Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Djokovic decisive

After spending five hours on court dealing with far more of Stanislas Wawrinka than that for which he had prepared or cared, top seed Novak Djokovic's mission should he choose to accept it, and his presence on Rod Laver Arena tonight suggested he had, was to put a close to the Tomas Berdych chapter of Aus Open 2013.

The contribution of the 5th seed from the Czech Republic had its moments.  None of them amounted to anything terribly exciting, although the fourth round win over South Africa's Kevin Anderson did impress, and the final set tie break was as extensive as it was gripping.

However, Djokovic had participated in two of the finest matches of the tournament so far, one deserving of a single chapter to itself.  So the decision, hard as it was to make for the judges, was for Berdych to go home.

In the opening set, Novak made his intentions known.  The departure was not about to be convoluted, sentimental or protest filled.  In the third game, Djokovic rifled a backhand winner to break the Czech serve and lead 2-1.  Berdych seemed relaxed about the whole deal, and while the Djokovic razzle dazzle happened all around him he diligently went about the business of finding trouble with his serve.

The Djokovic forehand was especially potent and Berdych needed far more first serves to hit the mark if he was to prevent the return game of the champion from overpowering him.  Novak felt no such pressure while serving and salivated each time Tomas stepped up to the plate.

Additional breaks were delivered to the Djokovic camp in each of Berdych's next two service performances, the seventh game ending with a sad double fault, a punctuation mark which the chair umpire deemed suitable to employ when ruling off first set activity.  6-1 Djokovic.

As the underdog support mentality grew within the crowd, Berdych appeared to finally shake off his pre-match nerves and join in the match as the genuine 5th seed and not some cheap facsimile.
Novak identified with the sympathy exuding from the crowd towards Berdych and donated to what seemed a worthwhile charity with a couple of unforced errors in the opening service game of Set 2.

Djokovic can claim that back on his tax while Berdych could claim the break of serve.  The set progressed and with it came a marked improvement in the Tomas Berdych game.  The significance of that first game also grew by the minute due to the inability of Djokovic to make inroads on the Czech serve as he had done so freely in Set 1.

The tennis was terrific with Berdych blasting winners from his forehand that left Djokovic motionless and usually several metres from where the ball landed.  Djokovic too was continuing to play at a top level and eventually Berdych was left to serve for the set at 5-4.

As expected, Djokovic through everything into this game in an attempt to keep the set alive.  He created a range of break points to which Berdych replied with an ace and winners.  Deservedly the set was won by Berdych 6-4 and the match was level.

Another twist in the match could not be discounted and sure enough Novak, who underwent self admonishment all through the second set and I understand even put himself on cleaning duties for a week after his slip up, put the quarter final back on his preferred track.

The Set 3 scoreline was 3-0 with a single break of the Berdych serve when the players sat down for the first time.  Enough damage done we thought to give Novak the set, but not enough for the top seed who wanted more blood.  A slashing backhand demoralised Berdych as it capped off another service break to extend the lead to 4-0 and erase any remaining doubts as to where this set would finish.

The players did the required stuff until they reached the conclusion of a set dominated by Djokovic 6-1 and he now appeared set to cruise into the semis.  However we did think that when he led Wawrinka two sets to one.

However, once bitten, etc.

Although Berdych lifted in the fourth set, so too did Djokovic, and the result was attractive tennis.  The one soft spot on serve occurred in the third game and importantly on the Berdych serve.  With 2 break points available, Djokovic chose the second to use and take the vital lead 2-1.

The rest was just great to watch and after almost two and a half hours it was Novak Djokovic serving for yet another Grand Slam tournament semi final - his 11th in succession. (Ferrer and Murray with 2 are next best, with Murray a chance to make it 3)

Tomas played his role and the game lasted longer than Novak would have liked with match points saved.  However the inevitable could only be deferred not prevented and the world number one would be playing David Ferrer on Thursday night after his 6-1 4-6 6-1 6-4 quarter final victory.  

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