Wednesday 7 December 2016

Tennis: Djokovic displays Grand ambitions

Mark Hodgkinson in Melbourne

Published 26/01/2011 | 05:00

Serbia's Novak Djokovic plays a shot during yesterday's victory over Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open
Serbia's Novak Djokovic plays a shot during yesterday's victory over Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open

Apart from when he was given a ballroom dancing lesson on one of the outside courts the other day, Novak Djokovic has gone unnoticed for much of this Australian Open, with the tournament only occasionally glancing at the Serbian world No 3, a former champion and tennis's biggest show-off.

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There was no ignoring the quality of Djokovic's tennis as he welted forehand after forehand past Tomas Berdych to go through to play defending champion Roger Federer in tomorrow's semi-final and, just in case he did not already have your full attention, he was thumping his chest.

Self-doubt has never figured too strongly in the Djokovic psyche, but he has every reason at the moment to feel very assured of himself, as he has been doing great things with his racket.

A month or so has passed since Serbia won the Davis Cup by beating France in Belgrade, a victory he and his team-mates celebrated by shaving each others' heads, and though the hedgehog hair has grown back, the endorphins have probably still not cleared his system; it was a supremely self-confident Djokovic who beat Berdych 6-1 7-6 6-1.

It was a moot point whose performance was the more impressive, Djokovic's or Federer's for trouncing a meek Stanislas Wawrinka to reach his eighth consecutive semi-final at the Australian Open, an astonishing sequence which makes you realise why he calls this the 'Happy Slam'.

Djokovic tends to produce his best tennis when he is playing with a puffed-out chest and a puffed-up ego, and he will doubtless be spooling back to what happened here in 2008 when he beat Federer in the semi-finals and then went on to win his first Slam.

This is the second successive Slam in which these two have bumped into each other in the last four; at the US Open last September Federer could not convert the two match points he had, which meant that the Swiss's last appearance in the final of a Major is still his straight-sets victory against Britain's Andy Murray in the Rod Laver Arena last January.

Since that match in New York, Federer has beaten Djokovic three times in succession, including in the semi-finals of the season-ending championships in London.

Since Rafael Nadal won last season's French Open, Wimbledon and US Open titles, the Australian Open is the only slam that Federer has left in his trophy cabinet, and Djokovic will consider he has the class and form to beat the second seed.

Federer's win means we now know for sure who is the best male tennis player from Switzerland.

Here was Wawrinka's opportunity to move out of Federer's long Alpine shadow, yet the first all-Swiss Grand Slam quarter-final of modern times turned out to be something of a non-event, as Roger ripped through his friend Stan.

When they woke up in the cantons this morning, to hear how Federer had dropped just seven games against Wawrinka, everything could carry on as normal.

Up until they played each other for a place in the semis, Wawrinka had been the most impressive Swiss at Melbourne Park, as he had made the last eight without conceding a set, so this was supposed to be his great chance to beat Federer at the Slams.

vulnerable

It would not have gone unnoticed by Wawrinka that Federer had looked vulnerable, dropping two sets in the second round against Gilles Simon, and then another in the fourth round against Tommy Robredo. Yet this could hardly have been more lopsided.

There were two reasons why Federer was able to pulverise Wawrinka. One was that Federer gave his most accomplished performance so far at this tournament, and the other was that Wawrinka was playing as though he had dropped his belief, his form, his timing, into the fondue pot.

It appears that, when it comes to playing Federer in the quarter-finals of a Major, Wawrinka cannot get it out of his head that his opponent has won 16 Grand Slam titles, that he is arguably the finest talent in the history of the game.

Suddenly, Wawrinka was not playing his buddy and occasional doubles partner, but the man whose face appears on special edition stamps and bars of Lindt chocolate.

By the third set, Wawrinka had all the confidence of someone trying to break into a Swiss bank with a teaspoon and a pair of nail-scissors. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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