Djokovic and Davydenko Through to Final
November 15, 2008 -- Both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray looked sluggish at times during their semi-final matches today. However, the #3 seed Novak Djokovic found a way to battle back at the end of the third set to send home his opponent Frenchman Gilles Simon while Andy Murray left the court without acknowledging his opponent Nikolay Davydenko who had raised his game to a level that probably no player could have overtaken.
Both Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko will play in their first Tennis Masters Cup final tomorrow. Davydenko, although ranked #5, has never made it to a Grand Slam final. This will be his biggest moment on a center court. Of all four men, he looked the most intent and played the cleanest. His was a relentless warrior against a fighter who had probably left his best tennis on the court in his previous marathon match against Roger Federer.
In the first semifinal at Qi Zhong Stadium, Gilles Simon grabbed control immediately. He broke Djokovic after his third break chance in the third game. Simon's anticipation and lightning-fast foot-speed pressured the Serb as his forehand misfired time after time, driving up unforced errors. Both men played an aggressive baseline strategy. They moved their opponent in a figure-eight pattern -- first cross court then down the line on the ad court, then cross court in the other direction, and down the line on the deuce side. One such point was 30 rallies. Frustration crept over Novak, as Simon continued to stack up winners. Simon dropped only six points in five service games in the first set, winning it 6/4.
During the second game of the second set, Simon motioned to the chair umpire that he wanted the trainer. No reason was given, and Simon continued his offense. Djokovic got 2 break points with his counter offensive of penetrating groundstrokes. His points were beautifully designed with depth to die for. But, to no avail. He continued to commit unforced errors. At that flash-of-an-instance when perfectly positioned, Simon seemingly a mile away, Novak lost his precious intuitive ingredient to seal the point in his favor. He had twice as many unforced errors as Simon before the second set was halfway through.
After the trainer worked on Simon's neck, his fluid footwork and zoned-in tennis eluded him. Getting down 0/40 in the fourth game, he doubled faulted twice to gift the break to the surging Djokovic who continued to work every point with all his might and tennis talent. His unforced errors decreased and his first-serve percentage rose. He got the set with the one break 6/3.
Gilles Simon worked hard to hold in the last set, needing three deuces to put away the first game. However in the third game, Djokovic finally broke. His was 7/9 on first serves.
By the sixth game, Djokovic dominated points as Simon continued to fade. Novak's earlier attempts at put-away shots miraculously rose to the occasion. His volleys were crisp and on target. He found his half-volley. And, his drop shot from the baseline left the speedy Frenchman flatfooted as Novak disguised it so well.
And then Novak called the trainer.
His medical time out lasted nine minutes, provoking a scattering of boos from the audience and causing Simon to lose his rhythm. Djokovic seemed to have had no sense of integrity or protocol about his medical interlude. He had cramps. Doctors don't need nine minutes to diagnose cramps. But the chair umpire didn't warn him of a time violation perhaps because of the match's duration.
Djokovic first served for the match at 5/4. However, at 30/40 he double faulted for the first time, giving Simon hope of a comeback. But Simon surrendered his serve after a 21-shot rally, allowing the Serb his second shot at the win. After two-hours and fifty-one minutes, Novak Djokovic clinched with a beautifully executed drop shot. He had the match 7/5. He also had a spot in his first Tennis Masters Cup final.
Andy Murray looked beaten mid-way through the first set of his match against Nikolay Davydenko who was everywhere on the court. He fired deep, flat groundstrokes in such extreme directions and angles that they seemed to yank Murray around as if he was on a leash.
As Roger Federer mentioned in his press conference yesterday, after his loss to Murray, "Davydenko is the worse player to face if you're tired." No truer words were spoken, as far as Murray would have been concerned.
The players stayed on serve, Davydenko simply bidding his time and energy for that one moment when he would pounce on his opponent and turn the match in his favor. At five-games all, his moment arrived. He broke and got the set 7/5 in sixty-two minutes.
Every time these two men have played, the one who had won the first set won the match. Davydenko stashed that anecdote in the back of his mind, using it to boost his confidence and tennis. The angles on his strokes became more acute. His anticipation and ease with which he took the ball on the rise flowed effortlessly. And, each point aggravated Murray. His immature temperament ignited, which the Russian ignored to his betterment. At five two, the match was all but over. Davydenko sealed his 6/2 victory with his sixth ace.
All the facets of his game came together for Davydenko today. His performance was just about as perfect as his tennis can get. We will wait to see if he can sustain that level tomorrow against Djokovic who has had big-match experience. However, this rather slight Russian showed the almost 14,000 fans on hand that a small stature does not indicate the bigness of a man's will to win. Tomorrow's moment could finally be Nikolay Davydenko's.