Peerless Djokovic continues China domination

Croatia’s Borna Coric, still just 21 even if it seems he’s been at this awhile, could look across the net Sunday in Shanghai and see the player he wants to be.

He will rarely have a better view of near-perfect execution, as Novak Djokovic defeated him 6-3, 6-4 to win his fourth Shanghai Masters title.

And Coric will rarely have the reality about how far he still must travel stand out in such sharp relief.

It was Djokovic’s first title in Shanghai since that 2015 season for the ages.

And on some levels, especially in terms of the evolution of his all-court game, you could posit he’s on his way to being even a better player than he was then.

The road runs through Djokovic

Djokovic’s dominance through the last two days, though Coric in the final and fellow 21-year-old Alexander Zverev in the semis, just underscores how far the future generation has to travel to get to the very top.

And with Rafael Nadal still on the shelf with a knee injury, and Roger Federer looking rather mortal again this week even if he did fight his way to the semifinals, the road looks to run through Djokovic for the foreseeable future.

How daunting a prospect that must seem.

“He was the much better player on the court. I was playing good, really. But I was really happy how I played. I couldn’t play much better today, to be honest. I could serve maybe a little bit better, but still, I felt even if I was serving little bit better, he’d still return my serves. So there is nothing I can do,” Coric told the media in Shanghai after the match.

“It was really tough, I need to say. I just didn’t know what to do exactly. He was the much better player on the court today. There is no doubt about that.”

First Masters 1000 final

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Coric has been sporting a thick wrap on his right quad. He had it removed, and then had it put on again. But he still ran down every ball.

After letting it fly during an aggressive victory over Federer Saturday, his second of the season against the Swiss, the challenge for Coric Sunday was a different one.

No longer could he play with “nothing to lose,” as he said after the Federer win. He was in his first career Masters 1000 final, against the player who has been his biggest stylistic role model.

If the heavy wrap on his right quad slowed Coric down a little, it didn’t show that much even if he had the wrapping cut off and replaced, and added to, during the match. 

But if Coric wasn’t as aggressive as he was the previous day, Djokovic gave him no openings to even try. The relentless depth of the Serb’s groundstrokes, coupled with a scant few errors, kept the young Croat on the back foot and scrambling much of the time.

To say that Zverev had no answers to the questions Djokovic was asking in their semifinal would be to understate the case. But beyond one obliterated racket, he took it rather well. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

That’s the beauty of Djokovic’s game in full flight. Even from defensive positions, that depth is relentless when he’s playing his best. It’s just such a big task to get on top of him in a rally, it’s the opponent who ends up missing by going for too much – out of exhaustion, frustration or desperation.

Unforced errors actually forced

Most often than not with the young players, as was the case with Zverev in a one-hour shellacking the previous day (in Djokovic’s 1000th career match), they feel as though they made too many errors.

It takes the wisdom of experience, the ability to understand what’s going on both sides of the net, not just theirs, to see the truth.

Even if it’s the unforced error tally that mounts by default on the stats sheet, the majority of those errors are forced by the necessity to do more – in every point.

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After a particularly nifty all-court point, Djokovic wanted to hear from his many fans in Shanghai. And he did.

Coric seemed to realize this. And it’s that wisdom, that acceptance of the quality of the opposition, that has helped him jump from outside the top 50 – and a first-round loser to Henri Laaksonen in the first round of the Shanghai qualifying – a year ago to the final this year.

He’ll boast a new career high singles ranking of No. 13 on Monday.

Speedy court, effective serving

This was the fastest court the players, quite unanimously, said they have ever seen in Shanghai. And by opting not to play Beijing the week before, Djokovic was able to get there early, and have three or four days to practice and adjust.

That court speed put a premium on the importance of his own serve. And he responded.

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Excellent elevation on Djokovic’s victory leap, after winning Shanghai for the fourth time in his career.

In 47 service games, Djokovic faced just four break points, and saved them all. His success rate on first serve was 85 per cent overall through five matches. And he served 26 aces, with just four double faults.

“Serve was never my No. 1 weapon in the game – never as big as Zverev or Anderson or Isner or these guys. For me the serve was, so to say, a hidden weapon, the shot in the game that is important – the most important. But I always try to use it with accuracy and efficiency, rather than speed and power,” Djokovic told the media in Shanghai.

