Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Nole's Frames of Mind
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Nole's Frames of Mind 03/02/2009 - 7:15 PM

NdNovak Djokovic kept pressing his hands down in front of him—“calm down” was the message he wanted to send himself. In the future, he might consider doing it between every point, because on Saturday he received that message just long enough to beat David Ferrer in Dubai for his first title of 2009.

Never mind, for the moment, that he didn’t face Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, or Andy Murray along the way, or that he was pushed deep into a third set in the second round by the highly mortal Jan Hernych. For one, Djokovic proved to himself that he could win with his new racquet. This may sound silly, but it’s something that could have gotten into his easily frustrated head and become a convenient thing to blame when things weren’t going his way. (I suppose it still could.) More important, the Serb showed that he remains a cut above everyone outside of the very top tier when it comes to the essentials of today’s game.

In the quarterfinals, Djokovic held off a potent but sloppy Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-4 in a match that was, as they say, closer than the scores indicated (sometimes the cliché is the only way to put it). Cilic is a certifiable young gun, a 20-year-old who many think could be the next Djokovic, only with a 6-foot-6 serve. The two had met at the U.S. Open last year and Cilic had matched him shot for shot from the ground. This time the differences were clearer. Djokovic was smoother, crisper, quicker, and hit the ball within a few feet of the baseline much more consistently than Cilic. All of this became especially clear when the Serb needed a point. Cilic kept pushing him to the brink with big shots that set up break points, but it was Djokovic who owned a wider variety of reliable weapons that he could use when the nerves set in. It was clear: Cilic still has a ways to go.

Djokovic's superiority was even more obvious against Ferrer in the final, to the point where the outcome of the match rested solely on his strings. Ferrer muscled the ball back into the middle of the court and chased everything down, but it was Djokovic who had the opportunity and the burden to do all the creating. A couple things stuck out immediately about how he handled that fact.

Like Andy Roddick in Memphis, Djokovic—either consciously or unconsciously, I don’t know—had added an upward flick to his forehand and was pulling off the ball on important points. I’d never seen him follow through on the same side of his head with that shot, but in tight moments that’s what he was doing. It looked more anxious than pretty, but the extra safety worked well enough to earn him a couple breaks of serve. The problem was, Djokovic grew even more tentative when he tried to consolidate those breaks. Serving at 4-2, 30-30 in the first set, he netted two routine backhands. Serving at 4-2, 15-0 in the second set, he rushed through three backhands, made three errors, and was broken. Each time he threw his hands up and looked despairingly toward his box.

But just when he seems ready to snap, Djokovic comes back with something special, something no one else can do. At 2-0, 30-30 in the second set, he set up a winning point with a wicked slice second serve out wide—from anyone else, this would be a risky shot, but it’s part of his arsenal. Early in the match, he tracked down good drop shots from Ferrer with ease. I’d never noticed how well Djokovic moves forward and anticipates. He’s at the net with ease. What’s unfortunate is that, playing with a Western forehand and two-handed backhand has hurt Djokovic’s volleys, as it has countless other modern players—the Continental grips needed at the net just don't feel natural (take it from a two-handed backhander who only learned to use the proper backhand volley grip after playing squash for five years). Djokovic is worse at volleying than he should be, and his excellent transition skills and acceleration largely go to waste. Of course, the trade-off is that he can hit balls past his opponents from behind the baseline. Few do it with such ease, and over the highest parts of the net, as he does.

At 5-5 in the first set, after blowing a 5-3 lead, Djokovic righted himself with a strong, quietly determined hold. Then at 6-5, 0-15, he played his best point of the match, a masterpiece of patient aggression from the baseline. Rather than pulling the trigger early, which he often does when everything is on the line—it’s another, less obvious form of choking—he started by keeping the ball down the middle, then slowly opened the point up and sent a series of heavy forehand bombs deeper and deeper before ending it with a winner. He pounded his chest and ran out the set, but not before showing that edge of frustration and impatience that always lurks below his surface. During set point, Ferrer hit a ball that landed on the baseline. Someone in Djokovic’s crew called “out!” The point continued until the Serb won it. Instead of celebrating a first-set win, he angrily shushed his fans and slammed his racquet down when he got to the sideline.

