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November 25, 2009

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2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals
November 25, 2009
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Djokovic Disappoints, Nadal Out of Contention
November 25, 2009 -- Something should be said about Andy Roddick, the ghost finalist at the Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals, and Robin Soderling should be the one holding the microphone. He should thank the American for his injured left knee -- a wound he succumbed to in Shanghai this fall after all his powerful performances on the courts this year, the most memorable being the Wimbledon Championships' final. He all about ripped the major out of Roger Federer's hands, except for the singularly annoying break of serve that gave the win, his 15th major, to the Swiss. And like that single break of serve, which changed Roger Federer's career history, Andy's left knee problem changed Robin Soderling's career history. It gave the #9 ranked Swede his key to center court as an active alternate.
So active has Soderling been, that he beat Rafael Nadal in their round-robin match, the second defeat of the year for Rafael at the hands of Sweden's current best. The first defeat, of course, came at Roland Garros this spring. A match Nadal will rue for the remainder of his career.
Andy Roddick would have fared well on these medium-fast hard courts, although slick surfaces -- grass -- and heat brought out his best tennis in 2009. Washington DC heat and humidity skyrocketed on final's Sunday at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Temperatures of 136 degrees were recorded. The air was as still as inside a vacuum. Roddick had the match, but yet didn't have it when one point, which turned out to be the last point, went long. Both players assured each other at the net that the ball was out, until Mr. Hawkeye corrected them. Del Potro had just won back-to-back titles in the nation's capital.
Andy Roddick's absence from Davis Cup in July, which was immediately after Wimbledon, probably foretold the United States' exit from the World Group until 2010. Roddick was in no shape to play with his mates, though. He had injured his right hip flexor in a fall along the baseline halfway through his epic encounter against Roger in the final. Roddick's adrenalin, pumped up to the speed of light, guaranteed him he would complete the task at hand: finishing the match. Only after defeat did his defenses relax enough to reveal the exact nature of his body blows.
Andy Roddick, for most American tennis fans and many internationally, is a knight in shining armor -- even without having slain the Swiss Dragon on centre court that fateful day. When Soderling found out the American wouldn't play in London, the Swede was happy he'd continued to practice after the Paris Masters 1000 instead of taking a vacation.
"Well, I never really thought of vacation because I know I was first alternate," Soderling said yesterday. "So I was going to go here anyway. I tried to prepare as if I was going to play. So after Paris, you know, they told me Roddick had to pull out, so I knew it pretty early, so it was good."
Roddick was on hand at the event to watch a couple matches and sign a new contract with Lacoste, which will extend to 2013. In his interview yesterday, Roddick didn't have anything in particular to say about Robin, however he showed signs of disappointment.
"It is a different dynamic for me to be here and to be talking with all of you, not playing," Roddick said. "But to be able to come here and see just the energy that's around it, just the great event that's being put on, I definitely am envious towards those guys out there, that they're able to play and participate in this event."
Andy's knee is healing, which is good news. He is ahead of schedule with his recovery and has been given the green light to begin practice. His doctors have assured him of a complete recovery. His already bright tennis career will continue.
Speaking of bright, there's one place Robin Soderling shines brightest and it's on indoor hard courts. He likes the controlled atmosphere. He likes to hit big forehands and backhands and serves, which he did aplenty today against Novak Djokovic.
Novak, though, looked from the start as if he'd gotten up in a cranky mood. In the first set, neither player broke. Djokovic wasn't at his best, but he maintained his composure. Yet he fidgeted, yelled at his box and himself, and hung his hands on his hips showing the world his annoyance. But at what?
The bee in his bonnet helped the Serb dig out from a triple break point deficit as he served at 4/5. The advantage point he won in that game came after a rally of 38 strokes. His confidence then carried him to the tiebreak. However, he didn't have the conviction to take the set and Soderling's positive and aggressive tactics overtook Djokovic. Score: 76 (5).
Djokovic began the second set on a downer. He hit an awesome aggressive down-the-line backhand winner and wasn't satisfied. He hit lousy drop shots at inopportune times, telegraphing to his opponent 'I'm frustrated and annoyed with you... I don't know what to do... I'm pissed... no, I'm pissy.'
