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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 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 12:16 PM

My window for running errands today has been drastically cut short.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:16 PM

:(((((

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 12:16 PM

As long as Murray doesn't over think everything...this match is his

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 12:16 PM

TMFunk, yes, I begged for one match.....remember last year!!!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:16 PM

I knew it. Dreadfully have seen this coming. 0-2.

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 12:17 PM

Really? The point deficit is so large?

Andy prolly deserves the win. I imagine the gap is all in the 2nd set.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:17 PM

:((((

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:17 PM

wow...Rafa/Muzz fans will have a tough time getting out of this one...

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:17 PM

Darn it!

3-0

Come on Rafa! Don't let Murray run away with the tiebreak!

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 12:17 PM

Muzzah looks very relaxed....and he gets the lead as I type.
Drama!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:17 PM

Muzz is on fire...dude is dangerous when he's on fire...

extremely streaky though...let's see how long this lasts..

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:17 PM

0-3... My Fedal final gone to pieces a long time ago.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:17 PM

It's all Murray in this tiebreak. Rafa doesn't have much left in the tank.

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 12:17 PM

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

Me too....they will both be much fresher....eye patch not withstanding!!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:18 PM

It only needs to last for a minute, Ladyjulia:(((

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:18 PM

I hear you Nam1, but surely a very different year this, coming into the WTF?

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:18 PM

1-3. I will give my fake lukewarm, c'mon Rafa 1-3!

but before I say that, it's 1-4.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:19 PM

Just try to hang on, Rafa!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:19 PM

Rafa needs to serve big here..or it will be over soon. Muzz is on fire..

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 12:19 PM

why cant Murray play like this at the Slams; I will go out on alimb and say that Murray wons this WTF and also AO.

there!!

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:19 PM

Old man Fed fan, why were you expecting a Fedal final if Murray can choose the moment when he wants to win?

Is Rafa just down one minibreak?

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:19 PM

They showed the girlfriend (rafa's) I don't think she brougth him much luck today!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:19 PM

I can't believe I wasted 3 hours for this lame chunky pooppy show. I only watched for the hope of Fedal final. 2-4.

Posted by Andrew 11/27/2010 at 12:20 PM

4-2 Murray at the changeover, 1 MB to the good. Nadal to serve next. Heartpumper.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:20 PM

Pls at least win this service pt, Rafa!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:20 PM

3-4.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:20 PM

Okay, 4-3 and it's only a one minibreak difference.

Posted by for the love of sport 11/27/2010 at 12:20 PM

Andy looking very very dangerous...wouldn't feel too confident right now if I were Federer....

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:20 PM

GB..it got better...its 4-3 now...now Rafa has chances.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:20 PM

Very similar pattern to the Paris SF between Fed and Monfils in the third...

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 12:21 PM

Thought I was going to get to the bottles this afternoon...may be it is time

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:21 PM

VAMOS!!!!!!

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:21 PM

Back on serve, 4-all.

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 12:21 PM

Rafa! What a forehand! More of that please please please.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:21 PM

4-all in TB now...

Now momentum is with Rafa...hard for Muzz now.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:21 PM

4-4? Can a dream comes back to life?

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:21 PM

Let's not underestimate Murray's power to choke out important matches. 4-4, right? All is well.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:21 PM

Not too confident as we know of Rafa's puny serves.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:22 PM

except Nadal is tough as nails...guy just won't let it go...

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:22 PM

Muzz, you're a dumbass.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:22 PM

I am dying. Like seriously dying!!!!

Please, please win these service points, Rafa!!!!!!

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:22 PM

First serves, come on Rafa!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:23 PM

I knew it. 4-5. The chance was if Rafa went up 5-4 to protect his puny serves.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:23 PM

C'mon Rafa!!!!!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:23 PM

5-5.

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 12:23 PM

Muzz = so frustrating.

Posted by FM (Vamos Rafa!!!!) 11/27/2010 at 12:23 PM

Rafa, get your first serve!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:23 PM


GB..hang on..there's life yet.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:23 PM

key point coming up...winner of this point wins the match

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:24 PM

IS muzz ok???

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:24 PM

GB
Don't die! Hang in there. Your guy is tough! :)

He has another MP. Murray hurt himself there. I hope it's nothing serious

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:24 PM

Is Murray hurt? My stream is so jerky right now... stupid library internet...

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:24 PM

Look at cheeky Muzz faking an injury. Geez. 6-5.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:24 PM

That's called wrong-footing. Yikes! That looks like it hurt.

Match point again for Rafa.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:24 PM

Please Rafa!!!!!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:25 PM

Surely, Rafa can't lose having MPs

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:25 PM

:(((( Now he's lost 2 mps:((((

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 12:25 PM

Everypoint is now MP...jeez

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:25 PM

6-6. oy oy oy.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:25 PM

two matchpoints gone...GB..you need a drip..

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:26 PM

6 all

This is certainly the most exciting match we've had in a long time.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:26 PM

6-6! What a wonderfully dramatic match this has been.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:26 PM

Muzz is still a dumbass, but this is, along with the Sod-Llodra match at Paris, two of the best indoor matches of the year. Enjoy it while you can.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:26 PM

if Muzz is real dare-devil he claims to be, he will give another point to Rafa here.

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:26 PM

sorry muzz but pleasepleasebeout!

