Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Day 3: Vintage Safin Destroys Djokovic

Marat Safin returned from the dead and dismissed world No. 3 Novak Djokovic in straight sets 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-2 to cause the biggest upset of tournament so far.

Djoke was considered a favorite to take the title, as he made sure to tell us before the first ball was struck. But even though he was runner-up at Queens, grass just isn't a surface he particularly "gets" yet.

Yes, he made the semifinals at SW19 last year. But from what I saw he was let off the hook several times before the semifinals by Nicolas Kiefer, Lleyton Hewitt, and Marcos Baghdatis. I guess some would say his mental toughness carried the day. I say he lucked out.

Djoke has never faced a player who returns serve like Marat did today. Both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have good returns, but Marat attacks his returns like Andre Agassi did. (I'd love to have seen Djoke and Agassi play.) Djoke was demoralized and forced to hit more double faults than usual. Which is exactly how the match ended - on a double fault.

And Djoke had the nerve to call Marat mentally unstable before the fawning press corps. I know Marat jokes about his own mental issues, but I'm of the opinion he's the only player who ought to joke about such things in public, and certainly no player who just experienced a major upset at his hands. I don't care how much the press corps laughed.

Today, Marat was stable, composed and deadly. And he served brilliantly. Early in the match, he figured out that Djoke likes returning flat serves. So Marat kicked and kicked and kicked his first serve everywhere in the box and didn't allow Djoke to get in a groove on his returns.

It worked.

Marat was only faced one break point in the match, which he lost. He broke Djoke four times and earned 12 break points.

And lest we forget, the mercurial Russian hates playing in the kind of wind that gusted through London today.

Thanks, Marat, for getting rid of this grifter on grass.

Thanking Her Lucky Stars

And kissing the net chord.

New world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic was up 5-2 on French veteran Nathalie Dechy. A blink later, Ana was down a set, having lost a tough tiebreak.

I don't use the word "deserve" when talking about winners and losers of tennis matches because the person who wins deserves to win.


Ana played like an upstart for most of the match. Nathalie played a brilliant match and could never catch a break on a crucial point. Not the least of which was Ana's second match point when her tight forehand hit the net and trickled over. Ana responded like an embarrassed little girl, pulling the her cap down over her face.

And speaking of caps. After one of those brilliant points, Nathalie slammed a backhand volley winner at the net just as her cap fell off. The point was hers. Ana wasn't at all obstructed by the cap fall. But the chair umpire ordered them to replay the point.

Should Ana have ceded the point? Several ATP players would have, while I have a hard time seeing a WTA player do the same. I'm sure there's a few out there, but I can't think of any off the top of my head. Rip me if you want. Folks know I'm a feminist. But gracious sportsmanship is lacking on the WTA tour, Justine Henin's retirement notwithstanding.

But it was already overtime in the decisive set and had Ana given Nathalie the point, she would have been down 15-30. Six points away from defeat. She gets a pass.

There were many other moments in the match where lady luck was on Ana's side, but Nathalie stayed the course and battled deep into the third set. When Ana finally escaped, they had a nice moment at the net.

And then Nathalie wept.

Face in towel, the fans applauded softly, continuously, allowing the Frenchwoman her grief. When she finally came up from under it, they roared loudly and gave her a standing ovation.

It was one of those special moments when you are just as satisfied with the fans as you are with the match.

That's how they do it in London.


John McEnroe (after his golden boy, the Djoker, was slammed by Marat):

Photos of the Day

Marcos Baghdatis

Novak Djokovic

Simone Bolelli

Rowdy fans removed during the Lleyton Hewitt match

Bobby Reynolds, first American into the third round

Roger Federer

Fernando Gonzalez felled by Bolelli

Frank Dancevic

Serena Williams before winning her match


oddman said...

What a great post, Craig! I've only seen bits and pieces of today's action yet, and your commentary fills in the blanks so well. I too, would have loved to see Agassi play Novak. He would have had him running all over the place, tongue hanging out, lol. I agree that the Serb should not have said anything about Marat's mental state either. It's amazing how Safin can come up with a big match now and then still. I only wish he can string a few more together this fortnight (there, I said it, heh heh) He seems to really enjoy taking on the top players and beating them - always a threat, the gorgeous Russian.
You got me snickering with this post, too funny. Especially JMac's comments after the match - it's very hard to render THAT man speechless.
Worth the wait for this!

cate said...

I agree that the Serb should not have said anything about Marat's mental state either.

Or anybody's mental state.

It was Novak who said this about Roger:

"I think he's a little bit shaken with that loss..."

tangerine said...

"John McEnroe (after his golden boy, the Djoker, was slammed by Marat): ......."


Craig Hickman said...


Djoke believes his own hype. But more than that, he believes the narratives the pundits spin about the players as well.

