In the third game of the second set of his match with Fabio Fognini, Novak Djokovic reacted to a routine backhand error in uncharacteristic fashion. As he followed through and understood he’d made an error, he just let the racquet fly from his hands. If you’re familiar with the racquet-head speed Djokovic generates when he hits his cross-court backhand, you know what came next:
Cra-a-a-a-ack! Poor racquet. Ouch!
Just why Djokovic appeared so frustrated was puzzling, for he was safely in the lead by then, 6-3, 1-1. The racquet was a cracked, twisted mess—quite a job, considering that it was the result of just a single, punishing hit. The racquet Djokovic retrieved and continued with behaved better (wouldn’t you?), and while it couldn’t quite help the Serb secure a break in that game, it did the job the next time Fognini served, paving the way for an easy 6-3, 6-3 win.
The match began with a commanding Djokovic hold, inspiring one of the Tennis Channel commentators to indulge in a long paean to Nole’s underrated serve. Funny how that has suddenly popped up as a theme, simply because Djokovic had an outstanding day at the service line in the Beijing final.
No matter. On a day when Fognini isn’t feeling it, he’d be vulnerable to the serve of an Elena Dementieva. Djokovic posted the first break of the match in the third game by doing what he does best—hammering side-to-side groundstrokes that turn a rally into something like a symphonic movement, in which the themes just build and build and finally come to a grand crescendo.
Djokovic blasted away, and Fognini ran. And ran. And ran. And while Fognini’s counter-punching abilities are formidable, nobody is going to beat Djokovic by out-defending him. A rushed forehand hit off-balance by Fognini gave Djokovic his first break point of the match, and he converted it with a resounding smash for a 3-1 lead.
Nothing much happened after that until the third game of the second set, the one in which Djokovic destroyed his trusty servant Mr. Head. Still in with a shot at that point, Fognini played a spirited game and slammed the door on numerous Djokovic chances to hold for 2-1.
This was one of those moments that begged for a break in the next game, but the momentum shift never happened. Djokovic, curbing his frustration and presumably more confident with the new racquet, held with but one glitch—a Fognini smash that created a deuce point. But a pair of groundstroke errors by Fognini allowed Djokovic to hold for 2-2.
In the next game, Fognini’s defenses—or was it merely his concentration?—fell apart. A couple of glaring errors allowed Djokovic a break point, which he promptly converted when Fognini whacked a cross-court backhand error off a serve return. As the clock passed the one-hour mark, Djokovic hammered out another hold for 4-2.
Fognini ralled with a good hold, but it was too little, too late. Djokovic was firmly in control of the match, serving at a 75 percent first-serve conversion rate, and hit his fifth ace in the game that lifted him to 5-3.
A dispirited Fognini, looking lazy as well as inept, immediately allowed Djokovic to win the first three points of the next, critical game. Being Fabulous Fabio, he immediately wiped away the first two match points with glorious winners. But he had no real appetite for the battle and was hard pressed to get the top of his racquet on the backhand with which Djokovic ended it.