Friday, 18 January 2013

Novak in vintage trim

Novak Djokovic had been in sparkling form coming into this third round match and there seemed to be nothing to suggest a change from that.  His task today would require some more work than that employed against Ryan Harrison because he would be facing the experienced and talented Radek Stepanek who is enjoying a resurgence in his  tennis career, seeded at 31 for this Aus Open but performing to a higher level than that of late.
Stepanek would not allow the same leeway to the world's best that Harrison did because of the type of game he plays, coming to the net often and using his volleying skills to complement the ground strokes.
The match from the outset was a cracker.  Of course Novak playing to such a high standard came as little shock, but to see the performance of Radek was a delight.  His all out attack with such flair and gaining reward for effort added something special to the mix resulting in one of the best quality third round matches one could wish to see.

Djokovic opened proceedings and held serve.  Immediately clear was the quality of shot making with mistakes a rarity.  The first half dozen games did not feature a threat to either player's serve but did feature forehand winners from both sides of the net and several crisp volleys from Stepanek.  In fact credit should be given to Stepanek for forcing the level of play from Djokovic to be raised even higher than we expected so early in the tournament.

The seventh game hosted the initial problem on serve and surprisingly Novak faced the break point.  He negotiated successfully, as per usual and things rolled on without harm to a server until the task of serving to keep the set alive fell to Stepanek at 4-5.   Sadly Radek chose now to fall victim to service issues and Novak pressed the point until the break had been confirmed and Set 1 belonged to the reigning champion.

The standard of tennis in Set 2 improved if anything, with Novak deciding to hit more winners with his backhand to add to his other assets.  Radek also elevated his game making fewer errors but still as effective with the attacking weapons in his bag.
No one could buy a break point until the eighth game and once again Novak had timed it perfectly, using one of his backhands that he had prepared earlier to convert the break point and take a 5-3 lead.

Djokovic served out comfortably to take a two sets to love advantage, which appeared a whole lot easier to say or write than to achieve.

The first game of the third set brought Stepanek to the fore and he stayed there for what seemed an eternity attempting to hold on to his serve and not totally lose his grip on the match.  He bravely saved four break points in the longest game of the match and then made Novak play catch up tennis for the bulk of the set.  Novak did so without too much trouble, in fact creating further break chances for himself in the third and fourth Stepanek service games.  Not much trouble that is until the eighth game of the set where Djokovic met a score of 30-40 to which he took an instant dislike.  He answered it with his best method - an ace - and suddenly all were friends and the serve was held for 4-4.

Djokovic had to serve to stay in the set at 4-5 and again managed the task.
However, Stepanek's requirement to hold serve in the eleventh game proved too much for him and he once again became victim of Novak's old "wait till the end of the set before the kill" trick.
Djokovic broke serve and then on serve used the second of two match points to deliver himself into a fourth round encounter with someone. 6-4 6-3 7-5

This was a third round match to remember.

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