How Soft is Novak Djokovic?
We are going to learn a lot about Novak Djokovic tonight. And I think Novak’s going to learn a lot about himself when under the lights, in primetime the Serb challenges American favorite Andy Roddick for a spot in the US Open semifinals.
I’ve been hard on Djokovic for a while now. I think of him as an elite player and a guy who should be No. 1 someday. But I question, as do other players and critics, his durability and his on court behavior and off court rhetoric.
Right now I’m starting to get the feeling that Novak cannot win big titles if he has multiple long matches along the way, like he’s had at the Open in the last two rounds. His body/mind isn’t suited to the task. Starting tonight he has the chance to prove me wrong.
In this matchup with Roddick, Novak’s the clear-cut better tennis player in just about every category except serve and toughness. He’s also had the better year and the better results. So I think he should win this match, and more importantly expect to win this match.
But following his five-set win over Tommy Robredo, Djokovic curiously announced to the crowd how his opponent would be the fitter player come Thursday. What the hell is that? Is he joking? Is he playing possum? Or does he really think he’ll be that mashed up after 48 hours off?
For me, why even go there? First, you take away from your opponent and then you set up an excuse for a loss in the next round. You show to your next opponent your softness, your frailty. Maybe he’s feeling the pressure of defending major points from last year, and he’s trying lower expectations. Maybe. Either way, playing a four-setter and then a five-setter should not immediately preclude a player like Novak from winning a title, and if his body can’t take such a grind than maybe he’s in the wrong sport.
How many sets has Gilles Muller played? Andy Murray went five sets. So too did Federer. At this stage everyone’s got bumps and bruises and frankly, nobody wants to hear of it. Sore hip? Upset stomach? Ankle turn? Unless it’s serious get over it Novak and play tennis. Take your impressive five set win over Robredo, take the confidence you gained and build off it, rather than announce to the world that your tank is on E. We don’t care.
If there is a tough guy in tennis it’s probably Roddick, who bullies his way around the court, cursing at umpires and occasionally running the smack at his opponents.
The other night Roddick took a shot at Novak’s injury issues, telling the media, “You know, he’s either quick to call a trainer or he’s the most courageous guy of all time. I think it’s up for you guys to decide.”
If you are Djokovic you have to feel some offense to what Roddick said, and even to what Robredo said. He should be pissed and he should be even more motivated tonight to set the record straight, stand up for himself and take Roddick down on his homecourt. This is not the time to backdown and complain about exhaustion. It’s his chance to prove me wrong by going out and playing the tennis that he’s capable of, especially when things aren’t point his way – if he felt the crowd was against him in his last match against Robredo, wait till tonight!
As for Roddick, he’s arguably the favorite in this one and it’s easy to get caught up in the Andy hype. New coach Patrick McEnroe, he’s ripped through the field, he’s back to old Andy, etc., but the fact is he’s very lucky to have reached this point. Ernests Gulbis in the second round was just a few big serves from sending Roddick home. From there he had an easy, expected win over Andreas Seppi and another victory over Fernando Gonzalez, who’s had better days.
Credit to Roddick who playing well, no doubt, and his confidence must be sky high, but I’m going against the grain, against the hype tonight. I somehow think Novak steps up and shows why he’s the better player, the higher ranked guy and beats Andy in a real statement match. Will Novak go on to win the title, I don’t think so, but if he can play good tennis, keep the match clean I think he’ll make some real fans tonight. Maybe even myself.
After a tough five set win over Igor Andreev Tuesday – a win I call Fed’s best on hardcourt this year – Fed I think we’ll get a reprieve today against surprising Cinderella Gilles Muller. The qualifier Muller has a big lefty serve, one he used to beat Andy Roddick at the US Open a few years back, and an aggressive game, but that should play right into the hands of Federer who should move through to his 18th straight Grand Slam semifinal.
As for yesterday, great win for Andy Murray who endured a rocky road but survived Juan Martin Del Potro. And Rafael Nadal, what can you say? The guy keeps doing what he’s been doing. The Spaniard is now just two wins from a ridiculous third straight Slam title, and with two days off now and the back-to-back format this weekend he’s got the edge.
Last night we also saw Serena Williams somehow getting through in two breakers after sister Venus blew what seemed to be about 50 set points. Impressive performance, and I like her to get through and capture the title over Elena Demetieva.
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