“I’ve never played on a faster court here in Shanghai. So this year more than ever I needed a lot of success with the first serve. High percentage of first serves in every match,” he added. “Obviously that brings me a lot of joy.”

No. 1 in plain sight

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Back at No. 2 in the ranking2 for the first time since the start of the 2017 French Open, Djokovic has one more mountain to climb.

Djokovic didn’t play after Wimbledon a year ago, while Federer was the defending champion in Shanghai. The win means the Serb vaults over Federer into the No. 2 spot in the rankings, by over 1,000 points.

Nadal was defending a final in Shanghai, and he’s been out since the U.S. Open.

All of that leaves Djokovic just 215 points behind Nadal for the top spot, with every result he posts the rest of the season a net positive.

He hasn’t ruled out playing in a week, the week before the Paris Masters.

After, of course, a celebration of son Stefan’s fourth birthday next weekend that involves some dinosaurs.

Djokovic hasn’t played Basel since 2011. And he hasn’t played Vienna since he won it back in 2007. The Vienna tournament director has made no secret of his interest in wooing him to Austria.

“We are very close,  I think it’s around 50 points difference (with Nadal). Obviously I don’t feel as much, I would say, pressure to play before Paris as much as I would if the situation were different, points-wise,” Djokovic said. “But I still will consider playing the week before Paris. I’ll decide with the team probably in a couple days.”

(All screenshots from TennisTV)

“Djokerer” will premiere Friday at Laver Cup

When the most highly anticipated moment of a three-day tennis event is two top players teaming up in doubles, you know you’re not on the ATP Tour.

And Team Europe won’t make the fans wait too long.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will team up for doubles Friday, the second match of the night session on Day 1 of the Laver Cup.

There was a similar moment a year ago, at the event’s inaugural edition in Prague. The pairing of Federer and Rafael Nadal was probably even more anticipated, as inextricably intertwined as they have been during a decade-long rivalry.

It was a little awkward, as most first-time pairings are – especially involving two players with radically different playing styles.

How will Federer and Djokovic work together – Federer playing forehand, Djokovic on the ad side? 

Doesn’t really matter. It’s the novelty of the thing.

The two have done a good job joshing and kibbitzing and pretending they’re good buddies in the leadup to the event. Although you have to ask the question: have they practiced together this week?

Three singles, then Djokerer

The opening day session Friday will be two singles matches. The first will have Team Europe’s Grigor Dimitrov go up against Team World’s Frances Tiafoe.

That will be followed by Kyle Edmund vs. Jack Sock.

The night session singles match will pit David Goffin against Diego Schwartzman.

It’s not exactly a star-studded lineup, with Dimitrov (at No. 7) the only top-10 player. But on the plus side, there will be an American in each match during the day session.

“He’s player with a lot of potential, a player who in a few years can win a Grand Slam,” Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg said of the 27-year-old Dimitrov.

When you see that night singles match, and take into consideration how much they’re charging for the tickets, they almost had no choice but to bring out the two rock stars for the doubles.

“I did have an inkling they would play – I am surprised they would play the first day,” Team World captain John McEnroe said.

Djokerer will take on Sock and Kevin Anderson.

Ahhhh, memories. Will we Djokerer re-enact this moment?

So it seems Sock, who didn’t play Davis Cup last weekend because of a hip issue, has recovered well enough to play singles during the afternoon and doubles late night.

Of course, having a match tiebreak in lieu of a third set, compared to the best-of-five format on red clay the Americans were facing last week in Croatia, makes it a lot easier.

Stakes get higher through the weekend

The way the exhibition format works is that the matches on the first day are worth one point each. On Saturday, they’re worth two points each and as they get down to serious business during the single session on Sunday, a win will be worth three points.

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Team Europe is breaking out its “dream team” on Day 1 of the Laver Cup. If it goes to a sudden-death doubles set on Sunday, they could play again (Pic: Laver Cup website)

Friday night could be the only appearance by Djokerer during the weekend – unless the teams are tied 12-12 in points on Sunday. In that case, one set of doubles would be played to declare the victor, and they could jump back in.

The lineups for the two sessions Saturday will be announced an hour after play finishes on Friday.

If you’re in the Chicago area and are of a mind to catch Djokerer, there have been a few extra seats released.