This isn’t something you see Federer or Nadal do. Federer might mope, Nadal might get nervous, but neither has to keep a self-sabotaging angry side in check the way Djokovic does. Maybe this has something to do with their styles of play. While Federer can blow open a point with one shot and then cruise, and Nadal can sit back and grind without taking too many chances if he needs to, Djokovic must ride a precarious balance of control and aggression. He’s got more game than almost all of his opponents, but to show it off he needs time to develop a point. If he goes for a lot too early or stays back and rallies for too long, he gives up his shot-making advantage and becomes just another player—his game is not as unique to begin with as any of the other members of the Top 4.

Controlled aggression is the Holy Grail of the sport because it’s such a tough thing to keep up for long periods. I can understand why Djokovic gets frustrated when he doesn’t do it. On Saturday, watching him bounce the ball many, many times before he served, I started to think that he was trying in vain to find just the right mental balance, to get his head in just the right spot for the next point, before he tossed the ball in the air and took a swing. No wonder the number of bounces goes way up late in a set. It might be annoying, it might illegal, it might not even be very smart—time to think is usually not a tennis player's friend—but I can understand Djokovic's effort. Whether he's pressing his hands down in front of him to calm himself or bouncing the ball until no one can take it anymore, a good frame—of mind, that is—is the key to his game. He's right to try so hard to find it.

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Posted by Azhdaja 03/04/2009 at 09:26 PM

Ok...little correction:

prehaps throwing Murray in Champion group, was little premature. Better words would be that he is the candidate for that group. Candidate regarding his talent. He has no ground proven status of being classified as "true champion" group. So, I see where I should've made corrections. People who are pointing out at that, definitelly made the point.

Just like I didn't count Nadal as "true champ" before 2007, Murray canot fall within that group until he improve his technical skills and his results on the ground (that would be 2 GS titles at least).

Thanks everybody for their feedback on it.

Posted by 03/04/2009 at 11:01 PM


within next two months when Murray overtakes Novak I for one will think of you first. And your pleasure. With the fact that Novak was overtaken."

... so funny!

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/04/2009 at 11:11 PM

Aha, so results do matter, eh Azhdaja!

And so if Murray earns just 2 Slam tiles he'll qualify now to be in you most elite group, the "tru champions"?

I notice that you don't mention whom he must beat. Evidently, that doesn;t matter all of a sudden. He could beat Santoro, or John Isner, or two guys way outside the top 100, to claim his Slam titles and h'd make your list.

I hasve yet to call anmyone hear a "hater" but it is time to hit you with that label. You are a Federer hater. Most surely it is driven by jealousy or envy.

Wait, why am I wasting pixels.......?

Posted by Azhdaja 03/04/2009 at 11:46 PM are wasting your key board. Pixels belong to

Yes, IT doesn't matter who one beats on his way to GS title. If he beats ISner, then Isner must beat two of Big three at least to get to final. So, isn't it something? The same thing with Tsonga: in order to claim 2008 AO title he must beat Rafa and Djoker. He beat Rafa, but failed to Djoker. HAd he beat Djoker, would you deny his GS title??? Yet, he didn't beat him, b/c there was something he was missing.

BTW, it is not set out in the rules who one must beat in order to claim the title.

Rog hater? You confused character with tennis skills. These two must be separated when recognise somebody't tennis achievemnts. Lendl was hated wide out there for his personality, but nobody ever tried to deny his tennis excellence.

As for Roger, I think he is of poor personality, and i don't have any respect for him as a person. BUT, as a player, Roger definitely belongs to Great group.

The "true champion", you come up with definition, Slice?? How's that?
Be careful, though.

And I would like to read that blog of yours. You do not need to wait till next week to post it.

Posted by ebh 03/05/2009 at 12:15 AM

What is funny is that this tournament was similar to Rome last year where Nole won a Masters series when everyone else got bumped early.

Posted by Amit 03/05/2009 at 12:16 AM

Definition of True Champion:

Someone with insufferably poor deductive skills who isn't ashamed at all to repeatedly put his oversized foot in his mouth.

