Djokovic finally gets his Cincy

The tacky-looking flower pot from your grandmother’s Cincy parlor, known officially as the Rookwood Cup, features tennis balls nested in acanthus leaves.

It is arguably one of the least attractive trophies in tennis.

And yet, for Novak Djokovic on Sunday afternoon in Cincy, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Finally, in his sixth attempt in the final, the 31-year-old Serb won the Western & Southern Open.

It had long been the only one of the nine Masters 1000 titles to elude him, making his Hall-of-Fame set of hardware short that final piece.

But after a 6-4, 6-4 win over seven-time champion Roger Federer, it was his.

Djokovic’s 31st overall Masters 1000 series title means that he is the only player to own all nine of the current Masters 1000 titles.

(Federer is short Monte Carlo and Rome. And since he has now habitually skipped the clay-court season, it likely will be ever thus. Rafael Nadal has yet to win Miami and the Paris Indoor (as well as Shanghai; but he won the fall indoor event in Madrid that preceded Shanghai in that Masters 1000 slot).

The Serb had waited five long years, since he won the Monte Carlo Masters for the first time in 2013, to take No. 9.

Even through the most dominant stretch tennis the game has ever seen, when Djokovic won just about everything there was to win and was, at one time, the holder of all four Grand Slam titles concurrently, that flower pot had cruelly eluded him.

Nine is nice

If you’ve been watching Djokovic play through the last couple of months, the increasing levels of his form, fire and confidence have been evident from week to week.

Cincy
Djokovic won the eighth of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments in 2013. He had to wait five long years to complete the set.

That he won Wimbledon wasn’t just up to him, of course. But the way he won it was very much up to him, as close to vintage Djokovic as he has been in a couple of years.

And perhaps that big, unexpected title allowed him to fly.

He’s had his tetchy moments. And while he probably shouldn’t be crushing his trusty rackets with impressionable young children watching from just a few feet away, that tetchiness comes with the complete top-shelf Djokovic package.

And this week, he seemed on a mission as he returned to Cincinnati for the first time since 2015.

He knows, from his experiences the last two years, that you can never assume you’ll have four or five more kicks at the can. His goal was clear.

“I was saying previously that during this week this trophy has been … a big motivation for me. But at the same time I tried not to think about the pressure of really making history too much, because I have had already some failed attempts,” Djokovic said during his press conference.

“Coming into today’s match, it wasn’t easy psychologically because I knew I lost to him every time I played him on this court. But at the same time, I liked my chances because I felt better and better as the tournament was progressing. It was by far the best performance of the week.”

Tough draw – and an extra match

Djokovic caught a break as he was in the same half as No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal. But Nadal pulled out of the tournament after winning the Rogers Cup in Toronto.

And it was the first time since 2006 that he didn’t benefit from a first-round bye in the 64-player draw because of his ranking. So if it was going to win it, he was going to have to win six matches.

Djokovic had his ups and downs through victories over Steve Johnson, Adrian Mannarino (coming back after losing the first set), No. 5 seed Grigor Dimitrov (rain-delayed overnight), Milos Raonic (another comeback three-setter) and No. 7 Marin Cilic (another three-setter) before he even got to Federer.

Cincy
Yep, he was pretty happy. (TennisTV.com)

Federer had beaten Djokovic in three of those five previous Cincy finals, all in straight sets.

(Andy Murray beat Djokovic in the other two, one on an injury retirement. In five finals, Djokovic had lost 10 sets and won none).

Very good Djokovic, sub-par Federer

Cincy
Djokovic’s eyes were as big as saucers as he zoned in on winning the last Masters 1000 event missing from his collection. (TennisTV)

It was the 46th meeting of their careers, but the first between Djokovic and Federer since the 2016 Australian Open.

They had been like two superstar ships passing in the night.

As Federer returned from a knee issue and started piling up more history, Djokovic was dealing with his elbow injury and, perhaps, a little bit of lassitude after that ridiculous stretch of brilliance between 2014 and 2016.

Right now, it is Djokovic who is rounding into form beautifully for the US Open. Federer, who skipped the clay-court season and had a good – not great – grass-court season before skipping Toronto last week, doesn’t appear to be in particularly good nick. It was still good enough to make the final. But the US Open is another level.

And the Swiss star definitely won the cranky contest on court Sunday.

Federer even received a code violation for an audible obscenity after a double fault and a forehand shank led to Djokovic breaking him, in the seventh game of the first set.

Cincy
Federer was peeved pretty much throughout the straight-sets loss to Djokovic in Cincinnati on Sunday – more at himself than anything else. (TennisTV.com)

Roger Federror

The break came after Federer had held serve precisely 100 consecutive times in Cincinnati, where the stadium court he is always scheduled on plays much quicker than the other courts, and where the conditions are optimal for him to hold serve.

Federer looked slow to get to some balls. He didn’t seem to react to some as quickly as you would expect. He missed too many returns.

And it was clear that he hadn’t found confidence in a forehand that had been erratic much of the week. In the end, he posted 39 unforced errors.

Late in the second set, with an open court in which to hit a winning forehand, Federer tried a crosscourt forehand drop shot. It was a shot he hit precisely because he didn’t have enough trust in his forehand at that moment. And he missed it wide. A game Federer had led 40-love ended up as the deciding break.

He was pretty mad at himself a lot of the time, as well as at some of the Djokovic fans sitting up in the bleachers who were, well, enthusiastically supporting their man.

(Fair’s fair. Usually Federer’s fans are the ones dispensing that treatment to his opponents nearly everywhere he goes. But even if the Federer fans far outnumbered the Djokovic supporters on this day, it was at least a fair fight).

For his part, Djokovic played solidly. It was enough. He didn’t play his best tennis all week either, but he fought at an all-star level. 

When the two arrived at the net, Federer was gracious, as he was during his runner-up speech and in press later.

Making history in Cincy

“Congratulations, Novak, on writing history today. Amazing effort, not just this week, not just today, but your whole career to get to this point. It’s an amazing achievement,” he said.