He wanted Raja to be shaken with that loss, repeating the media's obsession with Raja's potential fall, so that he could assume his "rightful place" as the king of tennis.

I wrote sometime ago about how eager the pundits would be to kick Raja to the curb with the emergence of Djoke, while they skip right over the reality of Rafa.

I think it was around last year's US Open, when I went on record that I would be rooting for Raja for the first time ever in that final.

I've been following closely the American presidential election.
Novak Djokovic is the John McCain of tennis. The punditocracy flatout refuses to call them on their shit.

oddman said...

Sad thing too, is I think they always will skip over Rafa, no matter what accomplishments he achieves. Watch, as I foresee better things for Rafa this year. Right now I'm watching the Gulbis-Rafa match and thoroughly enjoying the all-court tennis he's playing. Actually both of them.
And, can you believe I did watch the third set of Ana-Dechy yesterday? Really good - haven't seen a good women's match for a long time. Dechy totally deserved the crowd's respect and ovation.

Karen said...

Thanks for the post Craig, especially the part about JMac's comments - absolutely priceless. You could hear the crickets chirping (or is that the bats in the belfry). I think folks should listen to Radio Wimbledon after the matches are completed each day as the commentary there is just hilarious. After yesterday's beatdown by Safin, Nick Bolliterri said that Novak should keep his mouth shut and let his racquet do the talking. A few of the commentators had no kind words for Novak. I think Novak needs to leave the company of JMac and start trying to get into the good graces of other folks - folks with a little bit of class. As I posted earlier this year when Roger lost at the French, clearly people are of the view that to get to No. 1 is easy, try staying there for 4 years day in and day out, and dealing with all the pressures and see what your life will be like.

cate said...

Djoke believes his own hype. But more than that, he believes the narratives the pundits spin about the players as well.

He has a lot to learn then. As my Psychology professor always says, "Tell your self something enough for you to actually believe it."

Karen said...

I just heard Tracy Austin say that Sharapova has owned Wimbledon. This is in relation to the walloping that she just received from Ms. Alla, who clearly did not get the memo that Sharapova owns that little piece of real estate at SW19. Boy, I tell you this Wimbledon is the best so far.

oddman said...

Wow, the It Girl gone. Maybe they'll start showing some tennis on ESPN now? Instead of all those talking heads all day?

Can this day get any better? Yes, if Andy can quit playing like a lunkhead and win his match with Tipsy. C'mon, Andy - you're a good tennis player. Believe it.

PeytonAllen said...

Andy is done. If he can win this match I'll be shocked. He breaks himself because he gets over confident on his serve, and he can't put balls away with his forehand. When he tries he fails, and when he has sitters he just spins it back.

Maybe Tipsy deserves a win after his tough loss to Roger. Boy, if Roddick loses the bottom half really opens up. I mean, he has a near gift to the semi-finals.

I think Nadal has a brutal draw. Tough 4th rounder. His QF match up, if it's against Murray will be a dogfight. I know Andy M. has come down a notch, he hasn't lived up to his hype, but can you imagine a Murray/Nadal quarter with Roddick gone? The winner would go straight to the Finals. Think the british crowd would cheer a Rafa point that day?

Roddick just has no service return. It's pitiful.

oddman said...

Gahhh. peytonallen, I'm just pissed watching this match. WTF is going on with Andy? Dinking the ball back, fooling around, I'm getting so frustrated I can't even watch this. I'm afraid you might be right. He needs to make a fight of this, and he's not doing that. Sigh.

oddman said...

And speaking of the British crowds, I thought they were pretty sweet on lil Gulbis this morning. No love for Rafa in London. Typical.

PeytonAllen said...

Oddman, i thought the crowd just wanted to see the upset against Rafa.

Andy, he's got that frat boy "WTF is happening to me" look about him. In theory if he can win the tiebreak, its whoever breaks themselves in the 5th. But Roddick no BP's since the 1st? Yikes. He's trying the last few games to hit out.

oddman said...

Ugh. I hate that deer-in-the-headlights look he gets sometimes. Just play out, man. You are thinking way too much, and that's not good.

PeytonAllen said...

break points Oddman!

oddman said...

Come on, come on, come on!!!! Stoned that return..... one more...

my gawd....

dying here.

PeytonAllen said...

"What the fuck was that?" - John Roddick.


oddman said...

'cursing under my breath here'

OK, I am not watching this anymore. Andy, it's up to you. You're killing me here.

oddman said...

Aw,shit, I missed that. He's absolutely right too - exactly what I mouthed, lol.

PeytonAllen said...

This crowd is trying to help him, but boy he's tighter than a drum.

Rafa was too today, but he came through. Andy just looks like he knows how this will play out.

oddman said...

