Has a player ever had more trouble with a court than with an opponent? That appeared to be the case in Novak Djokovic’s hour-long, 6-1, 6-4 win over Alexandr Dolgopolov in Rome today. The only thing that tripped the Serb up in his stroll into the quarterfinals were a few dodgy, sunken spots on a rain-soaked center court.
The tone of this one was set in the fourth game, when Djokovic won a grinding rally, with multiple deep backhands, to break serve. From that point on, there was nowhere for the 23rd-ranked Dolgopolov to go. He tried to move Djokovic side to side; he tried to rocket balls past him on the first swing; he tried, when all else failed, to drop shot him. None of these worked for long. Djokovic was there to meet all the challenges, and was too solid to need to take many risks of his own. He finished with a tidy 13 winners against nine errors for the match.
Just as important was Djokovic’s serve. He made 69 percent of his first balls, and won 79 percent of the points on them, but that didn’t tell the whole story. What mattered was that whenever he needed a point, he could get one with his serve. Faced with his only break point of the first set, he hit a high kicker that Dolgopolov couldn’t handle. Faced with another in the second set, he went to Dolgopolov’s forehand side and forced another errant return. That play, the sliding serve to the forehand, worked for Djokovic all day—Dolgo couldn’t control his seemingly simple chip return from that side. The stylishly long swing that makes the shot look so appealing is also what makes it so inconsistent.
Djokovic moves on to face Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals tomorrow. Put his 13-1 career record against the Czech together with his sharp form today, and he’s the heavy favorite to keep strolling toward the semifinals, and a possible 35th clash with Rafael Nadal.