Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Official Australian Open match report - Round 2

Here is the Australian Open's match report for Novak v Ivan Round 2 match.

There is a lot to be said for winning a Davis Cup final. When Rafael Nadal helped Spain win the historic trophy in 2004, he launched himself on to the world stage a superstar; when Novak Djokovic led Serbia to success last December, he apparently discovered the secret of King Midas.

Since he celebrated his team's win over France by shaving his head on the court (and good luck to him explaining the photos to his grandchildren in years to come: "Grandpa Nole, why does your head shine brighter than the trophy?"), Djokovic has played as if everything he touches will turn to gold. Well, it will eventually. Even though he was not at his brightest and best against Ivan Dodig of Croatia in the second round, he still came through unscathed 7-5, 6-7, 6-0, 6-2 and actually felt as fit as a flea after his three hours and 21 minutes on court. That was not bad for a chap who had the briefest of brief off-seasons and who had barely had a break since the end of 2010.

Djokovic, though, now feels that nothing can hurt him on a tennis court. His small country has been producing top players like a factory for the past few years - they know they are awfully good at tennis. But to win the Davis Cup, and win it on home soil, was beyond their wildest dreams.

"Maybe it's once chance in a lifetime to win it at home," he said. "We were all aware of the importance of that match, importance of having that final at home. The Davis Cup finals was just remarkable. It left a very short off‑season but because it was such a short resting period, I didn't lose the feeling of hitting the ball well. As soon as I started playing again tennis, I just feel comfortable on the court."

It was a good job that he felt comfortable because he had an awful lot of work to do against Dodig.
The Croat is an average sort of bloke - average height, average weight - the sort you could pass in the street and never notice. Indeed, the ATP's rankings computer has been steadfastly refusing him to notice him for years and only now, after seven full seasons as a professional, has he clambered far enough up the greasy pole to gain direct entry into a grand slam tournament. With his No.81 ranking clasped firmly in his hand, he marched through the doors of Melbourne Park determined to make the most of his chance. And for more than two hours against Djokovic, he did just that.

In order to deal with the explosive power of the world No.3's ground strokes, Dodig beat a tactical retreat. Standing anywhere near the baseline was not only unwise, it was downright dangerous. Taking a few steps back, he took a look at what Djokovic had to offer. And then he took a few more steps back. And then a few more. Had the match gone on much longer, he would have been standing in Geelong to rally with his rival.
This counterpunching approach brought two obvious results. The first was that Dodig, for all his lung bursting efforts, could not keep running forever and, sure enough, after a couple of sets the wheels started to come off Dodig's wagon. The second was that the poor television camera men could not keep up with the charging Croat. He covered acres of ground with every rally, sprinting from one side of the court to the other, back and forth, up and down, to stay level with Djokovic - and the cameras struggled to keep him in shot at all times.

Dodig's eye-popping effort started to get to Djokovic after a while. He went to serve for the second set and made a complete hash of it and, losing nine points on the bounce, he found himself heading towards a tiebreak. When Dodig won that decider, Djokovic looked mildly concerned but his brows soon unknitted when he realised that poor Dodig was knackered. The bubble had burst for the Croat and Djokovic was left in complete control of the match from then on.

The only slight problem for Djokovic now is that he has to play Viktor Troicki, his Davis Cup teammate, in the third round. And the Davis Cup may just have worked the same magic on him as it has on Djokovic because it was Troicki who won the final point for Serbia.

"Anytime I have a look at the last couple of points of Viktor's match," Djokovic said, "the last backhand winner, the celebrations that we had, the shaving heads, all these kind of things, it just brings the smiles and goosebumps. It's probably the best feeling I ever had in my life as a tennis player."

It is a feeling that could only be bettered by beating Troicki on Friday and going on to win the Australian Open. And what Djokovic would shave then would be anyone's guess.

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