Yeah, Rafa was uncharacteristically tentative, I thought. But held on good enough to get Ernests feeling like he had no chance. I don't get that feeling from Tipsy at all, quite the opposite. Andy, loosen up. If you're gonna go down, go down trying for the lines, instead of this tentative nervy play.

oddman said...

OK, really, I can't watch anymore. Been fun talking with ya, p.a., but my nerves can't take this, lol.

PeytonAllen said...


How about Blake earlier? Boy he's overrated.

Breaker here we go.

PeytonAllen said...

Two nervy points from Andy.

(throws water out of the boat.)

PeytonAllen said...

Roddick just can't or will not put away his forehand balls when there's an open court. He had a great backhand that point, opened it up, and then just spun it behind Tipsy.

oddman said...

ohhhh. Man, I'm crushed. What in the hell happened here? Andy, Andy, Andy. Kudos to Tipsy, he played well enough. But gad, what a palty effort in that tiebreak. He looked scared to try and go for anything, just push the ball back into a rally. Andy, you don't really have a lock on rallying with anyone, hello?

*(^&%&*&%^%$$$^%*!!!!! Crap. Shit. Piss. Mother. Fuck.

Oh, man, this has gotta hurt Andy. Sigh.

PeytonAllen said...

Tough loss, but I think you have to look at Roddick's career as having peaked. It's just too late to change any of his habits. My goodness that break point 2nd serve return was something I would've done. Just a total choke.

At least he goes home to a seriously attractive woman, but...

Nadal has a good look at another Final. I think the 4th rounder could be a tester, but really I think he has to hope Haas or Gasquet and can take out Murray, otherwise...i think that match is a toss'up.

With all the upsets you get the feeling we're gonna have a surprise champion, but you forget there's still the top two players out there. lol

oddman said...

Small consolation, Brooke I mean. She woulda gone with him anyway, lol. I wonder if his presser will be as 'upbeat' as some of them. Somehow I doubt that.

As for your prognostications, I too wonder nowadays if Andy is cooked. Days like today make it seem more likely, dammit.

I think of Agassi and how far he fell, before coming back out and taking everyone to the woodshed (excuse me, too much BG today), but Andre had alot of shots in his arsenal prior to his fall. Could Andy come back? At any rate, he needs to do something drastic here if he wants to be a factor still.

Crushed, crushed, crushed. Sighhhhhhhhh.

Karen said...

Craig, I am handing you a glass of my favourite 25 year old Appleton. Enjoy it. There is a little bit left over from the French Open final debacle

tangerine said...

I don't think it's possible for Andy to play any worse than that.

He used to thrive on pressure and be able to rise to the occasion. Now, he trembles and he chokes. He was tentative and I don't know why. I thought Tipsarevic played tentatively too. It was a very bizarre match, but I'm not surprised by the outcome. Andy's had so many bad losses in slams that I've become immune to them. Pretty sad.

It's strange how he can't ever seem to take advantage of easy draws. This is why I cringed when I saw the draw, all I kept thinking was: here comes another AO disaster. Sure enough it happens.

Andy needs to get a real coach, his brother isn't helping him to get back to elite status. Andy was supposed to be one of the favorites here but he suffers his earliest exit at Wimbledon yet. He seems to be getting worse and worse every year, on his best surface no less.

oddman said...

That's what so hard, tangerine. He DID used to rise to the occasion.

Where is that Andy? Did the weight of expectations absolutely crush that guy?

Am I forever moaning about a lost cause here?

tangerine said...

oddman, did you see/read Andy's presser yet? He basically admitted that he choked the match away. He wanted to win so bad. He knew this was his best chance to win Wimbledon and he choked. At least he didn't say the usual b.s. such as "I was hitting the ball well" and "Janko was just too good" because we know that wasn't true. I just hope he will do something about the choking because he can't keep blowing these opportunities.

Carleton said...

I kept waiting to see the Andy (Roddick) that used to flatten out the forehand on occasion to take time away from the opponent. Where was that Andy today?

Craig Hickman said...

Tangy, I pretty much wrote the same thing about Andy's easy draws elsewhere.

Think: Melbourne 2004. Easy draw on paper. He crashes in fourth round. Wimbledon 2006. Easy draw. He crashes in third round. You already mentioned this year's AO and now this.

He won't get over the choking till he sees a sports psychologist. And even then, there are no guarantees.

oddman said...

Well, just checked out his presser. Obviously disappointed, as he should be. No joking today. Said the 'choke' word too. Good. I think he needs to get away from all the tennis for a while and really think about where he wants to go. He says he wants to win another slam, doesn't want that middle-of-the-road career... a tiny glimmer of hope here for me to hold onto. He's saying he wants to compete there.
Andy, go away, plan your wedding for a while, go boat on your Texas lake, and think hard about what just happened.
Sports psychologist? Absolutely. Why not try it - what have you got to lose?