Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Djokovic needs to inject courage to beat Federer

Courtesy: The Australian

FORMER US Open semi-finalist Wally Masur has warned that Novak Djokovic must show courage to have any chance of upsetting Roger Federer in tonight's Australian Open semi-final on Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic is in brilliant form, but has shown occasional signs of the brittleness that has been a feature through his career. In defeating Nicolas Almagro, he appeared to be struggling for air and suffering from the respiratory problem he has complained of in the past.

When thrashing Tomas Berdych on Tuesday night, he needed eye drops to correct a vision problem at a time he was trailing early in the second.

This agitated state is not new -- he withdrew from the 2009 Australian Open mid-match as defending champion against Andy Roddick, who later ridiculed Djokovic's wide array of ailments at the US Open -- and Masur said that Federer will pounce on any hint of weakness tonight.

"There is the Djokovic at last year's US Open where he played with a lot of character," Masur said. "He beat Federer in five, saved match points, and then he had to back up against Nadal and he was exhausted, but he just took it on the chin.

"He tried really hard . . . and didn't complain about being fatigued. There was none of this respiratory problem, or 'I've got a sore nose', or 'my shoulder is sore'. He just got on with it and took his beating and I think that showed good character.

"There has just been a few signs in this tournament where against (Nicolas) Almagro, he was raising his arms, trying to expand his chest to get a breath.

"Even if you are feeling like that, you would never, ever show your opponent. If he doesn't play with a lot of character against Federer, I can't see him winning it."

Provided he remains mentally strong, Masur gives Djokovic a real chance of upsetting the Swiss champion due to what is, in large part, an unheralded strength.

More flattering assessments of the Serbian over the years have focused on the sweetness of his ball-striking and his uncanny knack at impersonating the various traits of his contemporaries.

Less positive has been the analysis of the quirks in his serve -- both the high number of times he bounces the ball and the kink that developed in his backswing for a period last year -- and the capacity to fall prey to all manner of ailments. But in a stunning opening to 2011 in which he has dropped just one set in Melbourne, it is Djokovic's fleet of foot credited as the reason for his form.

Lleyton Hewitt, the Australian renowned as the quickest player on tour before hip problems blunted his speed, marvelled while commentating during the Hopman Cup at Djokovic's capacity to position himself perfectly for each shot regardless of the pressure he faced. Masur yesterday noted the same thing and said Federer would need to find a way to upset Djokovic's on-court position.

"We talk a lot about the Djokovic game, but how well does he move?" Masur told Melbourne radio.

"He is always balanced and he always gets the ball out of the middle and these big serves coming at him over 200km/h, he swings at them, he doesn't just block them back, he swings at them. He is a tough man to break down.

"There is no way easy way through Novak Djokovic. He is awfully quick, so he can blunt Roger's power and he is also skilful, so if Roger chips the ball or plays a drop shot, he has got great hands and he can improvise and he can deal with that change of pace quite well."

While in Perth, Djokovic told The Australian that he had been working extremely hard on his fitness in order to taper before the Open. After defeating Berdych in straight sets, he said he was reaping the benefits.

"It's hard work, you know. Any player is going to tell you the same. You have to dedicate your time to your career to analysing your game, what you can do better," he said.

"My game is based on the baseline and I have to run a lot and be fit. I try to get at the net more and put some aggressive (play) in the game, but the base is there. So I have to have good footwork. As I said, the last four, five weeks, the fitness was the priority and now it's paying off."

Djokovic has played Federer four times in grand slam semi-finals, managing to defeat him en-route to his 2008 Australian Open success and also in last year's US Open. He holds no fear of the Swiss champion, but also believes he has everything to play for.

"I have nothing to lose playing Federer, who's the title defender here," Djokovic said.

"We all know everything about him. I have to believe in myself in order to win that match. I feel like I'm starting to play my best tennis in last five, six months. I have more experience on the court. Physically I'm fit. I'm hitting the ball better and I have more variety in the game. I was hungry for more success and probably that's an explanation."

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