Cincy

“All these records that a player creates, at the end you’re going to all judge it all together, bundle it up and say, ‘Okay, what was the coolest thing you ever did?’ “This might be it for Novak besides winning all the Slams and all the other things he’s done already,” Federer said during his press conference.

“I think it’s extremely difficult to win a Masters 1000. These tournaments don’t come easy. You saw my performance today. It’s just a long week. It’s tough, gruelling. The best players are playing. You play against tough guys early on in the draw, so you don’t have much time to find your rhythm and actually almost work on your game throughout the week,” he added. “He’s done that maybe better than anybody. So it’s a great credit to him. I think it’s an amazing accomplishment.”

Djokovic acknowledged that Federer “probably didn’t feel his best.” But after losing to him three times on that very court, he was happy to take it.

“It’s obviously a very special moment, it’s the first time that I get to stand here wth the winning trophy in Cincinnati. I played five finals before, and most of those finals I lost to this great man,” he said. And then he joked. “Roger, thanks for your kind words, and thank you for letting me win once here in Cincinnati.”

Djokovic’s ranking stood at No. 22 at the French Open, just a little over two months ago. He was No. 25 in the race to the year-end finals in London.

On Monday, he’ll be No. 6 in the regular rankings and No. 3 in the race.

Jelena Djokovic’s grandfather robbed

(Note: the news comes from Serbian media reports. We have no additional information).

Scary news out of Serbia where Miloslav Radisavljevic, the grandfather of Novak Djokovic’s wife Jelena, was attacked in his home by two masked at 3 a.m. Thursday and eventually taken to a field several miles away.

Depending on the report, Radisavljevic is either 80, or 85.

According to Serbian media outlet Blic, Radisavljevic was found Thursday, almost by chance, by workers repairing a power grid. He reportedly was handcuffed to a power line in a corn field hear his home in Ljig.

Originally, municipality president Dragan Lazarevic described it as an “attempted kidnapping”, according to Blic and other Serbian media.

According to another media outlet, Srbija Danas (we have no knowledge of how reputable it is), Lazarevic said a relative in Monte Carlo reported that messages had been received, demanding a ransom of 2 million euros.

In the end, the police classified it as a robbery. There were no visible injuries, although obviously the elderly man was in shock.

Blic reports that Radisavljevic was robbed of 26,000 Serbian dinars (about $260 US) and a cell phone. When Radisavljevic wouldn’t comply, that’s when they dragged him out of his home.

The investigation and search for the perps is ongoing.

Djokovic finds his champion’s roar as he wins Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON – If we’ve learned anything over the last few years in tennis, it’s that we write champions off at our own peril.

Maybe it’s because, as mere mortals, as much as we think we know, we have only the most basic grasp of what makes them tick.

We can hardly imagine what drives them to do extraordinary things. And we tend to underestimate how extraordinarily good they are at what they do, because they make the unfathomable look so routine, so often.

So, at the first sign of vulnerability, the first moment they drop from that celestial plane for even a second, we jump to conclusions. They’re done. Who’s next? 

But here’s the thing about these rare human beings.

Assuming good health, assuming desire, they never stop having things to prove to others, to themselves. There are always new goals to reach. There are always reasons to compete.

You don’t just stop being a champion. until you’re just too old to do it any more. Champions are tested, with injuries and life getting in the way and crises of confidence. But they never go away.

And so, as it was with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer before him, it was only a question of time before Novak Djokovic found his mojo again.

roar

A fourth title, and a renaissance

The 31-year-old from Serbia won Wimbledon Sunday afternoon, defeating a running-on-fumes Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 to win his 13th major, his fourth title at the All England Club.

Given Anderson’s back-to-back marathon wins in the quarterfinals and semis, given he was in his first Wimbledon final, the South African’s battle was uphill from the start.

But it was always Djokovic’s match to win. Because of his “quality”, as he likes to put it.

Step by step through this packed portion of the tennis season, Djokovic arrived on the final Sunday at Wimbledon more than ready. The hard lessons of the early part of 2018 were learned, and added to the book of knowledge.

His anger at the way he went out of the French Open in the quarterfinals was visible evidence that he not only wanted to get back to top form, he finally now believed he had it inside him to get there.

There were moments, he admitted, when he had doubts.

And if there were a few stumbles along the way – the loss at Queen’s Club was one such bobble – the Wimbledon draw was constructed beautifully for a renaissance run.

In the end, if the worst problem you have going through a draw is a lack of respect in terms of court assignments, or a couple of extra sets to play on a scheduled off day, you’re in good shape.

Even steps, right to the top

When he arrived in SW19, Djokovic had enough winning tennis in him that he was ready to give early-round opponents Tennys Sandgren and Horacio Zeballos beatdowns of vintage Djokovic quality.

And he did.

When he ran into the great British hope in the absence of Andy Murray, No. 21 seed Kyle Edmund, he was battle-tested enough to take on the capable Edmund – and the partisan British crowd.

To draw Kei Nishikori in a Grand Slam quarterfinal on grass, at this stage of the Japanese star’s own return from injury, well, that was just right.

Djokovic’s 13-2 record against Nishikori – the last 12 in a row – wasn’t only a number. It was a mathematical calculation of just how well his game matches up against him. 

A semi that was really a final

By the time he reached Nadal, Djokovic could smell the finish line.

And the winning conditions were there. The roof was closed for their late-starting Friday semifinal. Advantage Djokovic. They stopped for the 11 p.m. curfew with Djokovic having just won the third set, leading two sets to one. Advantage Djokovic.

They resumed on Saturday with the roof closed again. Check.

The match itself was of such ludicrously high quality, it was the de facto final. But maybe the fact that it wasn’t actually the final also worked in Djokovic’s favor. 

Finals nerves are different nerves. And the Serb’s finals nerves had not been tested. He hadn’t played in a Grand Slam final since the 2016 US Open. He hadn’t won a major since completing the non-calendar Grand Slam with his first career French Open title in 2016.

Djokovic hadn’t played Nadal on grass since he defeated him in the 2011 Wimbledon final – his first Wimbledon title. But he had played him close enough a couple of months ago, in the Rome semis on Nadal’s beloved clay, to know he was in the conversation.