Does that work?

What were the other categories - oh yes, 'Run of the mill' champion and 'Entirely false' champion. Let me get to work on those.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/05/2009 at 01:29 AM

Amit,...aren't your name Amir?? You remind me on Balija!!
You just look upset and frustrated as if true champion was you?!

You do not need to take it personally. b/c you know not a thing about deductive reasoning. Where did you hear about it?

C'mon. Cool off, boy. This is just a of opinions. If you wanna really argue, then I have website for ya:

People argue there about anything,...and everything is allowed. So, go there put your stuff there and then come back clean. :-)


Posted by Corrie 03/05/2009 at 03:04 AM

Azhadja, first you tried to say Fed isn't a True Champion because of the "weak era", now you're saying it doesn't matter who you beat, you can get a couple of GSs against anyone if your name is Murray and thus be a TC.
Oh, and really what it boils down to is that you just don't like Fed as a person which is hardly relevant to someone being a great champ. But on the liking front, I'd say that you probably don't know enough about him to know how likable he is, perhaps a bit of research is in order, he seems a thoroughly decent and pleasant human from what I've seen of him, with a big heart for wanting to help underpriveleged people.

But basing such value judgements on irrational personal dislikes is just so absurd, that, as others said, this whole thing is a stupid waste of time so I'll stop.

Posted by Amit 03/05/2009 at 03:14 AM


"Amit,...aren't your name Amir?? You remind me on Balija!!"

Balija is a derogatory term for Muslims used by Serbs (the hinting towards Amir makes it clearer). I doubt it has a place on this site. Perhaps an intervention is in order.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/05/2009 at 09:55 AM


You are a bundle of self-contradictions. Worse than a Time Warner Cable offer.

Look, if it doesn't matter who one beats in the final of a Slam, then Federer's wins of Roddic and others are irrelevant. Alll that maters is that he came out on top -- the CHAMPION. If you cannot get that you have contradicted yourself at least three times on this pont alone, then you are either playing a disengenuous game or your reasoning is challenged.

Lastly, your making a distinction between a CHAMPION and a TRUE CHAMPION is bogus, a complete fiction that you and you alone have created. It is meaningless. Federer is a champion, period. End of story.

Nadal is a champion, end of story.

However, between the two, Federer has shown that he is the more consistent performer over a three to four year window, in Slams. No one can argue with his 19 consecutive semifinal berths and 17 finals, 13 of which have results in him holding the winner's trophy aloft. And each of the three times he lost in the semifinal -- to Safin if AO 2005, Djokovic in AO 2008, his conqueror won the title.

If that isn't dominance, then nothing short of winning every time one steps on the court is.

How one wins is also irrelevant, except from a purely aesthetic, and hence subjective, point of view.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/05/2009 at 09:58 AM

Excuse me. I meant to write, "In each of the two times that Federer lost inthe semifinal round of a Slam,...".

But I trust you all understood.

Posted by Lynne Danley 03/05/2009 at 12:17 PM

Sorry, arbiter, but we timed Djoker at 35 seconds after that first call, and we've timed him as high as 42 seconds. You're right, though, Rafa is even worse. All of this would be moot if they'd just put a seconds clock up and enforce the rule. Seems like a simple solution to me.

I don't know if the media turnabout on Roger Federer is a conspiracy, but it's certainly evident. All of a sudden, everyone criticizes him for everything. He was even supposed to carry the ATP against the organizers of the Dubai tournament and his ethics were questioned when he chose not to. (Actually, I think he would have more influence using his power as an "insider" in Dubai working with the organizers rather than coming out against them, and I'm not sure he didn't do this.) This man is a great champion, a gentleman and human. He has a hard time concealing his emotions, positive or negative, and he used to be a racquet-basher as a kid, so I think the control he exhibits during most matches is admirable and won after much effort. He should get credit for that. Everybody loves a winner, but not when they keep winning year after year and people start getting bored. So when the champion starts losing more often, there seems to be this almost gleeful delight hidden behind the pedantics and analysis. I'm reminded of that song, "There's a New Kid in Town" -- everybody loves him and the singer is now old news. That would be Rafa and Roger, all right. I hope Roger doesn't pay that much attention to the media. That would make me grumpy and irritable and would begin to shake my confidence, too! Roger has nothing to apologize for and nothing to prove. As for Djoker, we'll see. I admit I don't like him, so I may be harder on him than I would be if I did.

