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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 TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 11:56 AM

One's kidney rises up and chokes one...sort of shots

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

OK, Muzz survives a MP and holds, and that DS was actually not bad.

Let's see if he can pull it off.

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

geez, these two snails are playing 3 set tennis for 3 freaking hours! At indoor hard court, no less!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 11:57 AM

Nam1,

Seriously???

After a 14-7 H2H, 6-2 H2H in big matches (GS), after defeating Fed on all surfaces..and a 2010 Fed who can't convert matchpoints all year long..you seriously think Rafa will be beaten to a pulp?

When TMF couldn't defeat Rafa...a greenhorn 18 yr old on HC...you think he will beat the all-court player,youngest career slam winner, 3 winner of GS this year to a pulp!!!!

Posted by wilson75 11/27/2010 at 11:57 AM

Nam1: That's what people said after his SF match @ AO '09 and we know what happened in the final.

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

Credit to Andy for holding. Rafa hit a terrible second serve return on match point that floated out. Blah!

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

Rafa, don't kill me. Pls somehow find a way to serve this out. He looks exhausted. Headband creep at full effect.

Jason/Robbie can we stop evaluating Rafa's performance? Match still a helluva a long way from over, no?

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 11:58 AM

Wouldn't it be funny if ... Rafa lost a match where he had a match point to finish out his year? :)

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 11:58 AM

Serious hyperventilation going on....

Posted by Andrew 11/27/2010 at 11:58 AM

Murray saves a MP as Nadal's BH return off a second serve goes long. But Nadal will serve for the match at 5-4. Part of the beauty of top class ATP tennis is that one three minute lapse of concentration can kill you.

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 11:58 AM

Pretty sure Murray can pull this off; he will never live down the "sarcastic" reamrk about not much hope playing Rafa.

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

Blue moon, no.

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

0-15:((( Please Rafa!

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 11:59 AM

Dumbass, WTF was with those lame RoS and moonpie FHs?!!!!!! You're lucky Rafa just donated an UFE. Attack!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 11:59 AM

Muzz making the move now. That dare devil dude. 've been plotting this all along.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:00 PM

0-30:(( And he's visibly breathing heavy.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:00 PM

Argh! 0-30!

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 12:00 PM

Oy. My heart can't take this!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:00 PM

I think Rafa is intent on losing this match. I have no other explanation for what I'm watching now.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:00 PM

Actually, never mind. Rafa is helping out. Keep the ball in, at least for now.

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 12:00 PM

Yes, I do think if Rafa wins this, he will be too tired to play well tomorrow. Still thx for reminding me about AO 2009, maybe I still have hope.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:00 PM

xfan,

see my post to Nam1..I go by stats.

I can only hope that Fed will beat Rafa if he gets through the second SF...but I have been hoping since 2005..it hasn't happened when it matters (except maybe Wimby 2007..but that was TMF). Its been 5 yrs, and I don't bet against the stats. Nope. Not with the 29 yr old Fed against the peaked 24 yr old who owns him.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:00 PM

Can't get a FS:((

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:00 PM

0-30! Rafa, make my mimicking-Fed-dreams come true!

ladyjulia: What's the Fedal indoor record? I don't know, but I thought it was pretty good for Fed, at least based on the two wins at 2006-7 WTFs. Small sample size, though.


Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:01 PM

0-30 and 2nd serve. Now 15-30. That Muzz is toying with Rafa and intentionally missed that point as a pity point.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:01 PM

Ugh, why can't he listen to me at the right time?!!!!!!!!!!! I said keep the ball in!!!!!!!

Still 15-30. Focus!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:01 PM

Pls Rafa!! Get some good friggin FS in!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:01 PM

Its 30-all...

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:02 PM

See what a difference a good first serve makes, Rafa?

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 12:02 PM

Tuts is having palpitations too! :D

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:02 PM

F!!! Muzz with bp:((( C'mon Rafa!