He played brillantly. So did Nadal. In the end, a matter of a few points here and there, Djokovic performed. And he found more belief.

No Fed in the final

In the end, on the final Sunday, there was no Federer across the net. There was a Wimbledon rookie, and a bone-weary one at that.

The first two sets were a combination of Djokovic’s virtuosity, Anderson’s jitters, and the South African’s heavy legs.

But Anderson got a second wind in the third set, and held multiple set points to turn a lopsided final into a competitive affair. He had opportunities to create doubt in Djokovic’s mind, to test the renewed confidence is still fragile, still a work in progress.

In those moments, Djokovic passed the final test.

He played those points like the champion he has always been, knows how to be. He swatted away that challenge as a man with 12 major titles on his mantel should.

During this fortnight, Djokovic started to remember who he was. Who he is.

Wwhen it was over, he munched on a double helping of the Centre Court turf.

And when he heard his young son Stefan calling for his Papa, the youngster finally allowed onto Centre Court as the match was ending, the circle was complete.

The US Open awaits

Nadal’s Wimbledon was his best since that 2011 final against Djokovic. His spring and summer have been fantastic, and there’s no reason to think he won’t carry that momentum into the second half of the season.

Federer, on the other hand, has shown moments of frailty in the last four months, beginning with the narrow loss to Juan Martin del Potro at Indian Wells.

After skipping the clay-court season, he put himself into some tight situations on his favored grass. Some, he squeezed out of. Some – like the squandered lead against Anderson  – he didn’t. 

There have been moments where the Swiss may well have questioned who he is. And that’s a product of the five-and-six  year difference between himself, and the other two champions. But we’ve established this already: do not write him off.

Summer time is hard-court time. And that’s Djokovic time, his best surface as Federer’s is grass, and Nadal’s is clay.

If Djokovic has won the US Open just twice, he also has been a finalist five other times. And he has done no worse than the semifinals since 2006.

Now that he has has his voice back, it may well be ready to roar again.

Frantic Friday at Wimbledon – Choices, Choices, Choices

It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.

But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.

Chapter 5 is called Choices, Choices, Choices

WIMBLEDON – We’ll have to assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no way for the All England Club to get special dispensation from the Merton Borough Council to break curfew – just this once.

Because a 1 a.m. finish for Djokovic vs. Nadal Friday night into Saturday would have been a better solution for all concerned.

The winner of the match could have slept in Saturday, perhaps had a light hit, a lot of treatment. And then, on Sunday, play the final.

As it is, one of them had to play late Friday, relatively early Saturday – and again on Sunday, where he will face the equally exhausted Kevin Anderson.

Anderson spent over 11 hours on court from Wednesday through Friday, just in two extra-time matches against John Isner and Roger Federer.

11:03 p.m.: the end

choices

If the All England Club had the option somehow, and didn’t exercise it, it did two of its illustrious former champions a disservice.

As it was, they returned to the court just 14 hours later to finish where they left off Friday night, when Djokovic squeezed out the third-set tiebreak to lead two sets to one.

The decision to start their semifinal – which kicked off around 8 p.m. because of the length of the Anderson-Isner marathon – under the roof was up to the referee, Andrew Jarrett.

It made sense, because there wasn’t going to be much daylight left, and better to take the time to close the roof and get the air-conditioning systems adjusted during the break after the first match.

It was going to have to happen anyway at some point, and time was precious.

The decision to resume on a beautiful, sunny Saturday with the roof closed was also Jarrett’s. Except, if both players agreed to play “outdoors”, with the roof open, at what is an outdoor tournament, it could have been changed even if it wasn’t a hard and fast rule.

One wanted to, one did not, is the general consensus although there’s no official confirmation from any of the parties involved at this point. 

No. 1 Court option not an option

There certainly is precedent at Wimbledon for a men’s semifinal to be played on No. 1 Court.

We tend to forget all the years when rain played havoc with the schedule, often threatening to prevent the tournament from finishing on time. And a couple of times, it actually did.

But as former finalist Andy Roddick pointed out Friday night on Twitter, he’s been there.

Once he was moved over to finish. On the second occasion, he played the entire match there.

Roddick celebrates after beating Mario Ancic on No. 1 Court on the second Friday of Wimbledon 2004.

Both times, he won, and ended up losing to Roger Federer in the final.

But Djokovic vs. Nadal in 2018 is not Roddick vs. Ancic, or Roddick vs. Johansson a dozen years ago.

No offense to those two fine players.

There was virtually no chance in Hades the tournament would move Nadal and Djokovic to No. 1 Court to finish their match.

Beyond the television considerations, the players likely would have both raised a ruckus.

It would have eliminated the roof-or-no-roof choice, though.

Had the second semifinal featured, say, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov, you can speculate it might have been a different story. Had the women’s final not featured Williams, it might have been another story again.

Maybe.

The women pay the price – again

The way the schedule panned out, part of it no one’s fault, is a tough one for the men.

But it’s an even tougher one for the women.

Seven-time champion Serena Williams and two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber will reprise their 2016 final.

choices
Serena Williams beat Angelique Kerber in a final women’s final in 2016, the last time Williams played. They started on time.

Except they had no clue when they would play. They couldn’t be sure when to eat, when to warm up, when to do anything.

And that was especially key because of the lack of a fifth-set tiebreak for the men.

At precisely 1 p.m. Saturday, when they were due to walk on Centre Court with their flower bouquets, Nadal was just wrapping up the fourth set against Djokovic.

Didn’t it seem as though we were beyond this back in the 1990s, when they finally did away with the facetiously-named Super Saturday at the US Open?

For a couple of decades, the women were an afterthought. They were the white creme between the two Oreo cookies as CBS dictated they be scheduled between the two men’s semifinals on the second Saturday.

Mercifully, that finally ended.

Serena and her sister Venus had everything to do with this when, back in 2001, it was decided that they could headline a night session with their significant star power.

The end of CBS’s longstanding contract as the event’s main broadcaster also allowed for more flexibility.

And then, the fact that someone finally decided that having the men play best-of-five sets on the Saturday, and come right back on the Sunday afternoon and play another best-of-five sets for a major title didn’t make for optimal tennis.