Posted by arbiter 03/05/2009 at 12:59 PM

If you go back a few days, there was a statement from B.J.King that it would be beneficial if a high-ranked tennis player, a male, admitted to be a homosexual. This would be good for homosexuals, she said (I totally do not agree with this idea, but that is what she said). I wonder if Federer is being pressured to admit his orientation...and that is why the media (usually left winged, pro-homosexual) is being hard on him.

I hope I am wrong, and I wish him the best, whatever he decided. And I hope media leaves him alone. With the help of new coach, I think he can beat Rafa...we will see.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/05/2009 at 06:03 PM

Whoa, arbiter... I do not have a beef if it were true, but what evidence do you have to support the notion that Roger Federer may be a homosexual?

Posted by Azhdaja 03/05/2009 at 09:26 PM

Slice, bunch of incerpts from your reply above:

"bundle of self-contradictions.... Worse than a Time Warner Cable offer...your reasoning is challenged..... bogus,... a complete fiction... meaningless....", these are the terms you used to prove myself being on opposite side of logic!! Is that how you suport your opinions? Or you have some other arsenals?

Furthermore, you went on to show some support of yours:
(--- you, +++ I):

---Look, if it doesn't matter who one beats in the final of a Slam, then Federer's wins of Roddic and others are irrelevant.
+++ I do not see logic in here? Irrelevant to what? Why? ISn't the title that matters? Any win in GS final IS relevant, I'd say. That's why doesn't matter who you beat, but it does if you win it.

---Alll that maters is that he came out on top -- the CHAMPION.
+++we are talking about the same here. Read my (above) comments again.

---Federer is a champion, period. End of story.
+++Not at all! On contrary, It is a beginning of the story. Federer cannot beat a true champion for a long streak!! What kind of a true champ is he? (quite a logical question). Rog is a champ, b/c there was not a challenge to him from a true champ, or in another words: there was nobody being able to exploit his weaknesses. (Or you believe that Rog has no weaknesses??). There were just talents against other talents, which Rog prevailed (because of his talent being the strongest out there). That's why I said that Rog is a Champion, but not the true champion. Got it now, Slice? (Suggestion: read my post about 3 groups of players again. It is not just shallow as it might seem to be at the first sight).

---However, between the two, Federer has shown that he is the more consistent performer over a three to four year window, in Slams.
+++This is something against the reality, against the facts, Mr. Slice!! Do you know what's the score between the Two in slams?? (6:2 favouring Rafa!!!). Go get some reading, Mr. Slice.

---If that isn't dominance, then nothing short of winning every time one steps on the court is.
+++You missed the subject here!?? I never talked about dominance. However, I could, if you want me: 13:6 favouring Rafa.

---How one wins is also irrelevant, except from a purely aesthetic, and hence subjective, point of view.
+++Disagree with second part of this. Being put down to shame always matters!! Last Federer's RG final match turmoil, is a shameful loss! Making 4 games of the entire match of a GS final, is a shame to anybody!! Now every man out there would asked a question: How did he get there (in final) at all??? I asked myself that question for tens of times already. He looked worse than a qualifier who got through to the final with 5 of his opponents resinged!!

+++I see that you don't like that "true champion" expression at all. You don't have to. But, since you don't even try to go on that ground (despite of being asked that question directly by myself) makes me think that you're biased in your Federer analysys - which disqualifies any of your other opinions when it comes to this subject.

Cheers, Slice. Nice descussing with you. :-)

Posted by Azhdaja 03/05/2009 at 09:32 PM

Ooops! Typo above. It should stay:

Nice discussing with you. :-)

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/05/2009 at 10:19 PM


You cannot use the Nadal v. Federer head-to-head as the sole means of supporting your "argument" that Nadal is the more dominant and more consistent player.