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:26 PM

That's called out!

MP on his serve now?

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:26 PM

Is it too much to ask for 20-20 in the TB?

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

Rafa with MP

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

Another MP for Nadal and he now has two serves.
Let's see if he can take this now.

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

Win this friggin point already, Rafa!!!!

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

ladyjulia

I always thought of at least 10-10

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

Wow, Muzz indeed gave that point to Rafa. 7-6. He IS a dare-devil.

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

MP on your SERVE now, Rafa! Even Fed doesn't lose those!

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:28 PM

YES!!!

VAMOS VAMOS VAMOS!!!

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the vermillion 11/27/2010 at 12:28 PM

What a bugger! Finds a way to win. Finds a way...amazing. Hat's off.

Muzz you did good, you did good...but then...

Posted by wilson75 11/27/2010 at 12:28 PM

I knew he would win.

Posted by Fern 11/27/2010 at 12:28 PM

Great shot by Rafa to win! Congrats to Rafa fans, commis to Murray fans. As a neutral, I thoroughly enjoyed this match!

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 12:28 PM

I meant two best indoor matches, not two of the best.

So Rafa takes it. Congrats. Muzz, you're still a dumbass, but I like much of what I saw today. Keep the good part up. That'll get you that elusive major someday.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:29 PM

And Rafa is in the final..

awww..Muzz..you gave it all.

Posted by mg 11/27/2010 at 12:29 PM

VAMOS!!!! My heart barely survived that.

Posted by Christopher 11/27/2010 at 12:29 PM

Wow. Spectacular end to a spectacular set. Condolences to Murray fans. Nadal fans, nice to be you all right now.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:29 PM

Well, looks like you were right all along, Old man Fed fan! Now in a couple hours, you get to yell at Djokovic.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:29 PM

wow...congrats to Nadal fans...BIG commies to Muzz fans...he gave it his all...doubt if the other SF or the Finals will come close to this one in drama...

Now - Go Fed!!!!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 12:29 PM

VAMOS!!!!!! He's dead, so I don't have much hope for tomorrow, but that's for another day. Right now, I am just so, so very happy!!!!

Poor Muzz! Another heartbreaker at home:(

Posted by temes 11/27/2010 at 12:29 PM

I just knew it would end like this. lol Now just Fed win and we have the dream final!

Posted by jackson 11/27/2010 at 12:30 PM

OMG, I don't believe it. How did Rafa pull that out. He's amazing when the game's on the line. But Murray played amazingly well today. I feel sorry for him even while I'm elated for Rafa.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 12:30 PM

Wilson,

Hehe, you should have told GB :)

I really thought Murray was going to win this one. It's a good win for Rafa but a heartbreaking loss for Murray. One of those matches that unless you're a fan of one of the players you wish they could have declared a tie.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:30 PM

well, I can't believe my furious reverse-psychology worked! I did it since Rafa got broken in 2nd serve! Phew! The deam is alive! Fedal final! Fedal final! oh c'mon! Rafa is dead tired now and he can't even celebrate well, but Fedal final nonetheless! He probably doesn't stand a chance against Fed, but it's symbolistic Fedal final that matters.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:30 PM

What are the chances of a Fedal in 2010???

Ah..the Djoker...what trick do you have up your sleeves, eh?

Posted by Bhai Mirzai 11/27/2010 at 12:30 PM

Now, my prediction is that Fed will lose to Djokovic in straights. No Fedal final in my opinion.

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 12:30 PM

oh well. Andy can win majors...he can.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 12:31 PM

Another crushing defeat for Murray... oh well, at least that's very British. I wonder if he's Scottish or British right now?

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 12:31 PM

*clap, clap, clap* Standing O. Well played by both players.

Congrats to Rafa fans, as usual he earned this. Commies to Muzza fans( I'm a peripheral one). This was worth the wait, well done.

Posted by Andrew 11/27/2010 at 12:31 PM

Great way to end the match. Murray ends the year broken, as he started it. Nadal - what can you say? Running out of superlatives.

Commiserations to all the Murray fans. Congratulations to all Nadal fans. Nadal won 109/114, or 49% to 51%. His second lucky d5ucky of the week, and no one will care a bit.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/27/2010 at 12:32 PM

Muzz taking a shame of walk back in the hallway. Wow that Sky sports is pretty brutal that they even followed Muzz back in the hallway.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:33 PM

Why is the second semi so late???

We have to wait till 5 pm to find out if Fed can keep his end of the bargain for a Fedal final? I hate suspense.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 11/27/2010 at 12:34 PM

Hmm, this reminds me of the killer Madrid 09 semifinal against Djokovic. He had nothing left in the tank for the Fedal final.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 11/27/2010 at 12:34 PM

Well, well. TBH, I didn't really expect this outcome, I'm in shock ! Congrats to all my fellow Rafa fans and big commies to Andy fans ... I
know this is neither Rafa's "time of year" nor his favourite surface so I wasn't expecting him to win today but I'm more than pleased.

Hope that Annie and the others have enjoyed this match. Must go to food store now.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 12:34 PM

I think the Muzz can walk with his head high..the guy will win slams one day. If he keeps his head screwed right and knows when to hit a drop shot.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 12:35 PM

ladyjulia - I think Fed keeps his end of the bargain...we'll find out in a few hours!

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