Well, maybe they considered that. Maybe.

Super Saturday to the max

The epic moment in Super Saturday history came on Sept. 8, 1984. Every match went the distance and every player on court that day was a champion.

First off was a legends’ match that began at 11 a.m. when Stan Smith defeated John Newcombe. Ironically, CBS had requested that extra match because the previous year’s Super Saturday had featured three blowouts.

Then came the first men’s semi: Ivan Lendl defeated Pat Cash 3–6, 6–3, 6–4, 6–7 (5–7), 7–6 (7–4). (Thank goodness for the fifth-set tiebreak).

Then, finally, the legendary Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova came on to play the women’s singles final.

Navratilova won that one, 4–6, 6–4, 6–4.

Then, closing in on 7:30 p.m., bitter rivals John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors finally took the court for the second men’s semi.

McEnroe won that one, 6–4, 4–6, 7–5, 4–6, 6–3. It all ended at 11:16 p.m.

Women’s doubles also a casualty

With Nadal and Djokovic taking priority on Centre Court, one of the other finals was bumped off.

Of course, it was the women’s doubles final between Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova and Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke.

choices

They had been scheduled after the women’s singles final and the best-of-five sets men’s doubles final.

That’s long enough to wait (and with the men’s doubles also not having a deciding-set tiebreak, who knows how long).

But with the change, they have been relegated to “Court to be determined – not before 5 p.m.” status along with the far less consequential legends match featuring Thomas Enqvist, Thomas Johansson, Tommy Haas and Mark Philippoussis.

So they don’t know when they’re going to play. And they don’t know where.

It’s thin soup. Even given the extraordinary circumstances, you feel somehow that the tournament could have made better choices.

Frantic Friday at Wimbledon: The Sportsmen

It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.

But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.

Chapter 2 is called The Sportsmen.

WIMBLEDON – When it was over, and the South African Kevin Anderson became the first from his country to reach a Wimbledon men’s singles final in nearly a century, so many of his thoughts were for his opponent.

His muted reaction after the marathon six-hour, 36 minute, 7-6(6) 6-7(5) 6-7(9) 6-4 26-24 was surely, in large part, sheer exhaustion and disbelief.

But it was also a respectful and remarkable show of respect towards Isner.

“Just playing like that, really tough on both of us. At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us, but somebody has to win,” Anderson said during a thoughtful interview right after he came off the court.

“John is a great guy and I really feel for him because if I was on the opposite side, I don’t know how I could take playing for that long.”

Anderson apologized for not “seeming more excited”, which under the circumstances was completely unnecessary.

“To be honest, he’s really pushed me throughout my career as well. He’s had such a great career. I’ve pushed myself harder because of some of the successes he’s had,” Anderson added.

Isner a gracious loser

After it was over, and Isner saluted the crowd, he did what only a few runners-up do. He went over to the stands, to the fans who eventually filed in to fill the Centre Court by the end, and signed autographs.

sportsmen

“I competed hard. That’s what it comes down to. That’s what I have to be proud of. It stinks to lose, but I gave it everything I had out there. I just lost to someone who is just a little bit better at the end,” Isner said.

Just as Anderson credited Isner for pushing him, Isner did the same.

“Obviously a very good player, a contemporary of mine. We’ve been playing together for the longest time now. He’s someone that I have so much respect for because he works very hard at what he does. He’s someone that pushes me, I think. Maybe he’d say the same about myself. I mean, we’re about the same age. We’ve been doing this together for a long time,” Isner said.

“I see how professional he is. When I see him doing all the things that he’s doing, I think that’s a very good thing for me. It allows me to look at that and keep going, try to even work harder than he does, so… He’s one of the most professional players on tour. There’s a reason why he’s playing so well right now, because he does all the right things.”

(BBC screenshot)

Nadal and Djokovic: fan appreciation

The second semifinal got under way shortly after 8 p.m.

And despite the test of will and endurance of the first semifinal, Centre Court was all but full for the start.

Part of it may have been due to Wimbledon’s ticket resale system. And some of it was surely due to the fact that Nadal vs. Djokovic was the most anticipated matchup on the day.

Anticipating there might be some spots available for the second men’s semifinal, the lineup at the resale queue snaked along during the latter part of the Isner-Anderson match. (BBC screenshot)

If the fans who just couldn’t take any more sitting decided to leave, they could scan out at the exit and the ticket could be resold to a fan with a grounds pass or No. 1 Court ticket for just 15 pounds.

The lineup stretched and wiggled a long distance, during the latter stages of the Anderson-Isner match. And no doubt some of the patrons got a bonus trip to Centre Court they couldn’t have imagined when they entered the club many, many hours before.

But those fans – unless they have a Centre Court ticket for the women’s final on Saturday, won’t be able to see the dénouement.

And whether Djokovic and Nadal were aware of this, when they walked off the court for good shortly after 11 p.m. Friday night as play was suspended, they acknowledged the perseverance of the fans who stood by them until the very end.

First Nadal walked off, applauding the fans as he left. Given he’d just dropped a crucial set he had every shot at winning, that was extra.

Then Djokovic gave them the thumbs up, and went over to sign some autographs.

The circumstances were extreme for all parties involved in this crazy, insane day.

How great that it brought out the sportsmen in all of them.

 

 

Men’s quarters spark court assignment debate

WIMBLEDON – It wouldn’t be a Grand Slam without a good, old-fashioned debate about court assignments and scheduling and who’s being snubbed and who’s being given preferential treatment.

And so, as we arrive at the second Wednesday of Wimbledon and the men’s quarterfinals, we see three-time champion Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.

With that, we also see seven-time champion Roger Federer “relegated” to No. 1 Court for the first time in the tournament.

Actually, for the first time in three  years.

(Relegated is such a relative term here, as it is at Roland Garros where Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen are considered virtual co-equals. Still, it’s a status thing that seems to mean a lot to some people).

Second trip to Centre Court for Djokovic

assignment
Djokovic has definitely been hard done by at times with the scheduling. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The way people have been whinging, you’d think Djokovic had been turned away at the door to the celebrated Wimbledon Centre Court for failing to bring a jacket and tie.