In other words he acted entitled, the way a Royal family member acts entitled to entry to the best schools and social settings merely because of their status in the world.
Up a break point in the third game, Soderling let the Serb implode after another long rally that he attempted to win with another misguided drop shot.
Certainly not Novak's day at the office. And certainly not a sportsman with the desire to do one darn thing to change himself or his attitude. Robin Soderling didn't care what Novak Djokovic did on the other side of the court. He stayed cool and concentrated, going up a second break. Score 4/1.
The dejected Djokovic went through perfunctory play for the remainder of the set. The word 'tank' probably floated through the minds of many fans, as they watched the man pundits had pronounced "Hot" coming in this tournament. But here was a chilly Novak -- a disappointment to himself and all who watched.
Fittingly at 1/5 and on his serve, Djokovic hit a volley in the net. Match over. Win to Soderling 76 (5) 61. Soderling has a perfect round-robin record. He's 2/0 in matches won, and 4/0 in sets won and lost. For his loss today, Djokovic still has a fighting chance to make it to Saturday's semifinals. However, next up for him is Rafael Nadal.
The last time Nikolay Davydenko played Rafael Nadal was in Shanghai in the final of the Masters 1000 Series. Davydenko had a sharp day and defeated Nadal in straight sets. It's the only way to describe the Russian when he performs like a razor's edge. Take all balls early. Change their direction. Set up for down-the-line winners. Crack the winner. When at the net, stab the volley out of reach. However, Davydenko always has gotten the best of Nadal on a hard court. And, Nadal has always gotten the best of Davydenko on clay. Since the match total between them is seven, one has the lead. It's Nadal at 4-3 against the #7 player in the world.
Nadal probably thought his match was jinxed, as he watched the last shot of his first service game hit the net cord and dribble back to his side of the court. All on a break chance from his opponent. In minutes Davydenko rushed to a 3/0 lead. He was on as sharply as he was on in Shanghai.
Point after point Davydenko ran the Spaniard back and forth along the baseline. Nadal, in return, sent the ball right back to the Russian who held steadfastly to his ground in the middle of the court. On other points, Nadal's shots landed short. Sure they had bite to them, but Davydenko saw the ball as clearly as he sees his wife in the stands each time he glances in her direction for support. He was on a rampage. He was a machine. He ate up whatever Nadal fed him and spit out winners just as fast.
With another break to his credit and the score at 5/1, Davydenko served for the set. He closed it out at love, with a dejected Nadal appearing visibly shaken. The set whizzed by in 27 minutes. Nadal had hit three winners.
Nadal, for maybe the first time in his career was the one looking not to get in baseline rallies with his opponent. Usually the tables are turned in the other direction. But Davydenko's foot speed, anticipation, timing and shot selection were smothering.
Nadal tried to adjust. He sent balls deeper in the court with more pace and less spin because his normal loopy uber-spin balls set up too sweetly for his opponent. For as slight as his frame, Davydenko could handle the high rollers with alacrity. He took acute angles and made ones more acute until both men were spread so far wide they almost ran into the boundaries of the court. Then Davydenko took the risk, came to the net, and put the ball away.
On serve until the fifth game, Nadal tried to disrupt the rhythm of Davydenko. He kept shots deep until one went too deep. It was out and the first break went to Davydenko. However, his second set slump took over, like an alternate personality. The same pattern came out in his match against Djokovic. Nadal doesn't have to be led to water to drink. He took complete advantage of the dip in performance, evening the set at 4 games all.
Everyone knows that a sliver of positive change is all Nadal needs to reel in the momentum. With the break he won the next game at love. Fans anticipated a third set. However, his edge was cut short when Davydenko shifted into overdrive after his brief respite. Deep down he knew if the match were extended, Nadal's chances of victory would rise exponentially. Better keep a lid on the kid. The set would be determined in a tiebreak.
At 3/2 Nadal, in the tiebreak, Davydenko hit three winners: two overhead smashes and one crosscourt backhand. He lost the next point when he put a volley in the net after a 36-shot exchange. But that was all he was going to take. He hit an unreturnable serve and slapped an inside-out forehand crosscourt way out of reach of Nadal. Score for the match 61 76 (4).
With his second two-set loss, Nadal has no chance of a spot in the semifinals. He has won zero matches and zero sets. There's no leverage in those numbers.

Earlier Columns from this Event:
November 24, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: Federer Clinches Year-end #1 Ranking, Delpo Squeaks Past Verdasco
November 23, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: The Not-So-Year-End Men's Tournament, London

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