Novak’s first match in the Madrid Open 2012 was quite uneven, just like the blue clay on which it is played.
The first set went easily to Novak, who served first and opened with an ace. He held to love in all his service games, except for the third game of the match – in which he double faulted, slipped slightly on the court, and had to save two break points. He broke Gimeno-Traver’s serve immediately afterward, earning himself a 3-1 lead. He broke once again to end the set, while leading 5-2, though it wasn’t easy at all – throughout the match, the Spaniard played very well on important points, and it took 3 (non-consecutive) set points to actually finish the set off.
Nole opened the second set with an easy hold, but lost his concentration from that point on, and got broken twice. The second of those breaks came as a result of Novak serving double faults twice, one of which was on a break point. It was only when his opponent had a 1-5 lead that Nole finally held his service to love, and even got two breaks points of his own, but couldn’t convert them. Gimeno-Traver played strongly and served out the set 6-2, to the satisfaction of the local crowd (which included Carlos Moya). The partisan crowd, it must be said, was cheering loudly for its own player, and giving only scattered lukewarm applause to the World No. 1 (not to mention the occasional booing). While this is by no means new to Djokovic, it did seem to subdue him somewhat, at least for the duration of the second set, in which he hit 13 unforced errors and only 3 winners.
Novak started the third set on his own serve once again. The courts were watered during the break, which led to Novak slipping on the court in the very first point. It wasn’t the first time – it was clear from the outset of the match that the court was problematic. This visibly affected Novak’s movement, which seemed very restricted most of the time, with practically no sliding. At any rate, Nole held easily in the first game, as did Gimeno-Traver in the second. The last point of that game had Novak slipping again, and at the same time he called the umpire to check the mark of the Spaniard’s last ball, which he believed to be out. However, Mohamed Lahyani, who’s usually very keen-eyed, got confused and apparently thought that Novak was challenging a previous shot – and he declared that Nole’s request was too late for him to check the mark. The Hawk Eye (which is installed in big clay court tournaments but isn’t used for challenging) confirmed that the ball was indeed out, and Novak was in fact right.
Thankfully, Novak didn’t let the incident bother him, as he served the next game to love once more. Two more games went on serve, to put Novak 3-2 ahead. In the long game that followed, Gimeno-Traver saved three break points, but Novak managed to finally break on the fourth opportunity, accompanied by a loud scream of satisfaction. Only then did he allow himself to relax a bit, and started moving better and actually sliding on the clay. The match continued to be close, but every good shot that Gimeno-Traver hit was followed by an error, and finally, leading 5-3, Nole served the match out to love. He had a total of 7 out of 13 service games in which he didn’t lose a point.
Shaking hands at the net, Gimeno-Traver told Djokovic that he wasn’t happy with the court conditions and the ball visibility. Nole seemed to agree, and said the following in his press conference: “To me that’s not tennis. Either I come out with football shoes or I invite Chuck Norris to advise me how to play on this court. […] Center court is impossible to move on. I hit five balls throughout the whole match. With everything else, I was just trying to keep the ball in the court. […] When you slide on the red clay you have a feeling you can stop and recover from that step. But here, whatever you do … you are always slipping. […] Not a single player – not woman not man – I didn’t hear anyone say ‘I like blue clay.”
Novak will play his 3rd round on Thursday against either Stanislas Wawrinka or Jurgen Melzer, who play tomorrow.
Written by: @anna_tennisfan, http://letsecondserve.blogspot.com/