That said, it’s fairly evident over the last few years that despite his sterling resumé, he’s rarely gotten the top-two treatment accorded here to Federer and, less defendably, to Nadal.

The Serb was on Centre Court on Saturday for his third-round match against Brit Kyle Edmund, after being relegated to No. 2 Court for his second round.

Until Manic Monday, there was never a choice to be made between Federer and Djokovic in terms of courts assignments. In opposite sections of the draw, they were playing on different days.

The choice, then, has been between Djokovic and Nadal – currently the No. 1 ranked player in the world, even if he is the No. 2 seed here because of the weighted grass-court seedings.

Djokovic is currently ranked No. 21 and seeded No. 12.

Nadal on Centre every match

Nadal has won out each time there was a choice to be made between the two. The Spaniard’s match against Juan Martin del Potro will be the fifth straight time he has been on Centre Court.

And the quarterfinals are the last opportunity to play anywhere else but Centre Court.

Nadal warms up on Court 15 Wednesday morning, ahead of his match later in the day against Juan Martin del Potro. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Djokovic said, after he squeezed his Monday victory over Khachanov in under the wire, that he had heard his last-on match was likely to be cancelled had the prior match between Kevin Anderson and Gaël Monfils had gone to a fifth set.

Meanwhile, a mixed doubles match involving Brit Jamie Murray and his partner Victoria Azarenka was played on Centre Court, with the roof closed and the lights switched to finish the third set.

It could all have been even worse. The absence of Andy Murray, who is pretty much an automatic (perhaps even more than Federer) to get a Centre Court slot made life a little easier this year for a lot of people.

Mid-match relocation rare

Djokovic dealt with that last year as well. The tournament wouldn’t move his Monday match, delayed by rain under the Centre Court roof to finish it.

(Tournaments rarely relocate a match that’s already in progress to another court. But it does happen. Notably in 2014 here, Genie Bouchard’s first-round match against Magdalena Rybarikova on Court 12 was moved to Centre Court, under the roof, on a day where just about everything was wiped out by rain.

There was a specific scenario involved there. The winner was to play Brit Johanna Konta. And they needed a Centre Court slot for her. And that was going to be difficult to manage had the second-round match been delayed a day, because of the other high-profile matches that needed to be scheduled. So yes, it’s pretty much all about television).

Last year’s stubbornness about not moving Djokovic’s match meant he had to finish up Tuesday. And on Wednesday, he had to retire in his quarterfinal match against Tomas Berdych. He didn’t play the rest of the season because of his elbow injury.

Luckily, that repeat scenario was avoided. Because Djokovic would have been right to raise a huge stink if it did.

assignment
The three kings of tennis practiced side by side by side on Sunday at Aorangi Park. But for the actual match scheduling, Djokovic is often the odd man out.

Federer to No. 1 Court, TV follows

So the seven-time champion Federer therefore led things off on No. 1 Court Wednesday for the first time in the tournament, facing No. 8 seed Anderson of South Africa.

Generally, the BBC’s main station is the spot for Centre Court action, while BBC2 has No. 1 Court.

Except … as Wednesday’s coverage began, Djokovic and Nishikori were nowhere to be seen on BBC1. The BBC lunchtime news was all over its coverage of U.S. president Donald Trump and other world leaders in Brussels, and didn’t switch back to the tennis until about 1:50 p.m., when they showed the two players walking onto court (50 minutes earlier)

After that, Federer’s match was switched to BBC1, while Nishikori and Djokovic was being shown on BBC2. 

It was all a very delicate dance.

The last time Federer played on No. 1 Court was against Gilles Simon of France the same round  – the quarterfinals – three years ago. Djokovic beat Federer in that 2015 final. 

Switching the matchups

Nadal vs. del Potro is the “fan favorite” match of the day, with both players having huge followings. So Federer was moved, risking the wrath of the all-powerful Centre Court debenture holders.

It also led to some scrambling as Federer fans who had tickets for Centre Court assuming their favorite would be there, trying to swap them out for No. 1 Court.

Meanwhile, the generally accepted scheduling plan that the two players who meet in the next round should play at approximately the same time wherever possible, was turned upside down to make this change.

The winner of Federer-Anderson will play the winner of the match between Milos Raonic and John Isner. But they play one after the other on Court 1.

Same scenario on Centre Court, where the winner of Djokovic-Nishikori will play the winner of Nadal-del Potro. And yet, they follow each other.

In this configuration, Federer or Anderson, and Djokovic or Nishikori will both benefit from some extra down time before Friday’s semifinals.  

The later the better for the Americas

The later time slots are more coveted by television in North and South America – which applies to Raonic, Isner and del Potro.

1 p.m. is 8 a.m. in New York and Toronto, 9 a.m. in Buenos Aires and 5 a.m. in Los Angeles. So the later the better, as far as the television rights holders in those countries. But the same is somewhat true in Europe, where the early evening match can spill over into prime-time blocks.

So there are no correct answers to this puzzle. Even though it’s typically not about the “best tennis matchup” or about fairness to all players.

But in the end, everyone will play and win, somewhere. Someone’s nose will always be put out of joint. and Isner and Raonic are probably happy just to still be playing on the second Wednesday of Wimbledon.

They’d probably play on the Centre Court roof, if they were asked to.

Wimbledon ’18: Men’s singles draw analysis

WIMBLEDON – The pre-draw speculation on the men’s side of the game these days is big business.

With so many players who were at the summit not long ago having dropped in the rankings because of injuries, the early-round traps have increased exponentially.

Those traps are more than somewhat in theory, because those injured players who have taken a long time to return to form are not yet at their peak levels. At the same time, you know what they’re capable of on any given day – especially on the big stages.

Among the dangerous floaters of interest for this year’s Wimbledon were Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Gaël Monfils.

And the draw gods were not kind.

Murray vs. Paire

Murray, who as of Friday wasn’t 100 per cent decided if his surgically repaired hip was up to the rigours of best-of-five set tennis, drew the dangerous if mercurial Benoit Paire.

It seems, though, that he’ll give it a go.