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:02 PM

Ugh

Break point

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:03 PM

Yes, a BP. Thx Rafa! Muzz, now's the time to attack that 2nd serve.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:03 PM

30-40. Muzz saying it was all part of the plan. geez.

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 12:03 PM

i need a drink!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:03 PM

Frazzle! Frazzle! Second serve BP!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:03 PM

2nd serve:(( And Muzz breaks back:((((

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 12:03 PM

Why Rafa?? WHY????

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 12:03 PM

Ladyjulia, your stats are impeccable but I have a bad feeling...of course, I am the world's biggest pessmist when it comes to Rafa.

It's still not over!!

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:03 PM

I'm DYING here!

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

And he breaks with a fantastic BH pass! Yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We've got a match.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

Good lord! 5 all. This is one incredible effort thus far.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

I knew it. Now Muzz the steamroll machine is on the play.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

No way Rafa's winning this now:(((

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

Holy cow! Muzza's back in this!!

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

3 hours.Mmmm.They deserve a sound spanking.

Of course, Muzz might like that.

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

WHERE IS THE US OPEN SERVE????

Posted by wilson75 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

I still think Rafa is going to win this match.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

Blue moon...do you think its 2006-2007 where the Fed is coming off winning 3 GS of the year? Do you think the Fed is playing anywhere close to what he used to play in 06-07? Do you think Fed is the same mentally?

Momentum is firmly with the Muzz now..its tough to say who is going to win this. Crowd getting their money's worth totally.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:04 PM

5 all
I think we can forget about a Fedal.
How often do we see Rafa faltering like this?
In this match the long rallies have favored Murray which is not the case for Rafa against anyone else.

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 12:04 PM

Great match - but I'm still not frazzling.

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 12:05 PM

make that a double on the rocks!!! plzz...i've just combusted !

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:05 PM

MURRAY BREAKS BACK AGHHHHH no... I'm still not worried about Rafa losing, somehow.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:05 PM

Rafa is totally done.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 11/27/2010 at 12:05 PM

Jason and Robbie.

You two imbeciles.

This match over yet?

Murray has won 4 out of the last five HC matches between the two players.

He has repeatedly been going deep into Rafa's service games

And the two morons were yapping as if the match was over when Rafa was up ONE break.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:05 PM

Hey, we're still on serve, people.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:06 PM

I think Rafa gets broken here:((

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:06 PM

Test time for the Muzz.

A DF ofcourse...

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:07 PM

It's deuce. Come on Rafa!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:07 PM

Deuce! C'mon!

Posted by lollipop 11/27/2010 at 12:07 PM

Hannah (Gaul) Thanks so much for another amazing post. captured the moment very well. very exciting to read ur writing. hope to read more of your stuff in the future too :)

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:07 PM

Its deuce...i think we should toss a coin for who is going to win this game.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:08 PM

Break point!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:08 PM

bp!!!! Pls, pls somehow break Rafa!!!! Please?

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:08 PM

Ugh, Rafa's got a BP. Focus, Muzz!

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:08 PM

ladyjulia, well, I think he feels pretty good, all things told. It's been a good second half, Rafa isn't playing US Open style (as all the frazzle is showing), and he demolished everyone in his group.

Fedal is usually close (EXCEPT, IN CASE ANYONE WANTS TO POINT IT OUT FOR FRENCH OPEN 2008)... hopefully this one would be too. If it happens.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:08 PM

OMG
Are these guys competing for losing the match instead of winning it???

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:08 PM

I told you that Muzz. He is too confident for my liking, but confident no less. He will probably break Rafa next game. He is making sure the crowd is staying longer by intentionally missing that last two points and bring it to deuce and now intentionally creating a fake suspense by giving Rafa a break point. This act is getting old.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:08 PM

Damn:((( But credit Muzz

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:09 PM

He erases it with a 137 mph ace out wide. Good. Keep it up.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:09 PM

Damn:(((

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:10 PM

Murray has 21 aces???

