No Regard

June 17, 2008

Land of Confusion: What a Djok

Filed under: Uncategorized — hoyler @ 9:30 pm

DjokoUpset(Courtesy Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Because there are so many blogs and so many mainstream news outlets bringing you the major stories and opinions every day, I’m going to do my best to bring you an under-the-radar story and accompanying opinion each day. I’m sure I won’t follow up, but why not try to start it, right?

Welcome to the Land of Confusion.

There’s Willie Randolph, Ray Allen, Tiger Woods, Javon Walker and Euro 2008, so today, I’m bringing you a recap of Sunday’s fantastic final of the Artois Championship between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

I’m an unabashed Djokovic fan. As much as I love to root for James Blake as the most likable and competent American tennis player out there right now, Novak is my favorite player on tour right now. He’s got a different level of energy than Nadal and World No. 1 Roger Federer, and since I jumped on the bandwagon after watching his performance at Wimbledon last year, I feel as if I bought in early enough to claim ‘I was there when he was underground, man’ (or something like that) when he eventually takes over Federer’s throne in 2010.

Don’t let the title of the post and subsequent picture fool you. Yes, Djokovic lose Sunday to Nadal and he did throw a couple of temper tantrums along the way, but the resulting match was arguably the most exciting (not to be confused with beautiful tennis, which this wasn’t for long stretches) on tour since the two classics at the Australian Open (Andy Roddick-Philipp Kohlschreiber and Federer-Janko Tipsarevic) back in January.

The first set was a rollercoaster. Djokovic got out to a 3-0 lead, slamming forehands down the line as Nadal was unable to find that fifth gear to catch up, the skill that allows him to so easily dominate the French Open every year.

Nadal was able to take the next three games to even it up, and from there both players seemed to go into energy conservation mode, slowing down the frantic pace and trading off service games to get to the tiebreak. Djokovic was unable to capitalize on a mini-break, ceding his lead at 5 and slipping at the worst time to go down 7-6 en route to dropping the next point, and the set, on the return of a brillant Nadal serve.

Those who have watched Djokovic in the past couple of years know that this is something he has to improve; that is, bouncing back from a devastating set drop to regain his composure. He seemed fixated on the first set, dropping the first two games of set two. A brief medical stoppage for Nadal to treat blisters on his hands seemed to give Novak some life, as he actually had a 5-4 lead in the second, but he never won another game. With a chance to serve for the set, Djokovic ended up playing himself right into Nadal’s arms. The result was a set so entertaining that the crowd was on its feet when it ended…in favor of Nadal. Djokovic played one point into the net and was bluffed on another, failing to place the ball down the line after attacking the net, instead lobbing it right into the center for Nadal to blast. One service game and one break later, and Nadal had a HUGE grass court victory before this weekend’s opening matches at Wimbledon.

What does it all mean?

Both of these guys are much bigger threats than they were at Wimbledon last year, and that is saying something considering how much progress Nadal made in last year’s tournament. These two will likely hook up again in the semifinals at the All-England Club, but don’t expect Djokovic to have to retire with an injury this time, like he did last year. He’s in amazing shape and will be motivated to move ahead of Nadal in the rankings. He’s also got the benefit of a win over Federer at the Australian.

Nadal, however, has defeated Djokovic two weekends in a row, including an embarrassing destruction at Roland Garros. Is he in the Serb’s head? It sure looked that way during that decisive 10th game in the second set Sunday. It should make for a very interesting semifinal in England. I’ll have predictions Friday.

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