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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 AO OPEN 11/27/2010 at 03:47 PM

Wow.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 03:48 PM

Nole the dumbass has already wasted 2 challenges! And we're only 4 games in! Dumbass!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 03:48 PM

imjimmy, are you sure Nole DOES have one arm, one leg, and one eye? :)

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 03:48 PM

3-1

looks like its going to be a Fedal final!!

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 03:48 PM

Nole is up for it!

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 03:49 PM

"The Djoker can't be more circumspect with his emotions, and it puts him down pyschologically even more."

Ditto.

Posted by Nam1 11/27/2010 at 03:49 PM

Federer is out to revenge his loss at USO; I think we will get out Fedal final!!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 03:49 PM

Nole is warmed up now but too late for this set..he's not gonna make a dent. Fed is on song right now.

I just hope Fred dosen't show up..

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 03:50 PM

Yeah, I just gave Fred a thought meself. I hope she/he is diverted in the pubs.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 03:50 PM

Pfft Nole you have gone off the rails

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 03:50 PM

Hey Nole..you are the world #3...make the scoreline respectable.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 03:50 PM

Oh well I guess I spoke too soon.
Nole's best chance would be to try and keep the rallies long but I don't think he can actually do that... triple BP

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 03:51 PM

Whew, Djoko is not on. 0-40, and Fed isn't even doing that much! Someone's playing Monfils already.

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 03:51 PM

Aww c'mon Nole! Really? Wake up.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 03:51 PM

tba,

I hope he is at the bottom of the Thames.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 03:51 PM

Ugh, Nole DFs and then Fed follows up with a deep RoS and takes the next pt. The 1st set's gone.

3 BPs. 1 saved.

Posted by M & T 11/27/2010 at 03:51 PM

awesome stream links, thanks Zengii.

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 03:51 PM

and the shanking begins on break point, on cue...

take one of these, please.

Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 11/27/2010 at 03:51 PM

Hello Y'all
I want the Fed to win but Nole needs to settle down.

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/27/2010 at 03:51 PM

Nole is awesome at times, but heres the deal- he's missing that X factor that makes a champion ... Rafa's mental skill, Federer's racquet skill, they are one of a kind ... DJoker is very very solid but he's missing that extra something special, that missed volley a very good example of kinda missing that little chance to change things around... no way would Rafa miss that shot, and it would probably be 3-3 now ...

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 03:52 PM

Gee this will be over in no time

Unless Nole can get back into this game

I was hoping for a better contest as well

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 03:53 PM

0-40 to deuce...

Annacone looks unhappy.

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/27/2010 at 03:54 PM

geez are u guys watching these points? they both playing very well indeed...

Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 11/27/2010 at 03:54 PM

The Fed is moving like a 20yr old.
Allez!

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 03:54 PM

Great foot work Roger

Allez Roger and that f/hand again was great

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 03:54 PM

What is the crowd chanting? And why are they so animated?

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 03:55 PM

whoa. what a horrible volley. That honestly looks like MY volley.

I can't volley.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 03:55 PM

Too late..Nole..you'll get a bakery product now.

Posted by lightforce 11/27/2010 at 03:55 PM

"Dream on, lightforce. :) "

Well Ruth, dreaming is better than whining don't you think ? (:

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 03:55 PM

Nole Ugh with that volley?

Posted by imjimmy 11/27/2010 at 03:55 PM

Double break for Fed. Djokovic misses another sitter. 5-1.

Bring on Nadal already. Djoker go home and prepare for DC..

Posted by zenggi 11/27/2010 at 03:55 PM

You are welcome, M&T.

Roger is 5-1 and in a hurry to finish this set.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 03:56 PM

And there's that dumbass volley again. Breadstick coming up.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 03:56 PM

Nothing is going right for Nole in this set. Let's see if he can put it behind it and make it more competitive in the second.
Not much to complain about where Fed is concerned. He has one foot in the final.

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 03:56 PM

Pfft. Aaand I've emotionally moved onto the second set.

Ajde!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 03:57 PM

xfan...and a foot on the pedal as well..

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 03:57 PM

geez - fell asleep after a nice meal!
ladyjulia - so far so good?

CL - Totally cool story behind your moniker upstream...