Once again, show me how Nadal's record (and I am not disputing that he is a champion, only that he has not yet proven himself to be a better performer than Federer, overall) can possibly be more consistent than 19 consecutive Slam semifinals, and of those 17 became Slam finals, and of those 13 became Slam titles.

And I repeat: your drawing a distinction between a "champion" and a "true champion" is founded on ideas solely fabricated in your own head. Those distinctions do not exist inthe tennis lexicon.

Do YOUR reading! I've had enough of our little "discussion," as it is fruitless, as I am quite certain any discussion with you must be.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/05/2009 at 10:27 PM

Posted by Corrie 03/05/2009 @ 3:04 AM

Azhadja, first you tried to say Fed isn't a True Champion because of the "weak era", now you're saying it doesn't matter who you beat, you can get a couple of GSs against anyone if your name is Murray and thus be a TC.


Ok, Corrie, i see your confusion here, as well as the confusion of many others (Slice-in-Dice, etc).

a) Nope, i never said that Rog is not a true champ (TC) b/c of weak era. Read my posts again, pls.
b) Yes, it doesn't matter who they beat in final or on their way to final as long as they win couple of them (GS finals) PLUS condition #3: "Primary rely on their own skills but as a secondary also exploit all of opponents' mistakes and weak sides".

Yours and Slice-in-dice problem is that you don't understand my TC definition and do not differ it from Champion definition.

Utmost advice: please read my post at 03/03/2009 @ 12:06 PM again. You people don't know how to read it properly, but you shoot first and then asking the questions?! lol Some of you do not know how to read it, yet some of you do "read it" wrongly on purpose.(?).

c) Yes, it doesn't matter who you beat, but it DOES who you are.
Now, I have to go back to my post again and emphasyze something that was clear from the beginning:

"The only TRUE CHAMPIONS (TC) fall in the group #3", means that TC can go to group 3 only, but it doesn't mean that everyone who I put there ARE TC. I put Murray there b/c his playing style matches true champion playing style, BUT Murray IS NOT a TC yet, because he didn't prove his tennis skills/tools yet (he is missing at least 2 GS titles).

How long does it take to you to realise simple truth: in order to be TC one has to have the style of a TC plus the tools. Without any ot the two, HE is not TC. (Murray has style but not the tools. Federer has the tools but not the style.)

As simple as that.

The same thing that I put Nalbandian, Tsonga, Gasquet in group 1 doesn't mean that they are champions. That just mean that their style matches the style of players that belongs to group 1. Again, they have style BUT NOT technical skills (the tools) to be champions.

Anything confuseing in here? :-)

Posted by Azhdaja 03/05/2009 at 10:33 PM


---your drawing a distinction between a "champion" and a "true champion" is founded on ideas solely fabricated in your own head.
+++I can not agree with you more! Finally, eh :-) reasoning IS NOT coming from the tennis lexicons. Does it MUST?

And yes, I can see how many pixels you already wasted (on me). :-)

Posted by Azhdaja 03/05/2009 at 10:46 PM

Slice-in-dice, Just to give a you basic lessons from arguing:

1. We do not have to agree about our opinions at all.

2. But we have to respect the opinions of other people.

3. Do not confuse opinion(s) with person(s)! NEVER!

4. If somebody disagree with you, do not take it personally. It is only a matter of opinions not the persons.

5. Argue opinion not the person.

You want to learn more? Please go here:


Posted by Azhdaja 03/05/2009 at 10:56 PM

And now, Slice-in-dice the advanced lesson of arguiing for you (FREE of charge):

"We need to learn and follow the basic lessons of arguing (see my post above) not because of our opponent/disagreer, but because of ourselves. This is because if we are in default of those we ARE on the wrong ground and thus will suffer some damage/pay the price".

I see you have the tools to be True Champion arguer. However, your style is what you have to work on in order to achieve it.

WANT TO ARGUE THIS? Pls, click on my nick above. My alias there is "Universon" and will be waiting for you there. :-)

Posted by alex 03/06/2009 at 05:08 AM

i honestly think djokovic has a great array of shots , especiall from the baseline. he plays the ball so early, something even federer and nadal would not be able to do on a consistent basis. but i have to say since the australian open, djokovic hasnt really been at his fighting best yet. i relaly hope to see him up there again,and eventually seeing him get the no.1 ranking.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/06/2009 at 11:48 AM


You are too much, man.

