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

ok Fed time to get busy.

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

NP..Fed is a dumbass

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

Fed is glorious when he's one but no way would Rafa miss those easy passes and not get back in the set... as a ball striker Fed is second to none, but these lapses, they come out of nowhere, and a player like Djoker can just hang around, dig in, and keep enogh balls in play to trouble him ...

we all know who wins when they're both at their best ... I guess Fred is trying to avoid a Fedal match and keep it for the exos??

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

If this does go 3, it'll still be over in an 1.5 hrs the way things are going

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:13 PM

Hey! Looking better, Fed. Getting Nole a little frustrated.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:13 PM

C'mon everybody! a little more faith on Feddy.

It's only one break he can still turn this set around!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:13 PM

Fed atleast dosen't have that glazed look that he usually has when he is going to lose..i am assuming that means he'll do something about this...

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 11/27/2010 at 04:14 PM

And Federer has the now oh-so-familiar second set letdown ! After a near-perfect performance in the first set. A real pity ! Should have held serve after being 40-15 up. Now he's allowed his level to drop, and it's making life difficult for him in this match, instead of what should really be a straight sets rout.

Posted by WTF 11/27/2010 at 04:14 PM

WTF was that shank Fed?! Is it even a shank if it stays on your side of the court?

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:14 PM

That was Fred...somebody fished him out of the Thames. Fed is so not going to be pleased.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:15 PM

Its just one break of serve

Anything can happen

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:15 PM

Time to climb Breakback Mountain!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:15 PM

That was Fred...somebody fished him out of the Thames. Fed is so not going to be pleased.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:15 PM

oh..no...Fred...eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:16 PM

I really like Nole the clown off court, but once you're on court and the match starts, you gotta act like it, man. This is a YEC SF, not a freakin' exhibition. Stop clowning around.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 11/27/2010 at 04:17 PM

And Federer has the now-oh-so-familiar second set letdown ! After a near-perfect performance in the first set. A real pity ! Should have held serve after being 40-15 up. Now he's allowed his level to drop, and it's making life difficult for him in this match, instead of what should really be a straight sets rout.

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 04:17 PM

Nice rally.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:17 PM

LOL, ladyjulia. Yes, in that game he was.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:17 PM

Great change of direction Roger and good defense as well

Inside out f/hand as well

me Love

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:17 PM

typepad is doing replays..

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:18 PM

Fed...please convert this breakpoint..

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 04:18 PM

though Djokovic biffs an easy volley to give Fed a chance...

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:18 PM

Breakback point! Fed, I can't quit you!

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:18 PM

Hmmm Nole you didnt have to over swing there that point was yours????

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 04:19 PM

:(((

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:19 PM

And there's that dumbass volley again.

BP for Fed, and he takes it. What a dumbass!!!!!!!!!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:19 PM

And there is it is. He breaks back with a little help from Nole.
Back on track.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:19 PM

Nole blasts it wide! Federer love!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:19 PM

Annacone with "Come on"...a bit animated...

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 04:20 PM

What the....?! &*%#!!!
That's okay, match's not over yet. Ajde!

Posted by WTF 11/27/2010 at 04:20 PM

Fed breaks back and how!

We're lucky Nole isn't a woman, I don't think Sharpie and Serena would have had anything on him in terms of shrieking.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:20 PM

"BP for Fed, and he takes it. What a dumbass!!!!!!!!!"

The way you put it makes it look like Fed's a dumbass for taking his BPs for once. :)

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:20 PM

Roger just stood his ground there and he forced Nole to play that shot and got the erorr and he breaks back

Hmm didnt last long and it was only one break anyway

Posted by zenggi 11/27/2010 at 04:20 PM

Bellisimo game from Roger to break back. PA applauding.

