don't think Nadal has to do as much against other players. Murray's defensive skills have taken a toll on Rafa, imo. On this surface I think that's the difference.

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

df for 15-30:((( Get it together, Rafa!!

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:28 AM

Good. Keep attacking Rafa's 2nd serve, Muzz. And make him run!!!!

GB, gotcha. Thx for the info.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:28 AM

And the Muzz is broken...

xfan...yeah..you are right..I picked Fed to win the WTF..so don't have a horse in this match. I don't mind either winning.

Whoever wins, the Fed has a losing H2H against both players...so its like trying to choose between the devil and the deep sea for me.

Ofcourse, the Djoker still has to show his cards today.

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 11:28 AM

Hah GB, I noticed the headband creep too! It's a sign that Rafa's giving his all.

C'mon babe, hang in there and finish this off!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:28 AM

Rafa looks like he can barely get the ball across the net but Andy is helping quite nicely.... the level has completely gone down for both now.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:29 AM

Look at these two. Rafa can't even stand straight as he's so tired and Muzz can't even troll around the baseline as he's so giddy that Rafa is so tired. oh ha.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:29 AM

just win this pt, Rafa!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:30 AM

Thank g-d that was out.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:31 AM

Look at Muzz so casual. He is intentionally missing balls now since he's so confident. I mean who wouldn't with Rafa being so dog tired. 3-1.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:31 AM

Is Muzz going to make it respectable in the third set or will it be bakery products?

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 11:32 AM

Oh Rafa. You had the line open and you went CC. Gah!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:32 AM

ladyjulia: the question is can Rafa somehow stumble to the 3 holds he needs?

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:33 AM

x-fan, you could be right, but still this is a best-of-3 tourney, with a day of rest between the RR matches. Not too encouraging for his long-term prospects.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:33 AM

Okay..so no bakery products. It is starting to look like a lame finish for a SF blockbuster match. Both players not doing so well.

Posted by Andrew 11/27/2010 at 11:34 AM

Two holds, but obviously that's good for Nadal, who now leads 3-2 with a break. Murray's target mechanism has gone wonky: the three games Nadal has won, the no 1 hasn't been playing badly, but he's had to do nothing special.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:34 AM

Rafa is done and Muzz is ginning (inside, of course). Outwardly he is acting as if he isn't. 3-2. Muzz is like "I totally have you where I want you, Rafa"

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 11:35 AM

So many ups and downs and twists and turns and shifts of momentum and confidence. Can Rafa hang on? I hope so!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:35 AM

0-15 again:( Rafa with 5 of 14 FS this set:(( Please hold!

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 11:35 AM

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

------------

yeah, all that OTT frazzling, and worrying about Rafa - ye people of little faith, I don't get it!

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 11:35 AM

Rafa should take this home..that break should be sufficient.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:35 AM

BTW who's Muzz's coach right now? He seriously needs to give a good smack on his head for his dumbass DS's at the most inopportune moments.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:35 AM

0-30:(((

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 11:36 AM

Why does Andy keep clutching assorted body parts...and then proceeds to run like a gazelle for the next point? Annoying that. Judging by the range of expressions on his face, one would imagine him one step away from total paralysis, or death by pain or something...!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:36 AM

Muzz making a move on Rafa's puny serves. See? He's so cocky, that dude.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:36 AM

Pls win this pt!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:37 AM

GB...its anyone guess i think. I think Rafa wins out of experience..you know the 9 GS thing, big matches, big pressure...but Muzz is kind of streaky..if he goes on a roll..he might really go on a roll. Short answer...nope, no idea..though you are probably dying out there. Understandably. Hang on.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:37 AM

15-40:(((

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:38 AM

So much worse than if he had never broken in the first place. Pls, Rafa?

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:38 AM

Muzz has reverted to his pusher FHs. Dumbass, flatten it out! 1 BP left for Muzz.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:38 AM

Vamos!! Now somehow avoid giving up another bp, k?

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:39 AM

Man, look at Rafa. He is so tired that he can't even open his eyes. He is just trolling around the baselines and swinging left and right with his eyes closed and by luck, that somehow go in.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:40 AM

OK, those down-the-T serves were too good. Still Muzz had a chance to break on the 1st BP. Dumbass!!!

4-2.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 11:40 AM

Oh yes! Rafa hangs on to the break.

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 11:40 AM

Yay. Way to get a second wind Rafa. Now be tough like we know you can be!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:40 AM

VAfrigginMOS!!

Thanks ladyjulia. I am dying. I don't know if he can hold twice more.

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 11:41 AM

yep iffy all the way, but rafa manages to squeak by so far so far, from the brink of death, and yeah andy is pre-cramping dare we hope?

my frazzling levels is through the roof, i want this just as much as he does....gahhhh

h o l y crap, how did he manage that, how can u not admire the fortitude it takes to keep it together in such a dire moment?

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:41 AM

NP..Muzz dosen't have an official coach right now..I think Alex fills in as a consultant coach for this tourney.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:42 AM

GB..I think after the hold, its slightly better for Rafa now.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:42 AM

It would be so good if you could get an insurance break here, Rafa!

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 11:42 AM

All those BPs wasted. Murray is still painfully "green".

