It’s 2013 and the first slam of what should be another captivating year for professional tennis is underway “down under.” Defending champion Novak Djokovic immediately busied himself with defending his title by dispatching first round opponent Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.
Mathieu is a clean ball-striker with heavy ground strokes off both wings. He’s had a career of mixed results while winning some great matches but losing a number of important ones in which he appeared poised to win. Those particular losses coupled with injury have seemingly done irreparable damage to an otherwise promising career.
Though he’s still competing at the elite level, in his first round match with Djokovic, no disrespect intended, the poor guy was thoroughly outclassed.
Reason for embarrassment? No, not at all. Somebody had to serve as the first-round sacrificial lamb. It was just the luck of the draw.
American hopeful Ryan Harrison was victim number two. Harrison must have felt as though he was a mouse being toyed with by a sadistically crafty cat. Nole ran him ragged winning the lopsided affair 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.
Next up was relentless net-rusher Radek Stepanek. There’s never any ambiguity about his game. He’s an ardent practitioner of the all but abandoned art of serve/volley. At 34 years of age, the guy still employs a fearless, in-your-face approach.
Though determined to get to net, RadStep is not reckless. He devotes meticulous attention to a detailed approach designed to get his opposition momentarily out of position allowing him time and opportunity to polish off a winning volley. He does it far better than most.
RadStep’s personality is no less entertaining than his brand of tennis.
The guy never fails to deliver moments of both awe and hilarity providing onlookers with good reason to cheer. Twice he hit an incredible acrobatic back-to-net, over the left shoulder ground stroke off what appeared a winning lob. He lost one of those points and won the other. On each occasion the gallery erupted. Even the chair umpire couldn’t help but shake his head and smile in disbelief.
But as entertaining as the match was, an undaunted Djokovic produced laser-like passing shots time after time effectively defusing RadStep’s explosive onrushing attacks and prevailed 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
Djokovic’s fourth round opponent was Stanislas Wawrinka. This pairing produced the match of the tournament so far. Terming it “a classic” just doesn’t quite capture it’s essence. The quality of play was stratospheric. It was such a compelling five-set, five-hour encounter that the outcome was still in doubt until the very last ball sailed past Wawrinka.
As testament to how mind-bending and thrilling the match was, fittingly, a video of the extraordinary match point was quickly posted on Youtube. If you didn’t see the match, you must at least see match point in the video below.
Understandably, many who saw the match expressed sympathy for Wawrinka having lost the finest effort of his career. But in my eyes, Wawrinka did not lose that match and Djokovic didn’t take it. It simply ended. Had to. They all do.
I’ve always enjoyed watching Wawrinka play. I’m a big fan of the single handed backhand. Wawrinka has one of the best in the game and, man, did he ever use it against Djokovic. At times, even Djokovic appeared stunned. Wawrinka also hit his forehand huge, bigger than I’ve previously seen. If not a fluke then he has a vastly improved forehand.
Wawrinka took the fight to the number one player in the world and came within a whisker of defeating him. In so doing, he defined himself as not just “that other Swiss player.” No, Wawrinka carved a niche for himself as a player who almost pulled off a “Rosolian” (Lukas Rosol’s stunning upset of Nadal last year at Wimbledon) type upset. He also proved to himself and the tennis world that he is more that a second-tier player. He belongs with the best.
I found it amusing when commentators immediately began speculating about whether the intensity of his encounter and five hour duration of the match would adversely affect Djokovic’s chances of advancing against a relatively fresh Tomas Berdych in the quarters.
Please, haven’t they learned anything about this shirt-ripping, other-worldly “Super Serb’s” recuperative powers yet? Djokovic seems to need very little time to recharge his body. Once again that proved the case as he dispatched Berdych in a ho-hum four-setter 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
I’ve said it before, I think there is more to him than just the normal human flesh and blood. His unusual degree of elasticity affords him an unfair advantage over all the other players. Without doubt it was the most important component in the match point rally with Wawrinka.
He saved a ball that would have been a clear winner against any other player by stretching and sliding splay-legged, leg bones at almost right angles to his feet and the rest of his body fully extended as though he had actually become longer.
I swear, I think he was longer.
Anyway, if nothing else, his ankles should have broken or the tendons and ligaments sustained substantial damage. But nothing happened. In fact, a couple of strokes later in that rally, he performed another act of contortion which ultimately ended with him hitting a perfect rolling backhand winning pass off a sensational deep, low approach shot by Wawrinka
Djokovic makes the impossible possible. And it’s not a fluke. He’s done it repeatedly.
I don’t know, maybe along with all his contortionist capabilities, the steadfast belief that he will win even when it appears most implausible, there’s some cosmic force upon which he calls when he needs it most.
Oh yeah, and what about the donkey cheese thing? Why’s he buying all the freaking donkey cheese in the world? I didn’t even know you could get cheese out of a donkey. Never heard of it. I gotta get some of that stuff though.
Novak Djokovic is the number one player in the world. The way he’s smoking his way through the draw, it appears as though he will defend his Australian Open title unless something Rosolian happens within the next five days.
A surprise result is a distinct possibility.