February 19, 2013
So what’s it like to play against Superman?
David Ferrer found out in his one-sided semi-final against the irresistible force that is Novak Djokovic.
It took just one hour and twenty-nine minutes for Djokovic to demolish Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
‘It was one of the best performances I’ve ever had on the tour, I played incredible,’ admitted Novak with refreshing honesty.
Four Australian Opens in a row? Few would bet against it now.
You almost had to feel sorry for the likeable Spaniard, who was never seriously in contention.
In fact the rare points Ferrer won were often down to temporary over-confidence from Djokovic, who seemed to grow bored of crushing his opponent from the baseline and occasionally wanted to experiment for fun.
But the third game of the third set was truly terrifying in its brutality…and remember, Ferrer was serving.
A superhuman forehand pass round the net to graze the line… and two impossible backhand winners which left Ferrer sprawling hopelessly. Just how does Novak do it? We don’t know. But we do know he’ll do it if you let him.
Djokovic wanted this match over as quickly as possible, with either Roger Federer or Andy Murray waiting in the final. The Serb wanted a good rest and now he has two days to take it easy. That makes him an even bigger favourite for the final.
Greg Rusedski has speculated that a two-day rest might be too long, that Novak might lose his rhythm. Greg has to be joking.
‘I’ll watch Federer v Murray, who wouldn’t want to watch them play?’ Novak said. But there was almost a glint in his eye as he looked forward to devouring the winner.
But how did Novak win quite so emphatically? After all, Ferrer is Spain’s number one and he will be world number four on Monday.
Firstly, the match brought into stark relief the gulf in class between the top three and the rest. And that’s no disrespect, because the rest are fantastically entertaining players too.
But secondly, it reinforced the eternal truth that if you don’t at least try to attack Djokovic, you simply set yourself up for destruction.
Would Ferrer still have lost had Ferrer been more aggressive? Sure. Would he have made Novak feel less comfortable? Definitely.
Federer and Murray know the score. The winner will be tired and short on recovery time. But that semi-final winner – and I expect it to be Federer – will have to go for his shots and take the match to Novak in the final.
Murray hasn’t played a night match in Melbourne; he hasn’t been in a real fight in this Open either… and has never beaten Federer in a Slam. That makes Federer favourite – even with a sore back.
At least Ivan Lendl has made Murray more aggressive, so you cannot rule the Scotsman out. Murray is a far more dangerous customer these days and it’ll be a wonderful match.
But whether Federer or Murray wins the second semi-final, both men know that if you hurt Djokovic enough, suddenly he isn’t Superman any more – just the best player on the planet.
And even the best in the world has weaknesses, and can creak a little under pressure. In reality, Djokovic is only human.
Andy – or more likely Roger – will have a clear game-plan: attack, be super-aggressive, mix it up, take risks…and you give yourself a chance. You still won’t be favourite. But unlike Ferrer, you will play yourself into a real match and you make it a truly scintillating final.
Can any of us wait to see how the drama unfolds? We should never stop reminding ourselves that we are living in the greatest era in tennis history…and to be there among the lucky spectators means we become part of that history.