Like most of the other interested parties on the planet, I kept half an eye on the third-round match between Alejandro Gonzalez and world No. 2 Novak Djokovic. But I turned off the television just as Djokovic was on the verge of blowing through the first set with ease.
And why not? Djokovic was punishing and dictating. And Gonzalez, who’s 25, had never won a main-tour match before this edition of the desert Masters. On the other hand, Gonzalez has risen to No. 91 in the world, mostly—make that exclusively—on the strength of his performance in Challenger events.
But by the time the second set was over (hint: the match wasn’t), I’d been alerted to turn the box back on. I was just in time to hear the commentator describe the comeback by Gonzalez as “absolutely stunning.”
That’s impressive, even if you factor in the capacity for hyperbole that comes with a commentator’s territory. It was even more impressive considering the quality of Gonzalez’s opponent.
Djokovic had fallen asleep at the switch during the second set, perhaps lulled into the same false sense of security as the rest of us. But Gonzalez is one of those players who’s capable of turning any match around. He’s 6'3" and armed with an atomic serve. He moves well and, being from Colombia, he mastered the game on clay. He’s capable of keeping a rally alive long enough for his opponent, even if his name is “Djokovic,” to make an error.
Losing the second set stung Djokovic, and he responded with just the right balance of aggression and aplomb. He held to start the third set and calmly watched Gonzalez build a 40-0 lead in the next game. That was a perfect moment to slyly turn the tables, meaning that it was just the moment when a green pro like Gonzalez could be expected to relax. Taking advantage of Gonzalez’s suddenly uncooperative first serve, Djokovic worked his way back to deuce.
At that point, Gonzalez again showed his mettle. He refused to yield and kept going for his shots. The game dragged on through multiple deuces and 10 minutes before Djokovic finally punched through, parlaying a forehand error by Gonzalez and a beautiful drop shot winner that ended a fast and furious rally into a break for 2-0.
Nole then held at love, and while Gonzalez managed another hold for 1-3, he was broken again following a Djokovic hold. From 5-1, Djokovic converted his first match point with a prodigious forehand winner, closing out a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 victory. It ended one of the fastest three-set matches in recent memory (1:37), which should give you some idea of the degree to which Gonzalez is inclined to force the action despite playing a baseline game.
The talent will probably serve him well in the future.