Olympics: Djokovic d. Fognini

Sunday, July 29, 2012 /by

201207060930342106992-p2@stats.comThree thoughts on Novak Djokovic's 6-7 (7), 6-2, 6-2 first-round win over Fabio Fognini:

1. The extended rain delay didn't help the Serb. Broken while serving for the first set, Djokovic fell into a rut, missing constantly. In an eventual tiebreaker, rain forced the players off the court for well over two hours with the score 7-7. "I was thinking about those two points and how I should play them," said Djokovic to Jon Wertheim—who was making, I believe, his on-court interview debut (quite a first assignment, if so).

And therein lied the problem: Djokovic is at his best when he's reacting and going on instinct. We haven't seen as much of that from him in 2012—those impulsive, go-for-broke, down-the-line forehands and cross-court backhands—as compared to his otherworldly 2011 season. It makes for risky tennis, but Djokovic has proven that he can pull it off.

It was unrealistic to think Djokovic could replicate his results from last season, but stranger to me is that he seems to have dialed down his game and attitude a notch. A case of the Michael Phelps, perhaps? Early on against Fognini, Djokovic struggled with strokes he would have made sitting down last season, and he may have overthought the admittedly tricky situation he found himself in with a vastly inferior player during the delay.

2. By the end, we saw what both players are known for. Saying all that, Djokovic did uncoil some vicious shots in the third set, once he grabbed the lead and loosened up. But we also got to see Fognini as his "best," if you will. After slipping on the court (we'll get to that), the Italian decided that it wasn't enough to just get up and run towards the oncoming ball; instead he tried a leaping, between-the-legs shot that wasn't too far from landing in. The judges gave him scores of 8.5, 9, and 9.5.

More frequently, Fognini's irregular forehand delivery was his undoing—he tends to slap at the ball, and the result is usually either a clean winner or an ugly error. Once Djokovic began to find his range, Fognini fell into bad habits. Consistency won, while Fognini's happy-go-lucky side that may endear him to some played a big role in his loss.

3. There is a serious problem with the courts. I had thought the slipping epidemic was limited to the first day; I didn't notice too many stumbles during the Radwanska/Goerges match. But as today's play progressed—especially on the non-roofed Court 1, where this match was played—the issue resurfaced. I counted three slips between the two players during just two games in the third set, and at 5-2, Fognini's foot appeared to catch in the turf while changing direction. Roger Federer, who played on Centre Court yesterday, was also victim to this. The surface is not only getting in the players' heads, it's going to cause an injury.

One other note about the grass: Djokovic had a telling remark in his chat with Wertheim, saying the surface is playing faster and balls are bouncing lower than at Wimbledon ... which is of course held at the same venue as the Olympics. It could be a reason for some of the results we've seen on days one and two.

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