Paire, silver hair and all, should have beaten Roger Federer in the first round in Stuttgart with a smidgen more belief and focus. That one could be enthralling.

Wawrinka vs. Dimitrov

As for Wawrinka, his return from knee surgeries has taken a whole lot longer than he would have hoped. His true ranking at the moment is a shocking No. 225.

And his draws so far during the grass-court season have not helped: Sam Querrey in the second round at Queen’s, and … Murray in the first round of Eastbourne after both took wild cards to get in more match play.

Wawrinka has been a Wimbledon quarterfinalist twice. And in 2015, he was unlucky not to go further as he lost 11-9 in the fifth set to Richard Gasquet.

His luck didn’t get better Friday,.

The draw gods decreed that he play 6 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first round.

Not only is he 2-4 against Dimitrov in his career, he’s 0-4 in their last four meetings.

As for Monfils .. same story. The flashy Frenchman will square off with countryman Richard Gasquet in the first round. He leads that longtime rivalry 9-7.

The last two times they met came on grass, in Halle and at Eastbourne last year. They split the matches, and both were very close.

Monfils played just three non-clay tournaments this season, until he finally surfaced on grass in Antalya, Turkey this week as a wild card.

He pulled off two tough wins, and was only a few points away from a straight-sets win over No. 1 seed Adrian Mannarino before finally ceding 6-4 in the third set in the semifinals.

But … he tweaked his knee. Monfils’s knees are not great under ideal circumstances. So we’ll see what the next few days bring.

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No, Gaël Monfils wasn’t taking a nap early in the third set in Antalya Friday. He slid and messed up his left knee, although it may not have been quite as bad as first appeared. (TennisTV.com)

Other first-round matches to watch

[12] Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Tennys Sandgren (USA)

Whither Sandgren, who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth in recent weeks?

The American, who was a surprise quarterfinalist at the Australian Open, lost in the second round of qualifying at Wimbledon a year ago.

His fortunes have changed, as he broke into the top 50 in April. 

analysisSandgren lost in the first round of five of the six clay-court tournaments he played this spring.

The exception was Geneva, where he posted two victories. But he hasn’t been seen since. 

He had entered some events, but he hasn’t played a single point on grass while Djokovic found some of his trademark swagger – and game – as he reached the final at Queen’s Club.

The Serb couldn’t ask for a better opener. And his section of the draw is inviting, with Dominic Thiem potentially looming in the fourth round.

[26] Denis Shapovalov (CAN) vs. Jérémy Chardy (FRA)

For Shapovalov, the 2016 junior Wimbledon singles champion, this second grass-court season is proving a challenge.

He lost in the first round of Stuttgart to Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India, ranked No. 169. And he lost in the first round of Queen’s Club in two tiebreaks to big lefty-serving Gilles Muller.

That’s one tough little section.

Finally, as the No. 3 seed, he posted up a three-set victory in Eastbourne over American Jared Donaldson, only to lose to Mischa Zverev in straight sets in his next match.

His opponent, Chardy, is playing the best tennis of his life at age 31.

He’s 12-2 on grass this season with a win at the Surbiton Challenger, a loss to Gasquet in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch final and a loss to Djokovic in the Queen’s semi.

It is going to be a big challenge for Shapovalov. And he’s in an absolutely loaded little section of the draw, too.

[24] Kei Nishikori (JPN) vs. [Q] Christian Harrison (USA)

The former top-five player still isn’t close to the form he displayed before a wrist injury took him out for the latter part of 2018.

And what of Harrison, whose story we chronicled on tennis.life

This will be his Wimbledon debut and while it wasn’t an ideal draw, it will at least be a matchup in which he can use his speed, and not be served off the court.

He’ll have a lot of folks rooting for him, too.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA) vs. Mischa Zverev (GER)

This one will be as close to old-school grass-court tennis as you’re likely to get, with both players willing and keen to serve-and-volley and move forward.

Potential round-of-16 matchups

[1] Roger Federer (SUI) vs. [16] Borna Coric (CRO)
[8] Kevin Anderson (RSA) vs. [11] Sam Querrey (USA)
[3] Marin Cilic (CRO) vs. [13] Milos Raonic (CAN)
[6] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs. [9] John Isner (USA)

[7] Dominic Thiem (AUT) vs. [12] Novak Djokovic (SRB)
[4] Alexander Zverev (GER) vs. [15] Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
[5] Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) vs. [10] David Goffin (BEL)
[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. [14] Diego Schwartzman (ARG)

Potential quarterfinals

Roger Federer vs. Anderson/Querrey
Cilic /Raonic vs. Isner/Dimitrov
Zverev /Kyrgios vs. Djokovic
Nadal vs. Del Potro

Upsets and revivals

There are some highly-ranked players who have made surprisingly little noise in recent month. And you’d think some of them will not make their seeding.

Then again, when it comes Slam time, so many players will rise to the occasion.

analysis

Jack Sock, the No. 18 seed, is in the throes of a mighty slump in 2018. While you wouldn’t expect him to lose to Matteo Berrettini in the first round, this might be the tournament where he can start getting on a roll.

He has a friendly section where his power will be a plus. The highest seed in it is No. 10 David Goffin, who similarly has been rather quiet of late and played just one grass-court match coming in.

No. 28 seed Filip Krajinovic of Serbia has not played since Miami – that’s more than three months now. He has entered a lot of tournaments, and pulled out of every one and were it not Wimbledon, you probably wouldn’t expect to even see him here.

He’ll have to be careful, though. If Krajinovic is not fully fit, he could end up with a “Mischa Zverev” fine for failing to take the late withdrawal money and remaining in the draw.

No. 17 seed Lucas Pouille also is struggling this season. And in wild card Denis Kudla, he faces a player in the first round fully in form on the grass and one who loves playing on it.

Top half on Monday

As it’s tradition for the defending champion to be the first to walk out on famed Centre Court, Monday at 1 p.m., so will the rest of the top of the draw follow suit along with Federer.

Among the Monday matches to keep an eye on: Federer vs. Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic, whom he defeated in straight sets in the second round a year ago.

Monfils vs. Gasquet will be another one, along with Dimitrov vs. Wawrinka. 

Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 20-year-old Greek player, is seeded at a major for the first time at No. 31 – in only his fifth career Grand Slam main draw. So far, he has one victory at this level, at the French Open last month against Carlos Taberner.

analysis

Two years ago, he was fighting Shapovalov for a spot in the junior boys’ final in one of the best junior boys’ matches we’ve ever seen on grass – if not the best. He was just a couple of points away from winning it, and went on to take the junior boys’ doubles title with Kenneth Raisma of Estonia, over Shapovalov and countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime in the final.

And look at them now.

Tsitsipas gets French qualifier Grégoire Barrere in the first round, and he’s in Dimitrov’s section of the draw.

Novak Djokovic takes wild card into Queen’s Club

All that analysis and speculation about Novak Djokovic skipping the grass-court season can now be consigned to the trash.

The 31-year-old Serb has taken a wild card into the Queen’s Club tournament.

He was given what’s called an “A+ wild card”, because he is on the ATP Tour 500 “premier player list”. The tournament still has two wild cards to hand out.

Djokovic doesn’t play grass-court warmup events too often.

It will be the first time Djokovic has played Queens’ Club since 2010, when he lost his second match to Xavier Malisse of Belgium. 

He reached the final in 2008, losing to Rafael Nadal after defeating Janko Tipsarevic, Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian to get there. And then, the following year, he chose Halle and reached the final there.

Since 2010, Djokovic had only played once. He took a late wild card into the smaller Eastbourne event last year, the week before Wimbledon, and won that.

“Grass is very special”

Here’s the quote from the press release, in which Djokovic speaks in perfect sentences, remembers the brand-new sponsor’s name, mentions his previous tournaments and even enumerates the members of his staff who will be with him.

(Press-release quotes are an art form unto themselves, aren’t they?)

 ‘I am very excited to be playing the Fever-Tree Championships again. I have happy memories of reaching the final at The Queen’s Club 10 years ago and also winning the doubles title. The atmosphere is always great and I am looking forward to playing in front of the British crowd again. After the exciting events in Rome and Paris, I’m ready for new challenges. Grass is very special, it is the rarest of surfaces so I’m happy I’ll have the opportunity to compete at this strong tournament, which will also be a great preparation for Wimbledon. Marian Vajda and Gebhard Phil-Gritsch will be with me in London, and this makes me happy.’

He did indeed win the Queen’s Club doubles title in 2010, paired with Jonathan Erlich of Israel. They won match tiebreaks in their last four matches to take it. 

It is, surprisingly, the only doubles title of his career, although he doesn’t play that often.

Big-time field

Roger Federer may be in Halle, Germany next week. But all eyes will be on the venerable Queen’s Club, which has put together a tremendous field this year.

Djokovic joins French Open champion Nadal, Andy Murray (hopefully), Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka.

Also in the field are Kevin Anderson, David Goffin and Grigor Dimitrov.

In all (barring the inevitable withdrawals), six of the top 10 and 11 of the top 20 will be on hand, as well as Djokovic, Nick Kyrgios and Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic. 

British lefty Cameron Norrie also received a wild card.

Change of heart

Much bandwidth was frittered away in the wake of Djokovic’s dramatic press conference, and rather vague response following his loss to Marco Cecchinato at the French Open.

It was interpreted by many as being some sort of definitive statement that he was seriously considering skipping Wimbledon. 

Faced with the automatic and inevitable question from the British press about the grass – and in a state where he might well have wanted to throw all of his rackets into the Seine – his answer was succinct:

We Tweeted at the time that it was in all likelihood an automated response to the question he (and all the other top players) get from the British press every year, once they’ve lost in Paris.

Given that Djokovic is one of the rare top players who most often doesn’t play any of the warmup events, he gets a question about whether he will have a change of schedule every year. And that’s likely what he thought he was answering.

That turned out to be the case.

After a few days to cool off and turn the page on the defeat, and having played some very good tennis in Paris, he’s hopping back in the saddle.

Djokovic was unlikely to skip a Grand Slam. There are obligations to his sponsors and all sorts of other factors. 

Plus, he’s a three-time Wimbledon champion.

Djokovic runs the gamut of emotions in shock loss

PARIS – The story of unlikely French Open semifinalist Marco Cecchinato will go on.

So there’s plenty of time to dissect and digest that over the next few days.

But what of Novak Djokovic, who had every right to believe he, not an unseeded, No. 74-ranked opponent in only his second career main draw in Paris, would take the court Friday against Dominic Thiem?

Instead, the Serb is going home after a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 7-6 (11) loss that ran the gamut of emotions.

For three hours and 26 minutes, the 31-year-old Serb showed all of what makes his fans worship him so, and some of what his detractors reproach him for.

It was compelling, can’t-turn-away drama and, at its best, it was brilliant tennis.

“Any defeat is difficult in the Grand Slams, especially the one that, you know, came from months of buildup. And I thought I had a great chance to get at least a step further, but wasn’t to be. That’s the way it is,” Djokovic said.

Opportunities lost to go five

gamut
Djokovic’s emotions came close to boiling over at times, with a couple of physical niggles and, mostly, an 0-2 set deficit early.

The 2016 French Open champion was so close to putting the match into a fifth set. And, since Cecchinato had won the first two sets and was losing momentum by the moment, you liked his chances.

There were moments, especially in that fourth set, that he was channelling peak Djokovic so nearly, you could almost close your eyes and remember exactly how he did it back when he was nigh-on unbeatable.

His opponent forced him to get to that level, clearly unafraid to win and seemingly unabashed by the new, uncharted waters of his career.

But Djokovic is not there, not yet. Had he been even a little closer, he and Thiem would be squaring off on Friday.

He glimpsed his peak level in this match, numerous times. But he’s not yet at the point where he could sustain it long enough.

Djokovic was up 4-1 in that fourth set. Then he was up 5-2. And then he was up 5-3, 30-love when he tried to serve it out, only to be broken.

He was down a mini-break in the tiebreak. Then he was up one and playing as though he wasn’t going to make an unforced error the rest of the day. Then he was down a mini-break once more. He saved three match points. He had three set points of his own.

