July 6, 2013
BEHOLD ELASTIC NOVAK…THE MAN WHO TURNS GRASS INTO CLAY….(NO WONDER ANDY MUST SUMMON SOMETHING SPECIAL TO MATCH HIM)
So Novak Djokovic finally dropped a couple of sets and made more unforced errors than usual…but still he found a way to win through to Sunday’s final.
Novak had the big-hitting showman, Juan Martin Del Potro to deal with in warm sunshine. But Djokovic absorbed Del Potro’s power and struck back when it mattered.
How did he do it?
When you have the world number one using the grass in a completely different way to his rivals, you begin to understand how he can take the pressure and stay in the big points.
Incredibly, Novak slides into many shots and performs the splits quite effortlessly when he feels the need. Somehow he persuades the grass – or baseline dirt – on Centre Court to accept and even help his astonishing acrobatics, so that his agility isn’t compromised. Novak could almost be playing on a clay court. It is quite amazing.
No one else has such elasticity to go with their power. And that’s why Djokovic is favourite to become Wimbledon champion on Sunday.
I tipped him for a Roland Garros and Wimbledon double at the start of the European summer.
Against the odds, he almost took the title against Rafa in Paris.
Almost…but not quite.
Could Novak fall at the final hurdle twice in the space of a few weeks?
Could fatigue get to him after his five-set marathon against Juan Martin? It is always possible. This Wimbledon, above all, has shown us that anything can happen.
Andy Murray fans will believe Del Potro, the lovable semi-final loser, has done them a favour and exposed some weaknesses in Djokovic. Maybe he has.
Novak looked slightly below his very best in that epic semi-final. And if Murray starts at the top of his game, he could prove to be a handful.
But if Andy is to prevail, he will have to be just as aggressive as Del Potro was in his best moments. Only under the most intense and consistent fire does Djokovic ever start to look vulnerable.
Booming shots, killer instinct, no room for self-doubt. Murray must bring a warrior mentality to Centre Court on Sunday. He has to be far more of a beast than he was in the day-nighter against Jerzy Janowicz. He has to find a way past that Novak elasticity.
Should Andy play anything less than totally assertive tennis, he will struggle to achieve his Wimbledon dream.
Should Murray tighten instead of unleashing his full power, he will be blown away.
The home crowd can keep Andy mentally strong if he taps into their energy.
But the pressure of expectation on Murray is so massive that it might prove too much in the end.
‘God, poor boy,’ Andy’s grandfather Roy Erskine told me when we talked of that pressure…and that was last weekend, before that pressure really built!
Let’s face it, if Andy handles that enormous pressure and still emerges winner over The Elastic Man, he will truly deserve his first Wimbledon title.
For Djokovic, there is less expectation somehow, even though the rankings remind us he is the best tennis player in the world right now. Novak has the chance to erase the disappointment of Paris, to show how to bounce back from adversity…or should that be stretch and slide back?
One way or another, this memorable Wimbledon is about to reach an extraordinary climax.
Are you going to be there?