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 03:58 PM

Psht. Nole donates the BPs and saves them with the same general lack of effort. :/

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 03:58 PM

Well, what do you know, he actually saves 3 BPs, though Fed donated at least 2 of 'em. Deuce.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 03:58 PM

Fed...stay away from long rallies...

deuce now...pfft...

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 03:58 PM

behind it = behind him.

Roger has totally dominated in this tourney so far. Tomorrow could be more of the same, no?

Posted by Master Ace 11/27/2010 at 03:58 PM

After my computer(or streaming) issues earlier today struggling to watch Nadal and Murray, I am glad to not be watching as Federer won set one 6-1 in 33 minutes.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Girding up! Fedal in sight. Yikes! 11/27/2010 at 03:58 PM

This is incredible display.

Full Flight Fed is one of the most beautiful sights in all of sports. Such a great mix of grace, elegance, beauty and violence.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 03:58 PM

Nole has to think of something in the second set.

If Fred dosen't show up, Nole has a mountain to climb. And no five set matches to make a comeback again.


Posted by Ruth 11/27/2010 at 03:58 PM

NP: Could you find a word other than "dumbass" to rely on to express whatever it is you want to express when you use it? You've really worn that one out! Thanks.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 03:59 PM

Well that set took what 10 mins or soo

Boring

Nole I thought you could be up for this match

Honestly.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 03:59 PM

Fed serving at 68%. It must be good!

Posted by AO OPEN 11/27/2010 at 03:59 PM

OMG.
WOW...

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 03:59 PM

Does Roger always wear red for the tour finals?
My coverage was showing when he won in 07 and he was wearing red too.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 03:59 PM

And there it is. Here's what Nole needs to do:

1) Quit being a dumbass.
2) Mix up the pace. Don't let Fed keep dictating points.
3) Somehow bring a volley that doesn't suck.
4) Stop hitting to Fed's FH when possible.
5) Quit being a dumbass.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 03:59 PM

geez - fell asleep after a nice meal!
ladyjulia - so far so good?

CL - Totally cool story behind your moniker upstream...

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 03:59 PM

Ouch, Nole, ouch. I think this match just ended.

Posted by lightforce 11/27/2010 at 04:00 PM

Nole should have worn that eyepatch.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 04:00 PM

AM - he he I like boring. :) But Fed always aims to shake things up in the second, so lets see :)

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal in sight. Yum! Yikes! 11/27/2010 at 04:00 PM

The first games will tell...whether Fred is going to appear or not

Posted by imjimmy 11/27/2010 at 04:01 PM

crazyone: I'm sure even you could volley better than that. Volley 101 Those were volley put-aways, so Djokovic didn't even need any underspin or placement. Instead he takes a huge backswing and dumps them in the net. I think he's really suffering mentally..

Nice quick outing for Fed, just as he wanted it. I've gotta say he's looking better than he has for a long long time..

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:01 PM

Ruth, I could use a stronger pejorative, but this forum is supposed to be PG-13.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:01 PM

Elaine Page in the stands

I will just start celebrity spotting

Also can the camera zoom in on Mirka's Fab Bag

Thank You


Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 04:02 PM

LJ, me too. me too.

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 04:02 PM

imjimmy: I'm a really bad volleyer, so that looked like my volley ;)

I think this set will be way closer.

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 04:02 PM

peeking in...
i wonder if fed is going to regret winning so easily all his matches, on the + side he's fresh but on the -side will he have what it takes to gut it out ,and spill blood ,guts,brains on the court, does he have it in him to grind it out in edgy fashion!
peeking out...

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

CL..oh yeah...that was a nice story...

TMFunk...Fed;s on song. He's so calm that he looks alien. He looks as comfortable as he in an arm chair. Nole is fighting hard (at least acoustics wise, lots of energy but no extra something needed to win).

Let's see how second set goes.

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

Bored, my backside. I am having more fun than this morning.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:05 PM

Ladyjulia,
Feeling good yet?
In my mind you're already the winner. You picked Nadal first and he's in the final then you changed to Fed and he's almost there too. On the other hand, my pick didn't play like a top tenner in that first set! :)

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:05 PM

oh-uh..

deuce...

