Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki have shared the court as practice partners and Davis Cup teammates, but match play highlights the distinction between the childhood friends. "There's a big difference between playing Djokovic close and beating him," said Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob. The 27th-ranked Troicki, who had only beaten Djokovic once in 11 prior encounters, found that out once again the hard way in today's third-round match at the Sony Ericsson Open.
Troicki actually followed a no-win route to beating Djokovic by dropping his opening service game in both the first and second sets and breaking his fellow Serb only once in eight chances. Although, the rallies were often close and contested, Djokovic prevailed, 6-3, 6-4, in 85 minutes.
Troicki also chose the wrong strategy in attacking Djokovic. Again and again, he tried to break down the Djokovic backhand in cross-court rallies, only to have his Davis Cup teammate out-duel him. The Troicki forehand is his much weaker wing and that was painfully evident for the 26-year-old Serbian No. 3, who has not distinguished himself in 2012, losing in either the first or second rounds of the six tournaments he's played. Gimelstob also said the most important statistic in men's tennis is how well you defend your second serve. Troicki was woefully inefficient in that category as well, winning only 25 percent (4 out of 16 points) of the points off his second delivery.
While Djokovic didn't look as sharp in disposing Troicki as he had in his 6-4, 6-4 sweep of Marcos Baghdatis on Saturday night, he masterfully controlled the center of the court. Using quick-strike tennis, the 24-year-old used wide serves in both service boxes to pull Troicki off the court. Then Djokovic countered with stinging down the line winners off both wings. Djokovic takes the ball extremely early, particularly on the backhand wing, as he hits 20 percent of his shots inside the baseline. The only trouble the world No. 1 had with Troicki is when he failed to take a double-break lead in the second set, and Troicki evened the set at 3-all.
With Troicki heartened, Djokovic showed why Gimelstob's statement about playing Djokovic is so true. Serving at love-15, Troicki hit a wide serve to Djokovic's backhand, his best shot, only to have it returned with interest up the line to make it love-30. On the next point, Djokovic pinned at the baseline, somehow shoveled another backhand down the line for a passing shot winner. Troicki was soon broken, but he rallied at 3-4 and actually had double break point to even the set, but Djokovic held him off once again. Next up for Djokovic is No. 17 seed Richard Gasquet, and unfortunately for the Frenchman, his best shot is also his backhand and he's not known as a great server.