As of 5:30 p.m EDT, there are seven of the “cheapest” left in the upper deck, at $132 plus all the charges. Another 203 remain in the lower bowl, at either $420+ or … $600.

(The 46 tickets remaining for the finale on Sunday range from $720 to $840, with one ducat tidily priced at  … $1,080).

Djokovic, del Potro survive to reach US Open final

NEW YORK – After five matches under Grand Slam stress and through some of the toughest playing conditions in recent memory, four were left on Friday at the US Open.

Given what had come before, it probably wasn’t a shock that the best tennis in the men’s event this year may have already been played.

But maybe not. 

There’s one more to go.

Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro will meet in Sunday’s men’s singles final. And you can only hope that it will be a compelling, close contest after the semifinals were anything but.

The first to fall was the eldest of the quartet, 32-year-old Rafael Nadal.

The defending champion retired after del Potro won the first two sets, as his right knee again prevented him from showing his best.

He first felt it at 2-2 in the first set.

Tendonitis, Chapter 15

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“The pain on the knee is always very similar … The problem is this time was something little bit more aggressive because was in one movement. Was not something progressive,” he said.

Nadal had it flare up in the early rounds, even having the knee wrapped during his third-round match. But it responded to treatment – until it didn’t.

It’s still the same patellar tendinitis. And Nadal, who is scheduled to play the Davis Cup semifinals next weekend, said it’s not a matter of three weeks – or six months. It’s about judging how much pain he’s willing to play with, as the tendonitis eventually responds to treatment.

Let’s just say, he knows the drill by now.

Del Potro is into his first US Open final since he won it all the way back in 2009. It is the biggest gap between Slam finals in the Open era. And the shortened match was a blessing in the sense that he won’t be going into it having had to survive a marathon in the semis.

“I cannot believe that I will have a chance to play another Grand Slam finals in here, which is my favorite tournament. So it would be special to me. Would be a big challenge, as well, because I’ve been fighting with many, many problems to get in this moment,” del Potro said.

“It will be a difficult match, of course. But anyway, I think I’ve been doing a good tournament. And in the finals, anything can happen. If I win, great. If not, I been playing a great tournament and I will be happy anyways.”

Tired Nishikori no match

Djokovic dropped a set in each of his first two rounds and was one of the players who struggled with the unbreathable conditions inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. But he has been on a major roll since then.

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He defeated No. 26 Richard Gasquet, unseeded Joao Sousa and John Millman and No. 21 Nishikori in straight sets through his next four rounds.

The matchup with Nishikori has always been a favorable one for him. Whatever Nishikori does well, Djokovic does more of, and better.

The Serb now has won their last 14 completed meetings, including a four-setter in the quarterfinals on his way to the Wimbledon title in July.

“I knew that coming into the match if I managed to sustain that speed of his shots, so to say, the game style, that I’ll have my chance kind of to break through and to make him feel uncomfortable and start making errors. That’s what happened,” said Djokovic, who called the match “really, really good” from his side. 

“I thought in the important moments I came up with some good second serves, some good first serves. And I was returning well. I was putting constantly pressure on him, trying to move him around the court, take away the rhythm from him, not give him the same look always.”

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It didn’t help Nishikori that he appeared to tweak his leg or knee early on, on a fairly harmless looking trip to the net. Nishikori attributed that misstep to cumulative fatigue. The 28-year-old also had a draining five-set win over Marin Cilic in the previous round to recover from.

But when Djokovic is playing as well as he has been in New York since those early minor bumps, there isn’t much anyone can do to derail him. The 31-year-old was literally firing on every single cylinder he had on Friday night.

“He was playing very solid everything: serve, return, groundstrokes. He was playing aggressive. Yeah, I didn’t have (a lot of) energy to stay with him. He was hitting, you know, side to side. Yeah, wasn’t easy to stay with him tonight,” Nishikori said. 

“I think I was just tired from last couple matches. I was try to give 100 per cent, but he was playing very solid. Maybe if he wasn’t Novak, I might have chance to play little better. But he was, you know, playing great tennis today. Yeah, very credit to him.”

Djokovic in rare US Open territory

With the win, Djokovic jumps into a tie with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl as he prepares to play his eighth US Open men’s singles final. Eight is tops in the open era; Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer have made seven finals.

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He also officially qualified for the ATP Tour Finals. Federer also qualified; the two join Nadal.

