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Novak Djokovic plays chess, not checkers at the US Open
Andy Roddick said the world No. 1 "takes your legs and then your soul," and he surely took both at 1-4 in the second set against Matteo Berrettini.
Published Sep 09, 2021
Andy Roddick shed light on the genius of Novak Djokovic’s in-match strategy during his four-set win over Jenson Brooksby on Monday night at the US Open.
We all know that Novak Djokovic wins many matches with his incredible endurance and superior will, but he did something on Wednesday night against Matteo Berrettini that caught my attention in a major way.
Would Djokovic, or any player for that matter, actually extend a game on purpose? The answer is almost certainly no, as no player would purposely lose a game in such a pivotal match against a quality opponent, but I think it’s worth a closer look.
Matteo Berrettini won a grueling 7-5 first set that lasted nearly an hour and twenty minutes. He certainly won that battle, but lost the ensuing war in a hurry, with a final scoreline in favor of the Serb 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
After dropping his serve early in the second set, it appeared Berrettini had little to no intention of fighting back to win the set. But Djokovic wasn’t done with him yet.
Berrettini was serving 1-4 in the second set when the world No.1 raced to a quick 40-love lead. A break for Djokovic in this instance would have resulted in a 5-1 lead, and a full Djokovic service game for Berrettini to tank and conserve energy for the next set. It would mean a fresher Berrettini would begin serving in the third set. It’s no secret that it’s a slight advantage to have scoreboard pressure when facing a dangerous frontrunner with a huge serve like Berrettini.
He was returning phenomenally at the time, with all the momentum in the world, but decided to hit a weak second-serve return that Berrettini could attack. Surely, if Novak was going for the kill, he would have struck a more aggressive return.
What resulted was a grueling, lung-busting service game for the Italian that lasted exactly nine minutes and 30 seconds.
Normally, a miss like this on break point would frustrate the Serb, but he couldn’t have cared less. He had the Italian right where he wanted.
Although Berrettini went on to win the game, Djokovic broke him to win the set, and raced to a 3-0 lead in the third set, with more break chances to go up 4-0. By this point the match was a formality, a foregone conclusion.
No player would lose a game on purpose. But if Djokovic extended this game as a tactic, it worked to perfection. Djokovic plays chess, not checkers, and while we’ll never know for sure what his true intentions were up 40-love on Berrettini’s serve, it’s certainly something to think about.
After all he’s accomplished, would we really be surprised if that was the case?