Friday, 3 December 2010

Davis Cup tie is all square @ 1-1

NdCertain tennis matches are like airplane flights. There are three aspects to each: takeoff, cruising at altitude, and landing. These were much more clearly delineated than usual in today’s Davis Cup rubber between Novak Djokovic and Gilles Simon in Belgrade.

Takeoff, in which both players fenced a little anxiously, lasted six games. In the seventh, Djokovic had break opportunities but got tight on them and waited for Simon to miss. He sliced the ball safely and tried a bailout drop shot. It didn’t work, but you had the feeling that if he could get himself over this hump he would loosen up and begin throw his superior arsenal of weapons at the underpowered Simon. That’s exactly what happened, though the swing in his direction was more drastic than you might have imagined.

Djokovic broke at 3-3 and went on to win eight of the next nine games. Simon had no answers for the Serb’s ground stroke barrage. The Frenchman seemed to be in perpetual retrieving mode, running back and forth futilely along the baseline. Djokovic’s smooth cruising period lasted all the way until he served for the match at 5-4 in the third set.

But landing a plane always involves a bump or two, and the same goes for many tennis matches. Suddenly, at 5-4, Djokovic bounced the ball a few more times before he served. Suddenly his backhand found the net. Suddenly his forehand flew wildly into the alley. Suddenly his opponent was off the baseline and finishing points in the forecourt. Suddenly it was 5-5. The plane wasn’t ready to land.

But then just as suddenly, the pressure shifted back to the other side of the net. The old dynamic returned. Djokovic attacked, Simon retrieved, and the Serb broke again. This time, despite lots of ball bounces, lots of nerves, and a few more shanks, Djokovic got his safe landing, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5. He shouldered the burden of a must-win as well as could be expected and kept his country alive. But those last moments were shaky, and Djokovic's perfomance, while very impressive for stretches, might not work so well on Sunday against Gael Monfils, who seems to be in top form and playing with the type of purpose we've long been waiting to see from him.

Serbia and France are 1-1 after day one. Whatever happens in the doubles tomorrow, Djokovic-Monfils is going to count, and it's going to be huge. Now, it’s going to be a good weekend.


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