Crazy, high-wattage tennis

At 9-8, Djokovic’s third set point, the crowd thought he had it with a backhand down the line. But a great retrieval by Cecchinato had Djokovic set to hit another shot, a planned inside-out forehand with a little angle. Distracted momentarily by the crowd, Djokovic completely shanked it.

gamut
At least, he beseeched the crowd to be quiet in French!

His reaction was intense. He bemoaned the crowd, begging them (s’il vous plait) to shush. 

He wouldn’t get another chance. 

At 10-10, his forehand hit the top of the net and bounced back on his wide. At 11-11, Djokovic went for an inside-out forehand, but just missed it.

On match point No. 4, lacking a little lucidity, Djokovic tried a surprise serve-volley. But the serve wasn’t good enough. Cecchinato’s backhand down the line dropped softly in the corner, and the Italian fell softly to the court.

Djokovic immediately crossed over to the other side of the net and extended his arms to a player he’s friendly with, with whom he has practiced numerous times at the Piatti Academy in Italy and at home in Monte Carlo.

“Well, it’s never been hard for me to congratulate and hug an opponent that just we shared a great moment on the court. And the one that wongamut deserved to win the match, and that was Marco today,” he said afterwards.

“I know him well. He’s a great guy. He deserved. And that’s something everybody should do. On the other hand, when you walk off the court, of course, it’s a hard one to swallow.”

Despite having roared at the Court Suzanne-Lenglen crowd just minutes before, after they threw him off on that set point, Djokovic waved and patted his heart as he left. 

He really did do all the right things on the court after the loss, as he always does. Even though his head must have been burning, and his heart a little battered.

Physical woes

In the first set, Djokovic had the trainer come out and try to stretch out the neck and shoulder area that has given him trouble occasionally over the last little while.

gamut

If that seemed to loosen up eventually, he had another slight issue with his right calf.

gamutThe issues may well have affected him some. Although there probably isn’t a player left in the tournament in its second week who doesn’t have a few aches and pains.

“Just couple of things, but nothing major, really. I don’t want to talk about that,” he said later in his rather unusual press conference.

They didn’t affect his fight. And his scrambling in some key moments of the fourth set indicated that if they affected him physically, it was going to be mind over body.

Quick change of plans

Djokovic had no interest in sitting in the big press conference room after that loss. And so he took it upon himself to head in shortly after the loss, but to a much smaller room. There was no transcription service set up, no television cameras at the read, and room for only a few media who hustled to get there from the main room.

gamut

It’s actually surprising Djokovic even knew where Room 2 was, actually.

There was some criticism of the Serb’s decision, to be sure. 

But in this case, Djokovic’s revamping of the procedures, and the steam still coming out of his ears, spoke volumes about how he felt about the loss. Probably a lot more than another few hundreds words could have expressed.

It was out of character. And with all the occasions Djokovic has headed in and been more than gracious to his opponents after losses, answering whatever questions were asked, you’d have to give him a mulligan on this one.

He could have just paid the fine for skipping the press conference. He can certainly afford it. But he came.

“He played amazing and credit to him. Congrats for a great performance. He came out very well. I struggled from the beginning. Unfortunately, it took me time to get well, and struggled with a little injury, as well, at the beginning. And after, when I warmed up, it was better,” he said. “But, yeah, just a pity that I couldn’t capitalize on the chances in the 4-1 in the fourth set and some break points that I thought I had in there, but he came back and credit to him.”

Doubtful for grass?

In the state he was in, Djokovic brushed aside the usual French Open questions about the upcoming grass-court season. (These are the specialty of the British tennis press that makes the trip across the Channel every year).

gamutHe was asked when he planned to make his grass-court debut.

“I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m going to play on grass,” Djokovic replied.

It’s been a bit of wild card with Djokovic, who has won Wimbledon three times, but whose tuneup schedule has not been set in stone in recent  years, the way rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s plans have been.

Last year, he took a late wild card into Eastbourne, played the week before Wimbledon. That’s an unusual move for a top player. But he won it.

It was the first time he played a tuneup event on the grass since 2010.

He was asked again, and repeated the same answer. Asked to clarify, he couldn’t.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Just came from the court. Sorry, guys, I can’t give you that answer. I cannot give you any answer.”

Notwithstanding the fact that Djokovic might well have wanted to crush all of his game sticks after that defeat, it seems likely upon further review that Djokovic assumed the question was about playing grass warmup tournaments.

Given his sparse recent history in that regard, he gets that question every year in Paris. 

One thing’s for sure, he’s not going to think about it for awhile.

gamut

Relaxed Djokovic hits the practice court (video)

PARIS – Novak Djokovic arrives in Paris far more encouraged about his prospects than he was even a month ago.

A first-round loss after his last-minute entry into Barcelona, and a second-round loss in Madrid were setbacks.

But after reaching the semifinals in Rome and giving eventual champion Rafael Nadal a lot to handle before losing in straight sets, he can look at the French Open and imagine the possibilities.

Better yet, Djokovic’s effort in Rome ensure he wouldn’t get to Roland Garros unseeded.

His ranking points from a year ago, when he reached the Rome final, were dropping off and even if he entered the event ranked No. 18, he wasn’t going to stay in the top 40 if he didn’t put up a good result.

Instead, the 2016 champion comes into Paris as the No. 20 seed. And he finds himself in the opposite half of the draw from Nadal, after the singles draw was made Thursday evening.

Good draw for Djokovic

Djokovic will face a qualifier or a lucky loser in the first round, with a fairly rusty David Ferrer as a potential second-round opponent and No. 13 seed Roberto Bautista-Agut looming in the third round.

The top-ranked player in a potential fourth-round matchup is No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov, a good outcome. And his potential quarterfinal opponent could be No. 10 Pablo Carreño Busta or No. 8 David Goffin (with long shots Gaël Monfils and Nick Kyrgios also in that section).

So he had a lot to be smiling about, as he hit the practice court on Suzanne Lenglen Wednesday with Borna Coric of Croatia.

Here’s some video of that effort.

Djokovic even had a special smile for the grounds crew, who were waiting in a corner of the court and had their mobile phones out to get a shot of him.

Relaxed