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal in sight. Yum! Yikes! 11/27/2010 at 04:05 PM

Fed is actually running end to end to retrieve. Almost Murray Rafa like...I think Annacone beats him if he acts cool and prances

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 04:05 PM

dang wish I could see the match...but on my work computer and it doesn't deal with streaming video too well, so I have to settle for SB...

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 04:05 PM

break point Novak...

how do I NOT find this surprising...

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:05 PM

Nole is looking dangerous now...am not worried yet though

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

TMFunk I didnt mean with Rogers play he is on fire.Its just I thought Nole would be a bit more compeitive thats all.I dont like one side matches especially like in a s/final.I thought Roger would win anyway.

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

That's more like it.
And NP's right, wish he'd quit going for Roger's FH....not going to win that one.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

CL..oh yeah...that was a nice story...

TMFunk...Fed;s on song. He's so calm that he looks alien. He looks as comfortable as he in an arm chair. Nole is fighting hard (at least acoustics wise, lots of energy but no extra something needed to win).

Let's see how second set goes.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

What... vivid ... imagery, eclipse22... I hope it doesn't come to that!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

CL..oh yeah...that was a nice story...

TMFunk...Fed;s on song. He's so calm that he looks alien. He looks as comfortable as he in an arm chair. Nole is fighting hard (at least acoustics wise, lots of energy but no extra something needed to win).

Let's see how second set goes.

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

and Fed's turn to volley badly.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

TMFunk I am not taking anything away from Roger at all he is on fire

I just thought this match would be more competive thats all

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

Hmmm, I take that back. Where did that come from?

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

Ohhhhhhh Fed. Oh Fed. What the hell.

Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

Nole has appropriately upped his level.

Posted by TMFunk 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

and before I finish typing that, Nole breaks. Whats new...

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

The beast in Nole has woken up..

Am worried now. Very worried.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:06 PM

Oops I will shut up now cause I seem to be jinxing Feddy.

Are Nole's feet really big? or is it the contrast with his somewhat skinny legs? (silly things I ponder, I know)

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 04:07 PM

Ajde!!!! Consolidate.
Better attitude all around from Nole

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/27/2010 at 04:07 PM

Rog as usual opens the door ... winning sets tooo easily is not good..

now THAT will make Annacone droop, ridiculous volley to miss ...

break back fast or this could be a long 3 setter big points here Rogie...

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:07 PM

sorry for the double post

type pad seems slow to me

Okay Nole breaks

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 04:07 PM

WTF Nole?:(

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:08 PM

And as fast as Nole breaks, he gives up a couple easy points. B-break back please, Fed?

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:08 PM

The net cord loves Nole

Posted by RogerFebeRRRergetsme,uhIcan'tsayit 11/27/2010 at 04:08 PM

I'm probably the most ardent Rogie fan in my neck of the woods.

I RRReally, RRReally like him. Sometimes, when he's playing RRReally, RRReally well, he gets me, uh I can't say it.

Feddybear is playing so well.

Timothy, don't you think Feddy will be the overwhelming favorite against the Beastish One tomorrow?

Love you, Feddybear

Posted by mg 11/27/2010 at 04:08 PM

Crossing my fingers for 3 sets. Though rooting for Nole even briefly is wearing me out. I enjoy him but he's frustrating.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:08 PM

Ugh..Fed...

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 04:09 PM

c'mon Fed, you should have tried to track that ball down....don't assume that he'll always miss them...

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 04:09 PM

E22, you do not make 22 (23??) semifinals and numerous finals in a row in majors unless you can gut it out. His secret recipe is how to not look constipated while doing so.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:09 PM

good 2nd serve Novak

I see you have slowed down a bit

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 04:10 PM

then again what with nadal been gassed out(yep fan excuse n°...) will he even need to exert himself ?
nole's contact really did a number on his form of play!! but i'm not worried he'll single handedly crush the french hopes of a trophy this yr all categories included! lol (that's mean i'm sure a french player won some obscure tourney)

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 04:10 PM

with Fed's level of play this may be a 6-1 set for Nole. Bleh.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:10 PM

Okay Nole consolidates the break with a bit of Hmmm

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:10 PM

err...Fed..you the world #2..make the score respectable

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:10 PM

Was that not in?! :/

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

Nole got lucky in that last game, and I'm not just talking about the net cord. Fed should've made him pay for those missed 1st serves.

3-0.

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