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/27/2010 at 04:20 PM

Annacone wants Fedal ...will be good homework for 2011 ... cmon Fred, focus back in, u cant get glide to wins that easy .... back to work

Posted by susan 11/27/2010 at 04:20 PM

annacone emoted.

an assertive nod of the head and a clap. wow.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:21 PM

Feds...no more USO SF repeat. Please. Thanks.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:21 PM

Okay Roger with a love service game to boot

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:22 PM

Blue moon, that was intentional. j/k

Fed consolidates to love. 3-all.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:22 PM

Phew...now test for Nole.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:22 PM

Fed holds to love. Second set walkabout was short and sweet. Fed has 12 of the last 15 points, apparently!

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:23 PM

Robbie says

Rogers One Minute Specials!

Posted by GB 11/27/2010 at 04:23 PM

:((((

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:23 PM

This is going to be over soon. Nole looks sort of resigned.

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 04:23 PM

thebigapple

oh my !! i forget, fed is the chosen one, a graceful swan, a thing of beauty under pressure!
pfff bring me my ugly duckling from mallorca any day of the week, he's going to come out tomorrow and it will be a chainsaw massacre with swan feathers flying all over the place ,here's where the film leaves the rest to your imagination as they won't show the swan's carcass but only blood dripping in timely fashion in a pool of red on that pristine blue court
(how's that for imagery?!! lol)

oh let's be serious( fan excuse n°...) fed can win this title, after all it would just be him winning a title he usually wins,and would look nice next to his lone AO '10 trophy!

oh who cares what happens ,bring on fedal final woohoo, when was the last time my memory fails big times? seems like forever though!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:23 PM

AM...Roger isn't doing so well if he can't finish a service game in 54 seconds.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal in sight. Yum! Yikes! 11/27/2010 at 04:24 PM

Jeez Fed.
What is GOING ON?

Can you reserve some of this for Rafa tomorrow?

Good lord. This is beyond incredible.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:24 PM

I guess we should make that 15 of the last 18. Three BPs! TMF on the scene! Wooooo! Also Nole falling apart, but still.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:24 PM

Okay Roger with 3 b.points and match points as far as I am concerned

Nole????

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:25 PM

Ugh...Fed...can't you keep a shot in or what.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:25 PM

Ladyjulia Go and argue that point with Robbie lol!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:25 PM

Fed..you will rue this if you don't break here...

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:26 PM

Uh-oh, AM, we don't want to change the definition of match points so that he loses even more matches with MP. :)

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:26 PM

3 BPs saved by Nole.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:26 PM

Nole is not going away...*weeps*

Posted by RogerFebeRRRergetsme,uhIcan'tsayit 11/27/2010 at 04:26 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.

That was so nice of Feddy to let ND have that one break game.

Now, Feddy is back to being the Velvet Bulldozer.

I don't think the Beastish One will get even one game tomorrow.

Love you Feddybear

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:26 PM

3 BPs for Fed. 1 saved, but just barely thx to Fed slightly misfiring on his running FH. Another saved.

Nole still can't find his 1st serve, but proceeds to punish Fed's short CC BH. Deuce.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:26 PM

Okay Nole just made a liar out of me

deuce

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

eclipse,
I like your imagery, it's so........picturesque.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:28 PM

Ladyjulia,
Hang in there! Fed's got this.
Another BP?

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 11/27/2010 at 04:28 PM

3 fantastic points from Roger to go up 40-0 on Djokovic's serve, then followed by 4 mediocre points.

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 04:29 PM

Blue Moon: I'm laughing at your 4:26 :)

ughh, Fed.

Posted by WTF 11/27/2010 at 04:29 PM

You're gonna rue those 3 BPs Fed. Off with your head!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:29 PM

Oops no, that was in and Nole holds serve in the end.

Fed needs to improve his BP conversion for sure.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:29 PM

xfan,

I think Fed will rue those lost breakpoints.

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 04:30 PM

Phew...living on the edge with Nole here.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:30 PM

Nole just missed another sitter... actually, he successfully challenges that call. Still he should've been more diligent with his footwork.