Old man Fed, you're funny.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:43 AM

Damn:((

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:43 AM

Uncle toni is caught with mouthing (in this poster's eyes). Some coaching again? Why can't he be more like Mirka and play with a blackberry instead and let his boy play? I bet he was coaching like "don't foget to pick your pants between points, Rafa"

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 11:44 AM

Geez, they're both missing shots by inches now that were hitting the lines before. Are they both weary?

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:44 AM

NP,
My internet is slow so my page is taking ages to load.
I saw your comment and agree it doesn't seem like a good prospect but I still think this is to do with Murray's style of play more than anything.

Ladyjulia,
I don't know what to think about Nole anymore and to be quite honest if Nadal ends up winning this match, I will probably be hoping Fed gets through so we get a Fedal final ;-)

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:44 AM

xfan..so for the second match..its my pick versus yours. One of us will be out today then. :-((

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:45 AM

I like that FH. Don't worry about the misfiring on your 1st I-O FH. Keep 'em flat! And attack Rafa's 2nd serves. And make him run.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:46 AM

x-fan: of course you want a Fedal with *this* Rafa:)

Vamos!! Pls, pls hold!

Posted by Andrew 11/27/2010 at 11:46 AM

Nadal holds from 15-40 down: big rally ends with a Murray FH in the net, then some serves get him out of danger. Murray holds, but Nadal responded well to his opponent's attack. 4-3 Nadal, with a break.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:46 AM

old man Fed,

Toni needs to zip it. Commentators were trying to guess what he was saying.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 11:46 AM

You know, I never worry about Rafa losing a match like this until it's a set and two breaks down. ...Because he never does seem to lose.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:46 AM

And we start with 0-15 again:((( C'mon Rafa!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:47 AM

Muzz making a move after faking it last itme.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 11/27/2010 at 11:47 AM

Jason and Robbie (or whoever these idiots are) are talking as if the match is over.

They are so annoying.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:48 AM

GB,
No, no... I promise you I like Nadal too (I'm from Spain after all)

I don't think Rafa will be playing like this against Fed anyway :)

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 11:49 AM

'HOLD Rafa...for the love of Roger!'

Lol. for the love of sport, you guys are a hoot.
Nice battle on court.

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 11:49 AM

u know for a tourney that was pretty routine and boring play and outcome, rafa as number one ,brought the drama to it, the necessary and unnecessary kind!
i'm exhausted, i just sat down but i've been literally standing in front of the tv, coaching rafa, plzzzz stay calm, just focus on keeping serve now, plzzz...burn that last drop of gaz in your reserves if u have too, die on that court but u are winning this match, DO U HEAR MEEEEE!!!!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:49 AM

Vamos!!!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:50 AM

That Muzz. Another fake move? He's a dare-devil. So confident that he gave Rafa 5 games. 5-3.

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 11:50 AM

Whew! One more Rafa. One more. But I have to say I'm super impressed with Murray this afternoon. Man, he's gotten everything back. Rafa would have finished this off and been in the locker room against almost everyone else by now.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:50 AM

ladyjulia, Alex then should give Muzz a good thwacking on the head.

x-fan, right, Muzz is prolly the only player who is possibly a better defender than Rafa on this surface, and he's often more aggressive against Rafa than most. I was just trying to understand Rafa'a fatigue in this particular context.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:51 AM

A break would be best, no? Doesn't look very likely though

Posted by Frances 11/27/2010 at 11:51 AM

just hold rafa thats all you need!!!

or break this game!!

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:51 AM

than most = than against most players, I meant

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:51 AM

xfan,

Ofcourse..Rafa dosen't have to play like this against the Fed. He has a tried and tested plan there. A plan that has worked 14 times...has worked to defeat Fed in GS of all surfaces.

Still..don't count out the Djoker yet. He loves to play a spoilsport and if Rafa wins this (which is looking extremely likely now)...the Djoker will be fired up.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 11:52 AM

Match point!

Vamos!

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 11:52 AM

"burn that last drop of gaz in your reserves if u have too, die on that court but u are winning this match, "

eclipse, I couldn't agree more. I would love for him to meet the Fed tomorrow. :)

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:53 AM

Vamos!!!! Now somehow win the next pt!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:53 AM

Come on Muzz...atleast make Rafa serve it out.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:53 AM

Look at Muzz. He is so so confident that he can give this 3rd set and can come back next set. wow.

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 11:53 AM

Match point??!! You're kiddin me...

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:53 AM

Rafa:(((

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 11:53 AM

Rafa, that return sucked : (

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 11:53 AM

I'm really happy that Annie is there today :))

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 11:55 AM

ok, if Rafa pulls this off; he will be beaten to a pulp by Fed.

Somewhere Fed is on his knees thanking whatever spirits are out there!!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:55 AM

he he..that was a great point!

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 11:55 AM

Man! Some sick shot making from both!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 11:55 AM

Ladyjulia,
I still think Fed can beat Rafa if they meet in the final. I left you a post to that effect on the deuce club thread earlier (as a response to your posts last night)

So honestly I think you have a better chance than me to win this (that is Fed winning)

Fantastic rally and fantastic point by Rafa!

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 11:55 AM

GO FOR THE KILLLLLLLL.........anxious much?!!! aah man rafaelll
ad to murray!!

WOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!! crazy point!!!

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 11:55 AM

Holy doodle! What shots!

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 11:55 AM

This is SICK

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 11:55 AM

Oh right...should've remembered Rafa's great stats on bp conversion...

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 11:56 AM

If he loses having had mp... Please somehow serve this out.

I know you like Rafa x-fan!

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