Is it possible to predict a tennis player’s seasonal form, by analyzing a few of the first matches and tournaments they play? Maybe not so, but it might not be a stretch to predict their form for a few tournaments down the stretch. That being said, here are a few observations I made in this match for both Novak Djokovic and Fernando Verdasco. It also serves as the reason why one player won and the other lost. The highlights can be found here.
1.) Footwork: It’s no secret that Djokovic has great footwork. You don’t get to be one of the best movers in the game with lousy footwork. But then again, you don’t get to be a professional tennis player, with lousy footwork either. Watching these highlights, that fact shines through again. Djokovic was covering the court beautifully and getting himself in position quickly. It severely blunted the effectiveness of Verdasco’s pacy shots. On the opposite side, Verdasco’s footwork was well… lousy. He was slow to the ball and did not get his feet in the correct position for many shots. You can see it, every time he dumps a shot into the net.
2.) Errors: Verdasco is a natural shot maker. When he’s on, he can unleash a flurry of winners from anywhere in the court. When he’s off, it’s like a sea of puzzling errors just flowing off his racket. Today he was horribly off and it showed. Granted, Djokovic is one of the best defenders in the game, that coupled with the ubiquitous slow down of most hard courts, makes it that more difficult for an attacking player like Verdasco to hit winners. However, Djokovic hit his fair share of winners too. He does not lack an offensive mind. The key difference here? Patience and point construction. Verdasco kept trying to go for bigger and bigger shots. You are not gonna hit Novak off the court. He moves too well and his strokes are just to clean for that to work. You’ve got to outplay him and work the court. Verdasco wasn’t ready to do this today.
3.) Attitude: Save for a few exceptions in tennis’s long history, the most successful players have always been those who can keep the shoulders up and maintain a clear head, even when things aren’t going their way. It’s been proven that a negative attitude is just too energy consuming. You spend so much time fussing over things that you eventually loose steam and unravel. Very few players (Johnny Mac anyone) can channel the negative energy towards success. Verdasco is not one of them.
The Qatar Open is no Australian Open, but I doubt it’ll make a difference to Verdasco’s performance there. He’s just not committing himself to playing at the level required to beat the best guys today. And he’s been like that for a few years now. I do wish he’d rebound and give us the kind of electric tennis he did for stretches of 2009. But that in itself is a long shot. As for Djokovic, it wasn’t vintage Djokovic but then again, he didn’t need to be. He was a professional. And that is about all you can ask at this stage of the season.