The Djoker Goes To The Semis

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Novak Djokovic came to court with a dragon on his back, fire in his eyes and after an early mis-step found the swagger in his step in scorching a flat and floundering Gael Monfils, 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-2, to storm into the US Open semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.

The highly anticipated battle of the Djoker vs. Slider Man was about as absorbing as a two-page, color-less comic book.

Wearing the distinctive dragon design on the back of his Sergio Tacchini shirt, Djokovic, aka The Djoker, turned Slider Man Monfils into his own personal punch line after coming back from a break down in the first set to dispense a thorough thrashing of the flamboyant Frenchman who showed no fight after the first set.

The third-seeded Serbian powered into his fourth straight US Open semifinal where he will face either five-time champion Roger Federer or No. 5 seed Robin Soderling for a spot in Sunday’s final.

Federer has served as a personal road block for Djokovic in ending the 2008 Australian Open champion’s Flushing Meadows runs in each of the past three years, including a victory in the 2007 final and his famous between-the-legs passing shot winner that haunted Djokovic in the 2009 semifinals.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion is 10-5 lifetime vs. Djokovic, but the Serbian showman will enjoy more rest than any other semifinalist. The question is: can Djokovic show the necessary mental strength and tactical acumen necessary to finally clear the Swiss hurdle in New York? Or is Djokovic destined for another final four failure?

A positive sign for Djokovic is the composed demeanor he’s shown both on court and in his post-match press conferences. This appears to be a more focused and determined Djokovic, but both Federer and Nadal have a habit of causing that familiar haunted expression in the normally smiling Serbian.

If Djokovic is to master another major he must step up and beat Federer in the latter stages of a major. He believes time is on his side.

“I have two days (to rest) so I will try to use them as best as I can to recover physically and get ready mentally for this next challenge,” said Djokovic, who has been all business in this tournament.

Since his five-set win over Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki in the first round, the Djoker has won 12 consecutive sets

Meanwhile, Monfils reinforced his reputation as an ultra-talented, but extremely flaky Frenchman, who is apparently unable or unwilling or unable to accept that bobbing and weaving just won’t get it down against top four players.

Squandering the break lead in the opening set, Monfils played tentative, frightened tennis for the final two sets. Ducking and running rather than engaging Djokovic in committed baseline exchanges.

How bad did it get for Monfils?

His coach, Roger Rasheed, essentially called out Monfils as a passionless pusher who looked resigned to suffering his fifth consecutive loss to Djokovic.

“I’ve been disappointed to be perfectly honest,” Rasheed told ESPN’s Darren Cahill after an absymal second-set effort from his charge. “You gotta have some authority on the game and the person that gets after it is gonna get the job done in these conditions.”

Ooo Ooo Oudin Moves On

(August 30, 2010) The purple streak across the blue court created a color scheme that screamed bruising for the opening match on Arthur Ashe Stadium today. Melanie Oudin, who has taken her share of shots since she emerged as America’s tennis darling with her inspired run to the 2009 US Open quarterfinals, returned to the Open today and produced a purple patch in powering past Olga Savchuk, 6-3, 6-0, in 56 minutes.

Oudin has gone to great lengths in trying to distance herself from last year, patiently pointing out in several press conferences that Cinderella stories only occur once in a career. Instead of a glass slipper, she wore multi-colored adidas with the word “believe” inscribed on them.

“Everyone has one Cinderella story, and mine was last year.  Now it’s like everyone just expects me to do that because I did it last year,” Oudin said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to happen. I mean, I’m going to have to play well.  It’s not just going to happen for me.  I’m gonna have to play well and fight hard like I did last year, and, um, hopefully it will be good for me and I’ll be the better player out there.”

Clad in a purple adidas dress, Oudin’s footwear drew the attention of fans and the long lens of photographers. She has replaced the word “believe” that adorned the side of her sneakers with “courage” and played with fast feet in making quick work of Savchuk.

Oudin says she came up with “courage” to remind herself to play with the fearlessness she displayed last year, but she insists she’s still a believer in the believe brand that inspired a legion of Oudin fans across the country to emulate the slogan on their shoes.

“I mean, I just really thought of the word because I thought it goes well with believe.  I wasn’t trying to just go completely away from the whole believe thing,”  Oudin said. “I was just adding something else that I think that you have to do in order to believe is have courage when you play.I mean, for me, like, when I’m going for my shots and I’m swinging out and I have courage and I believe in myself that I know I can win, that’s when I’m playing my best.  I think they go together.”

The golden girl of a summer ago nearly delivered a golden set as Oudin did not drop a point until the fourth game of the second set and completed a near shutout set with 24 points compared to two for Savchuk.

The petite blond with the mega-watt smile made the nation swoon in reaching the final eight last year, but her results have sagged since her surge to the Open quarterfinals. Oudin entered today’s opener with an 18-24 record since the ’09 Open, including a 17-20 record this season.

Spinning her wheels in winning just four of her last 17 matches, Oudin was determined to burst out of the blocks quickly today and benefited from playing a 22-year-old opponent who has never won a US Open main draw match. Overcoming some early match jitters, Oudin won nine consecutive games to close a commanding victory.

“After I won the first set I started moving my feet a lot more and I felt a lot better,” Oudin said. “It means a lot (to play on Arthur Ashe Stadium).  can’t believe they actually put me first on starting the US Open so I really appreciate that.”

Showing a willingness to move forward, Oudin tried to take the ball early and pressure the 143rd-ranked Ukranian.

Holding a 4-3 lead at 30-all, Oudin pumped up the pace on her forehand and broke for a 5-3 lead. The match was pretty much one-way traffic after that.

Opening the court with the crackling cross court forehand she wielded like a whip in dispatching Russians Maria Sharapova, fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva and 13th-seeded Nadia Petrova en route to the quarterfinals, Oudin ripped a forehand winner down the line to close the first set.

Savchuk offered little resistance in the second set as an empowered Oudin won 12 of the 14 points played on Savchuk’s serve.

Now, the challenge really begins as Oudin takes on another Ukranian, the recently-wed Alona Bondarenko, in the second round. Bondarenko beat Vera Dushevina, 6-0, 5-7, 6-4. The winner of that match could face French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the third round. The sixth-seeded Italian stomped Ayumi Morita, 6-1, 6-0.

The perpetually-positive Oudin, who seems to wake up with a smile plastered across her face, admits she has endured some melancholy moments during a season of struggle  — when her doctor informed the 5-foot-6 Oudin her height has peaked.

“The doctor told me that she didn’t think I was going to grow much more.  It was a pretty sad day,” Oudin said smiling. “t’s all right.  It’s all right.”

Is there room for growth in her game? Absolutely, but because Oudin lacks the height, reach and strength of larger opponents, she will need to try to add some muscle to her serve and continue to use her speed as an offensive weapon in moving to the front court. She will always be vulnerable to the high topspin as Caroline Wozniacki showed when she carved up Oudin in the quarters last year, but Oudin believes she has what it takes to take down the bigger players.

“I feel like I’m not going to backwards, that’s for sure,” Oudin said. “I feel like I’m still young, I’m still improving, and I think I have a lot more work to do, though, for sure.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.