Drama at The Courts

July 1, 2016 — What the heck was up with Novak Djokovic today?

By the time the top seed had dug himself into a two-set hole to Sam Querrey (No. 28) and the rain began yet again, the tournament had pretty much no other choice but to close shop for the day. 

Djokovic vs. Cilic US Open 20150911 LB 0106-4

Novak Djokovic leaps into a running forehand in a match last year at The U. S. Open. Today, at Wimbledon, the number-one seed walked off court down two sets to American Sam Querrey (No. 28). The drama continues tomorrow.
Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com

Djokovic must have been relieved. He certainly acted that way, leaving The All England Club without a stop in the locker room and surely not a press pit stop because players don’t go to press if a match is interrupted and rescheduled for the following day. Nonetheless, you just got the feeling that Novak would’ve skipped the Q & A and taken the financial hit given his outward appearance — droopy head, no interaction with his box, no smashing racquets or screaming at ball kids — and the score was 7-6(6), 6-1 for the American.

Chris Fowler, talking it up with his ESPN brethren after the day’s activities, even suggested that Novak might have been tanking in the second set that sped by in under 20 minutes. Tanking is a serious offense and an offensive word, when talking tennis. But good for him to broach the uncertainty, which was dispelled by Brad Gilbert to an extent or, at least, he changed the subject. 

Fans on Court 1 were strongly behind Querrey, too. The roars of approval could have gotten under Novak’s skin. He desperately wants to be liked and knows he falls short. He’s kept his sneering moments to a minimum lately, but has been pretty darn arrogant and stupid with his racquet tossing. He also stood to get a $10,000 fine from the ATP for pushing aside Chair Umpire Carlos Bernardes’ hand when they inspected a line call during a quarterfinal match in Rome against Rafael Nadal, who got the point but lost the match. 

Maybe, too, Djokovic was put off by his court assignment. He’s the defending champion and they plopped him on Show Court One later than expected due to rain delays from prior matches. Meanwhile Roger Federer, who walks on water compared to anything Djokovic has accomplished, was all tucked in under the roof of Centre Court once again testing another Brit, Daniel Evans, in front of fans who couldn’t quite decide if they wanted their own to breakthrough or Federer to clobber the guy. He did, by the way, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. 

Calmer heads pointed to something rather simple to explain the odd play from the man seeking his fifth major in a row, his fourth Wimbledon, and has an 8-1 record against Querrey — the American played better. 

For goodness sake, the guy had won 72% of points off his second serve. That’s an outrageously aggressive stat. Djokovic is certainly the best returner in the game, so for Querrey to have wracked up that percentage off second serves speaks volumes. And, it could explain why Novak literally floundered along the baseline looking lost. 

The central drama, though, was the expectation of Djokovic’s defeat. He has made the quarterfinals or better in his last 7 trips to these hallowed lawns, with Marat Safin handing the Serb his last and worst loss way back in 2008 during the second round. 

This match mirrored one from 2015 between Kevin Anderson (No. 14) and Djokovic. They split the first four sets, darkness fell and off they went to wait another day. Djokovic won 6-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5.

“It was high-quality tennis,” Djokovic said, according to The Guardian. “At times I was helpless with my return. It was very difficult to read his serve and he was very aggressive. I thought he played exceptionally well throughout the entire match. He was a very tough opponent.” 

He also admitted to being ‘passive,’ which was on display today. Yet he did keep his belief.

Perhaps that’s what he’ll have to do tomorrow when he comes back for battle to the same outdoor Court 1 and the same Sam Querrey. Thing is … Djokovic will have to start fast, which he normally doesn’t, belief or no belief. Sam, though, could afford a couple missteps. But if he does stumble he better rough up his game right quick. Djokovic uses anger well. You can bet he’s going to be angry tomorrow. There’s just too much at stake. And, it could rain yet again.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013