After Win, Djokovic Challenges Johnny Mac

It’s not often a player gets more of a challenge from the broadcast booth. But that was precisely the case for Novak Djokovic, who had an easy go of it in a straight sets 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 Round of 16 triumph over No.15 veteran Radek Stepanek.

The same pair met a couple of years ago giving the crowd a lot more drama with Djokovic overcoming cramps to pull out a final set tiebreak en route to the final. But tonight was nothing like that match with the overlooked No.4 Serb having too much for an unsteady Stepanek.

In the lone competitive set, a perfect forehand topspin lob gave Nole a break of serve for 4-3. He managed to save one break point in the next game. Following a Stepanek hold that featured some nifty volleying skills, Djokovic crawled out of Love-30 taking the next four points to advance to a quarterfinal versus 10th seeded Fernando Verdasco, who bounced back from a set down to oust American John Isner in four 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Isner’s departure was historic because it marked the first time in U.S. Open history that no American male had made the quarterfinals. Pretty sad considering it’s been around since 1881.

At the conclusion of Djokovic’s win, he entertained the same audience he irked last year in a quarter win over Andy Roddick. This time, the chatty Serb while talking to ESPN’s Darren Cahill challenged John McEnroe to come down and hit with him. The hilarious confrontation which included Djokovic impersonating Johnny Mac’s serve and his infamous “You cannot be serious” quote at umpires will surely go down as one of the most classic things to happen at the Open.

Eventually, McEnroe who took off the tie made it down to courtside and did a funny imitation of his own pretending to serve like Djokovic bouncing the ball which got plenty of chuckles. They played three points with the popular four-time winner earning two points with what else but his crafty net skills which still looked pretty good.

If the moment is right, it comes spontaneously,” Djokovic later said after shaking hands with the idol. “I thought the moment was right. The crowd loved it, and that was the most important thing.

As for the real stuff, at least the Ashe Stadium capacity crowd got to see one superb match with No.9 Caroline Wozniacki coming back to edge former 2004 champ Svetlana Kuznetsova (6) 2-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3). Playing against the two-time slam winner including this year’s French, the 19 year-old from Denmark showed tremendous poise after getting outplayed in the first set.

Kuznetsova worked her from side to side slugging plenty of winners from all angles. The 24 year-old Russian was the aggressor throughout which might better explain how she wound up with over triple the winners (Kuznetsova-59, Wozniacki-16). But as often is the case when you go for more, the unforced errors can pile up and that’s exactly what happened in the second and third sets where she committed a large part of a match high 63 to her younger opponent’s 25.

Wozniacki’s consistency helped her stay in the match. When asked what turned it around by ESPN’s Brad Gilbert, the Dane indicated that she was more aggressive which didn’t allow Kuznetsova to dictate as much.

After taking the second breaker to level the match, she dropped serve falling behind 0-2 in the final set. But Kuznetsova’s level dropped allowing Wozniacki to claim the next three games. She was firmly in control after breaking for 5-3 but as often happens with an inexperienced player in such a big spot, the lanky teenager couldn’t close out Kuznetsova allowing her to get back on serve.

With the veteran serving to stay in the match, a running winner that finished off a scintillating point gave her match point. However, Kuznetsova showed why she’s won coming up with a deadly backhand winner down the line to erase it before holding. The former hitting pair in Eastbourne this past summer exchanged holds with Kuznetsova saving another match point with an ace to force a deciding breaker.

In it, a Kuznetsova double along with an unforced error handed Wozniacki a 3-0 double mini-break lead. But before you could blink, it was three all thanks to some great points by the Russian who found the angles.

Just when momentum seemed back on her side, she dropped the next point to go down 3-4. This time, Wozniacki won her two service points by playing steady while Kuznetsova misfired setting up three more match points.

With her first quarter berth on the line, she cashed in thanks to some great hustle running down a backhand in the corner to draw a Kuznetsova miss at the net. Pumped up, a smiling Wozniacki threw her hands in the air and tossed the racket before running up to get congrats.

She’s [Melanie Oudin] had an amazing run. Hopefully someone from the crowd will cheer for me,” cracked Wozniacki of her next opponent to cheers and laughter from Ashe spectators.

Whoever wins their quarter will be favored to make their first ever final with Kateryna Bondarenko and Yanina Wickmayer vying for the other spot in a top half that’s seen higher seeds go by the wayside with Oudin responsible for three Russians (No.4 Elena Dementieva, No.29 Maria Sharapova & No.13 Nadia Petrova).

With her win tonight, Wozniacki eliminated the last remaining Russian in either men’s or women’s draws meaning that for the first time in quite a while, not one player from Russia made the quarters. In fact, every single win by the 17 year-old from Atlanta, Georgia has come at the expense of Russia with her posting her first Open win back in Round One over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

“She’s on a roll. And she has nothing to lose,” pointed out Petrova after letting it slip away. “She goes, enjoys it, crowd is behind her. She’s just having a blast out there.”

“This,” Oudin said, “is what I’ve wanted forever.”

An Excerpt from “The Education of a Tennis Player”

The court was greasy, but somehow slow, which favored me because Tony’s slice didn’t take. Movement was tough, and this was a break for me because Tony decided not to put on spikes. He figured his strained thigh muscles would be jarred by the quick stops you make in spikes, possibly bringing on a cramp.