Djokovic stood at No. 76 in the race to London before Indian Wells, No. 25 before the French Open. If he wins on Sunday, he’ll be No. 2 behind Nadal. if he loses, he’ll be No. 3, just 65 points behind del Potro.

“Probably seeing the results, consistency of the results I’ve had here, probably has been my most successful Grand Slam. Of course, I won the Australian Open six times, never lost finals there. But I think I’ve played more than 10 semifinals here. It’s definitely one of my favorite tournaments to play because of the conditions and because of the fact that I’ve played so well in each year that I keep on coming back,” Djokovic said.

“I know that I feel very comfortable here. It just allows me to feel more comfortable playing, starting the tournament and going through it. Yeah, I mean, I think I have two finals won and five losses. But, you know, hopefully I can get one better in few days.”

us open Day 8 – Preview

NEW YORK – The final countdown to the most anticipated showdown of this (non-capitalized) us open begins.

But before Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer can meet in a blockbuster quarterfinal, they still have to get through quality opponents in their Labour Day fourth-round matches (click here for the schedule).

The draw gods have been kind to both, with the upsets earlier in the tournament.

Djokovic plays Joao Sousa of Portugal, a 29-year-old who reached the top 30 just before the French Open this year, but who is currently ranked No. 68. 

The seeds in that section were No. 12 Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, and No. 17 Lucas Pouille of France – a friendly section, to be sure. But Sousa defeated them both in four sets. So he earned his spot. And in his 24th career Grand Slam, he is into the second week for the first time in his career.

The two have met four times, thrice in Grand Slams. And Djokovic has never lost a set. In 11 sets, Sousa has won more than two games only three times – and never more than four.

Federer vs. Millman for a shot at the Djoker

Federer is in a similar situation, as he takes on unseeded Aussie John Millman in a late-night match tonight.

He’s a player Federer referred to as a “hard worker”. He’s not the only one to attach those two words to Millman’s name. And it’s both a blessing and a curse.

It means that players respect his work ethic and determination.

But, for the top players, it also usually means they don’t consider him a major threat, even if they don’t underestimate him.

Millman, also 29, is ranked No. 55, just off a career high reached a month ago. It’s an impressive comeback after a torn groin tendon required surgery in 2017, and back woes held him back at the beginning of this season.

A year ago, Millman was ranked No. 235.

The two have only met once, back in 2015 at Millman’s hometown tournament in Brisbane. Federer prevailed in three sets.

Next-Gen – WTA style

Madison Keys meets No. 29 seed Dominika Cibulkova, and Maria Sharapova meets No. 30 seed Carla Suárez Navarro in fourth-round matches today.

But the match that may light the fire on the women’s side will be between a pair of 20-year-olds.

Both Naomi Osaka of Japan (via New York) and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus are 5-foot-11. And both have had career years this season.

Osaka was the surprise winner at Indian Wells, a big tournament title the reserved 20-year-old may not quite have been ready for. She has just one victory over a top-50 player since then. That came against Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania at Nottingham, just before Wimbledon.

She defeated Laura Siegemund, qualifier Julia Glushko and unseeded Aliaksandra Sasnovich to get to this fourth-round match. That’s a friendly draw; she didn’t have to face No. 11 seed Daria Kasatkina (another young up-and-comer) after Sasnovich took care of her.

Osaka and Kasatkina met in the Indian Wells final back in March.

But it wasn’t so much the level of opponent as the pain Osaka inflicted upon them. She has lost just seven games in three matches – five of them in the first round against Siegemund. And she has a string of three consecutive 6-0 sets on her resumé coming into the match.

Sabalenka on a roll

Sabalenka has had a fine summer. After a breakthrough final in Eastbourne, she was a first-round loser at Wimbledon – it was too big a tournament, too soon. But she took some experience from that.

The bellowing Belarussian has beaten Caroline Wozniacki (Montreal), Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys and Caroline Garcia (in Cincinnati) and Julia Goerges and Suárez Navarro (on her way to her first career WTA Tour title in New Haven the week before the US Open).

Her first-round match in New York, against Danielle Collins, came quickly afterwards. But instead of a repeat of what happened at Wimbledon, she defeated the American in three sets, and blew away Petra Kvitova in the third round to earn the date with Osaka.

The two are meeting for the first – but definitely not the last – time.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.