Fed can't make Nole pay for his missed 1st serves. If Fed loses this (a big if for now, I know), remember these two games with all the wasted BPs.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:30 PM

Blue Moon LOL!

I will zip it ok

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:31 PM

WTF..if Fed dosen't hold here, i support you in your petition to take the Fed;s head off.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 11/27/2010 at 04:31 PM

Roger reverted to playing cautiously when he had those breakpoints. He started thinking and stopped playing from instinct. Needs to go back to playing with feel and not think about the importance of the point.

Posted by zenggi 11/27/2010 at 04:32 PM

NP,
Et tu? Don't mention doom scenarios yet, please.

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 04:33 PM

in all fairness, this match deserves to go to three sets too, i mean this is it minus DC cup ,tennis is ovahhh until AO for me anyways! and what with serena out snifff! i won't be as tired as i'll only be watching the guys(while keeping an eye on venus, hey u never know? she shows up when little sis can't )

Posted by WTF 11/27/2010 at 04:33 PM

Why is Nole making all those dramatic faces after losing a point? Focus dude or you'll get Federtweened again.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:33 PM

xfan...your pick seems to be doing well.

Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 11/27/2010 at 04:34 PM

These 2 are playing some serious ball.
The 2 best hard-courters IMHO

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:34 PM

Nole with a little chest beat there

Though good angle and moves Roger wide to the f/hand wing

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl VAMOS RAFA WINNER OF ALL FOUR GRAND SLAMS) 11/27/2010 at 04:34 PM

score please? i have no inkling how things are going,still on serve?

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 04:34 PM

DTL slice saved Fed there.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:34 PM

zenggi, I did add the qualifier in parentheses.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/27/2010 at 04:35 PM

Great defensive slice from Roger there

Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 11/27/2010 at 04:35 PM

make that best 2

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:35 PM

Nole beat his chest after winning the 30 all point.
He's starting to gain confidence.
Deuce now.

Posted by WTF 11/27/2010 at 04:35 PM

Man those players are hitting the ball well.

Posted by crazyone 11/27/2010 at 04:35 PM

some of the hitting from these two has been really awesome. Much flatter than Rafa-Muzz.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:36 PM

These two trying to tire each other out...

deuce...if Fed gets broken here...

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/27/2010 at 04:36 PM

this is some serious hitting, not a moonpie in sight!

Posted by thebigapple 11/27/2010 at 04:37 PM

Yes, it is pleasure to see these two attackers play ball.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:37 PM

Fed comes up with much-needed 1st serves on deuce. 4-all.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/27/2010 at 04:37 PM

Phew..he held...now the pressure is on the Djoker.

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:37 PM

Feddy holds with two great serves!

Getting to the moment of truth for Nole.

Posted by kbw 11/27/2010 at 04:37 PM

Thanks for that ace and service winner, Fed. A lot of second serves in that game.

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:37 PM

Back on serve. Noleeee, Davis Cup is calling....

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/27/2010 at 04:37 PM

Good stuff from both guys....finally.
Ajde Nole!!

Posted by zenggi 11/27/2010 at 04:38 PM

Roger holds 4-4. Novak to serve. No parentheses allowed.

I think that Nole is looking more and more as one of those El Greco paintings.

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/27/2010 at 04:38 PM

i mean djoker is hitting bullets and running amazing ,its not like Fed should just breeze through him...

oh oh, here we go...

Posted by WTF 11/27/2010 at 04:38 PM

Holy return Fed!

Posted by x-fan 11/27/2010 at 04:38 PM

Nole having all kinds of trouble on his serve, it's just a matter of time.

Posted by NP 11/27/2010 at 04:39 PM

Fed finally rips on one of Nole's 2nd-serve floaters. Nole still can't find his 1st serve.

15-30.

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/27/2010 at 04:39 PM

Fred dont miss slice returns please...moonpie them back!

sweet!

Posted by Blue moon 11/27/2010 at 04:39 PM

Awww.... it's okay, sometimes the return doesn't go through. 15-30 is fine!

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