That first set was one of the strangest I’ve ever played. I should have won it and deserved to lose it. I got what I deserved and Tony took it 9-7, just took it right away from me after I’d been serving for the set at 5-3. He did it with beautiful backhands. I was sloshing and slipping around, and a couple of times I had asked referee Mike Gibson for permission to put on my spiked shoes. I’d wanted to begin the match in them, but he’d refused. After that game, Mike said all right. It meant all the difference to me.

Tony immediately won his serve in four points, but I felt surer on my feet and I knew I’d get going. Especially when I stopped him two points short of the set to keep even at 6-6. But I wasn’t so sure when I lost that first set anyway. I’d had a lot of luck during the year, and I wondered if it had run out at last. Although I’d worn spikes here and there throughout my career, the occasions were so rare during my professional days that they took some getting used to. You consciously changed your movements at first. Picked up your feet. No sliding. It was a new sensation until you were re-accustomed to them.

The slight uncertainty of moving in spikes was gone for good in the first game of the second set when I came through with a big serve at the crucial point of the match. With the first set his, and the pressure on me, Tony got me down 30-40 on my serve. One more point and he’d be up a set and a break, a pretty good edge in that mush.

We both knew this was a huge point. He took his time getting ready to return, and I did the same lining up—not overly so, maybe not even noticeable to the crowd, but we had to be right for this one. I was righter. I threw myself into the serve, and sliced it wide to his forehand. It didn’t come back. He barely touched it, and I could tell it pained him to miss the opportunity. You don’t get too many break-point chances on grass—and he didn’t have another.

It wouldn’t be apparent for a while, but the match turned upside down right there. I won the game and began hitting harder and harder as I got surer of my footing. Then I won the next and the next—five straight. From that break-point chance in the first game, Tony managed to win only five of the last 23 games. He came all apart as I wrapped him up, 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Not even a rain delay of a half-hour at the beginning of the third set could rust my concentration or help him pull his together.

Unlike 1962, I had control of myself all through the final match of the Grand Slam. I was never dazed as I had been against Emmo seven years before during a brief case of nerves down the stretch.

Serving match game, I opened with an ace. I knew what I was about, and wasn’t going to let Tony breathe. It was 40-0 when I did try to end with a grand-slamming flourish on a forehand volley. I blew it. A minor disappointment not to be able to score with a put-away as I had on the championship point at Wimbledon.

It fell to Tony to lose it with a forehand that he hit long. Both of us were glad it was over. Afraid to use spikes, he’d been victimized in sneakers, unable to counteract my better shots, including a number of very good lobs. It was one of my best days with the lob, always a useful shot, but even more damaging that day when running was tough.

Not enough ordinary players realize the value of the lob, and I guess I didn’t until I became a seasoned pro. It’s much more than a desperation measure. As an amateur, even if the odds were against my making a shot, I’d usually let fly anyway. When I became a pro, I couldn’t risk throwing away points like that because the opposition was equal or better.

This meant I had to be realistic. If my chances of making a shot from a difficult position were doubtful, I found you seldom get hurt with a lob.

But there were no more lobs to be hit. Not one more stroke on a chase that began God knows how many strokes ago in Brisbane when I hit the first serve to a fellow I wouldn’t know if he walked into the room, Massimo di Domenico. The others I knew pretty well . . . Andres . . . Arthur . . Emmo . . . Tony . . . Newc . . . Dennis . . . Kenny . . . Okker . . . Smith.

There were 1,005 games in 26 Grand Slam matches, and now it was all over.

Laver captured 11 major singles titles during his career, including Wimbledon in 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1969. After joining Don Budge as the only man to win a Grand Slam by sweeping all four majors in 1962, Laver turned professional where he, along with fellow pros Hoad, Rosewall and Gonzalez, were banned from playing the “amateur-only” major tournaments. When the “Open Era” of tennis began in 1968, Laver netted another five major singles titles, including his Grand Slam sweep of all four in 1969. Laver won nearly 200 singles titles during his career and was inducted into the International Tennis of Fame in 1981.

I am delighted that THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is back in circulation and available for a new generation of tennis fans,” said Laver. “Winning the Grand Slam for a second time in 1969 seems just like yesterday and this book brings back a lot of memories of the great matches and exciting times. I hope people enjoy reading my story.

Collins, himself a 1994 inductee in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, first met Laver in 1956 at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston during the U.S. National Doubles Championships. Thirteen years later, the two collaborated on the book that was only to be published if Laver won the Grand Slam. Collins is best known for his colorful television commentary – and his colorful wardrobe – as well as his columns in the Boston Globe. Collins currently works as a commentator with ESPN2 and Tennis Channel.

Rod Laver is one of the greatest treasures we have in tennis and THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is one of our sports most important literary works,” said Collins. “Rod was always so humble and gracious, but he could play tennis like a hurricane. He was as a great a champion as we have ever had in tennis and one of the all-time nicest guys.

New Chapter Press is also the publisher of THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS by Bud Collins, THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION by Rene Stauffer and BOYCOTT: STOLEN DREAMS OF THE 1980 MOSCOW OLYMPIC GAMES by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli among others. More information on New Chapter Press can be found at www.NewChapterMedia.com.