Rome: Djokovic d. Ferrer

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If Novak Djokovic had any questions about how his recently injured right wrist would hold up under duress, he probably had them answered by the end of his two-and-a-half hour quarterfinal struggle with David Ferrer.

Djokovic won the match, a sometimes brutal display of punishing groundstrokes fired from either side of the net, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. It was one of those matches destined to add to Ferrer’s legacy as a mighty also-ran—a player who, as game as they come, has one critical shortcoming: An inability to hold onto a match against the very top players once he gets his hands on it. It’s undoubtedly small comfort to him that most players never even get the chance to be in his shoes.

The first set of this one was basically the story of Ferrer’s career. He fought like a demon. He put himself in position to win. Unable to complete the mission, he appeared to collapse. When all hope seemed lost, he created some and experienced a resurgence. Yet at the end he did collapse, and felt bitterly that he had been screwed by fate. It happened like this:

The men were on serve until the sixth game, with Ferrer serving. He fell behind, 0-40. Ferrer ducked one break point but punched a forehand out to end the next rally and give Djokovic a 4-2 lead.

In the next game, Ferrer turned the tables. This time, he built a 0-40 lead against Djokovic’s serve. But the No. 2 seed tightened up his game, outmaneuvering and outrunning Ferrer to win the next three points. He went on to hold for 5-2.

Ferrer bounced back from that disappointment with a strong hold and surely surprised Djokovic in the next game. From 30-15, Djokovic struck three forehand errors, and Ferrer backed up the break with an easy hold. Quickly, the score was 5-all.

Ferrer had raised his level nicely over those last three games, but gravity kept tugging at it. Djokovic recovered from 15-30 in the next game to hold for 6-5, and Ferrer found himself serving to stay in it.

In the ensuing game, Djokovic hit a drop shot and a trademark inside-out forehand winner to forge ahead 0-30, then Ferrer contributed a backhand error to dig the hole to 0-40. Djokovic converted the second set point when Ferrer, thinking his first serve had been a let, whacked the Serb’s service return wide.

When the chair umpire awarded Djokovic the point—and the game and set—Ferrer protested, but to no avail. The set was gone.

But this being Ferrer, you knew he wasn’t going to just go away. In fact, there seems to be nothing he likes more than battling back from behind, a prejudice we can discuss on another day. On this one, Ferrer weathered a few minor crises early on, but managed to keep the second set going on serve up to 3-all.

In the next game, with Djokovic serving, Ferrer ramped up his offensive game just that little bit that, for him, often spells the difference between success and, “Almost—nice try, though!” Ferrer cracked a massive service return winner to go up 15-40, and sealed the break with a sharp, down-the-line backhand passing shot.

This is where things sometimes get complicated for Ferrer, and, sure enough, he found himself embroiled in a multi-deuce game after breaking. But the Spaniard wiped away two break points with aggressive play, held for 5-3, and went on to serve out the set with admirable composure, taking it with another service winner to the Djokovic forehand.

The final set seemed destined to be decided by which player would show more stamina and shotmaking courage. We got a glimpse of the answer in the fourth game, when Ferrer had a mild mental lapse and was broken; Djokovic reeled off four straight points, culminating with a down-the-line backhand winner. 3-1 to Djokovic.

But in typical fashion, Ferrer struck right back. Although Djokovic jumped to a quick 30-0 lead, Ferrer went on a four-point run of his own, his culminating with a terrific backhand service return that Djokovic, rushed for time, dumped into the net. We were back on serve, 3-2 to Djokovic.

Ferrer held the next game to stay even, but it proved to be the last game he would win. Serving at 3-4, Ferrer made a costly error at 15-30, trying to cut an inside-out forehand too close and burying it outside the sideline. He dispatched the first break point when he forced Djokovic into an unwise, rally-ending drop shot, but by then the world No. 2 was throwing all but the kitchen sink at him. Unable to withstand the bombardment, Ferrer was broken when Djokovic sledgehammered a cross-court forehand winner. Suddenly, 5-3 looked like a huge lead.

Ferrer made Djokovic work for the win in the final game, but once again he came up short. Djokovic wasted one match point with a double fault, but he won a 38-shot rally, the longest of the match, when Ferrer finally made a backhand error. A similar error ended the match—and left some wondering how Djokovic’s wrist would feel by tonight.

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