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:10 PM

Hmm, hope Rafa can push it to the breaker.

Posted by lollipop 11/27/2010 at 12:10 PM

c'mon Muzzahh!! what a serve

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:10 PM

I have a feeling Murray will break for the match.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:10 PM

Wow, also, Murray with 20 aces to Rafa's 4.

Murray makes it through again, huh?

Old man Fed fan, if Murray is so good that he can toy with Rafa, he deserves to put on whatever act he wants. :)

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:10 PM

BTW that ace didn't look THAT fast to me. I'm guessing they're using phased-array radar at the O2.

Muzz fires another ace and holds. Another break would be nice.

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 12:10 PM

Hoy, this has been difficult for a Rafa fan to watch. :( Credit to Murray though. He's playing amazingly well.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:10 PM

Really great effort by Muzz. But damn:((( If Rafa loses having been up a break, with a mp, with a 2nd break pt...I'll die. It's definitely not looking good.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:11 PM

5-6. Now it's only a matter of time before dreadful and freakishly lame Muzz-Fed or Muzz-Djoker final. Could have been Fedal, but NO~! This is so lame.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:11 PM

"If Rafa loses having been up a break, with a mp, with a 2nd break pt...I'll die" - GB - Welcome to the Fed fan world...

Posted by Andrew 11/27/2010 at 12:11 PM

And we're back on serve, but only just. Murray breaks with a rifled BH pass: then from 40-15, he surrenders three points in a row, DF, FH long, UFE: but the big serve is finally there when he needs it. Murray has a big points lead, 107-97, but it's 6-5 Murray on serve.

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 12:12 PM

Anyway, this has been a really good showing for Rafa; I begged for one match earlier this week; semi finals is a dream as Rafa woold say!!!

Murray played really well and desrves to win! Fed can pound him tomorrow!!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:12 PM

Well...test time for Rafa now.

Bluemoon...ofcourse, it will be close. It will too danged close.

A TB would be a fitting finish for this SF.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 12:13 PM

TMFunk
Hilarious

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 12:13 PM

Andy Murray is really excellent...sometime he reminds us of that. Like now. I still think Nadal will pull it out. But what do I know?

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:14 PM

Must you prolong this thing to TB, Muzz? He's intentionally pushing this to TB.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:14 PM

Although Rafa was up a break he was barely hanging by a thread but Murray kept on helping matters. Actually after the first set when they both played extremely well, both players have taken turns in bailing out the other when in trouble.

Posted by FM (Vamos Rafa!!!!) 11/27/2010 at 12:14 PM

It ain't over until it's over. Rafa fans, positive energy!!

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 12:14 PM

Ok I say Murray breaks here, he wont let it go to TB.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:14 PM

"Murray has a big points lead, 107-97"

Really????

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:14 PM

Andrew, what is your term for when the rather-large points loser wins the match? 'Reverse clean kill'? Like, imagine Fed had won the US Open semi...

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:14 PM

Nam1 - C'mon - He's the world #1 by a ridiculous margin, won 3 slams this year, and 4 other tournaments, and you begged for 1 match? :)

Posted by FM (Vamos Rafa!!!!) 11/27/2010 at 12:14 PM

See, he held!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:15 PM

Where was this last service game, Rafa??? But yay for holding!! I don't have high hopes here, though

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:15 PM

Have to go with Rafa in TBs...

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:15 PM

Well, no matter the outcome, the everyone in the crowd sure are getting their money's worth.

Come on Rafa!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:15 PM

Pls win these 2 points, Rafa!

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 12:15 PM

Tie break. Ay yi yi. I don't usually frazzle over Rafa's matches but this one just might do me in.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:15 PM

Well I was wrong. Rafa manages to hang on.

Tiebreak it is.

I still favor the winner of the seocnd semi to win the title regardless of who wins here.

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