I have no personal beef with you (the arguer), only with your faulty reasoning, your purely arbitrary and fabricated assignation of terms and their meanings, and your insistnce that you meant one thing when you said the opposite. Yes, you did say that Roger Federer was not a True Champion, and early on you made it quite clear that it was in part because of who he had beaten in Slam finals, as well as who he had lost to (Nadal, your personal "true champion").

I don't mind a good, hearty debate, as several on this blog wll surely attest. What I do mind is bing told how to think and how to debate. You have crossed that one once too many times.

My advice to you, Azh, would be to read more of the conversations that go on here and learn the lessons of appropriate and constructive social interaction and effectively expressing your ideas in a clear and understandable manner.

Enjoy yourself.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/06/2009 at 08:59 PM


Posted by djordje.perovic 03/06/2009 at 09:48 PM

I’m not that expert, but I feel as everyone can see fairly concisely, if look in Djokovic eyes before the mach, is he that time winner or loser. To simplify, how I see things Nole has some kind of health– respiration problem. When temperature is higher than some value, he don’t succeed to feed his body and brain with enough amount of oxygen. He knows/feels when problem coming much before it shows. If overage players game quite decadent on some temperature level, than that level is c.5deg. less for Nole. He learned to use his all musculature and body in try to solve this problem when rise. Nole still learns to manage that fact/fear. He also use tactics, medical time-outs, challenge and all available means in same try, just to become equal in health with his opponent. That is a first, again first problem of his tennis, and all other reflects trough it. What he feels I believe is that without that problem, he should be No.2 or even 1. much before - or never if problem groves. Whan some inside watch says that your game is prepared for highest goals (unavoidable part of champions personality), than that is not problem just in matches at high temperature, but in all life, tournaments schedule, tactics, order of play, fans, misunderstanding, training process, drops etc,etc... I’m asking my self for at last one year, spec. last few months whan everyone can see his agony, why Nole don’t talk about that publicly. Why “no one” talks about that, or why no one can see this even looks too obvious for me? I find many reasons, some understandable, some not from my distance. Back to the point, if that problem is real, together with support problem, Serbia Open pressure, racquet changing (in try to avoid further bad propaganda feedback)… that whole extremely high pressure leave psychological consequence on his mind in last half of the year. Cleary scoop not after Queens, but after OG. Can we imagine how much that reflects on his focus? As everyone can see, he is not enjoining his game as before, but he learn to fight with his problem fast.
Nole was little disappointed coz great expectations, but im sure, with grow of understanding things will took its right places soon. I believe even very soon.
Does this make sense to you? If not, forgive me for just "my opignion". Sorry, so many wasted pixels;) didn’t want to corrupt one of the best tennis discussion that I found on the net
In hope that my “English” is understandable enough, thanks to all
Best wishes

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/07/2009 at 12:52 AM


If what you are trying to say is that Djokovic is struggling with some physical constraints due to his asthma or some other resppiratory problem, especially in higher temperatures, and that this is providing added pressure on him, psychologically, as a competitor who naturally believes he can and should rise to the top, then I can agree with you in some part.

The one question I might have, given Djokovic's history of retiring and of making lots of physical claims, both before and after a match, is whether it's all some form of gamesmanship. Only he and his doctors know the answer to this, but t does appear to me, as to you, that he struggles more in certain conditions than in others.

Posted by lois 03/10/2009 at 06:52 PM

I know the main focus of the story is about Djoke but, did anybody see my little sweetheart's draw(Rafa). I can't believe my eyes-for the 1rst time ever he finally has a beautiful draw. Thank you know who(The Big Guy up stairs)I guess it finally set in who #1 is. Please guys Please don't be to hard on Roger,it's like when my husband got laid-off,it was something he really wanted but could not achieve yet. I think he really needed this time to get his head back, I hope he has. There are no better fights than Rafa and Roger, I look forward to them starting up again.
Stay Well and Safe everyone-Please.

Posted by ALEXA 05/21/2009 at 01:54 PM



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