Djokovic shows signs of vulnerability

June, 3, 2012
6/03/12
12:54
PM ET
PARIS -- It was a rainy, blustery day at the French Open two years ago when one of the most impressive streaks in tennis history came to an end. Robin Soderling upset Roger Federer/a>, preventing the Swiss from making his 24th consecutive appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal.

On this eerily similar day, the winds whipped around, the clouds grayed and the temperature took a significant dip. And reminiscent of that frightful day for Federer,
Novak Djokovic's quest to win four straight majors nearly disintegrated -- nearly.

Andreas Seppi gave the world No. 1 all he could handle at Roland Garros on Sunday. But Seppi couldn't quite close it out after taking a commanding two-set lead.

Here are five takeaways from Djokovic's 4-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 win that lasted 4 hours, 18 minutes.

Returns astray


Djokovic was asked last week about his returning. More specifically, reporters wondered if he was returning as well as last year, when he was mentioned in the same breath as Hall of Famer Andre Agassi.

The reply from Djokovic? He was doing well but felt he could step it up. That about sums up his outing versus Seppi.

In the first set, Djokovic had break points in each of Seppi's service games. Great. But he converted only one.

Once Seppi bagged the opening set, he took possession of a precious commodity in tennis: belief.

Djokovic squandered 3-0 leads in the first and fourth sets, and all parts of his game were slightly off. He committed 77 unforced errors, combined with 45 winners. Even on clay, those are sloppy numbers.

At least Djokovic can say he's won his past seven matches that have gone the distance at Grand Slams.

Nole's movement


Djokovic has long been considered one of the best movers in the game, in the same category as Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.

But especially over the first two sets Sunday, he didn't appear comfortable patrolling the baseline. He was a step slow.

Djokovic almost did a face plant chasing a Seppi short ball in the seventh game of the first set. It wasn't as bad as it was in Madrid, but Djokovic's sliding on the clay wasn't as efficient as usual.

Stellar Seppi



This wasn't all about Djokovic. Let's not forget the role Seppi played.

At 28, he's playing the finest tennis of his career after making several adjustments.

His forehand is now a steady swing and not as susceptible to breaking down under pressure. Seppi can still work the angles well off both his forehand and backhand, and he isn't afraid to move forward. His volleying was mostly spot on against Djokovic.

When Seppi beat John Isner in Rome, he snapped an 0-for-30 skid against top-10 players. With that win and his most recent showing, more is to come from Seppi.

Djokovic joked the other day that half of Serbia would be rooting for Seppi because he won a title in Belgrade during the clay-court swing. Had he finished off Djokovic, he'd have been public enemy No. 1.

The way it should be played




Despite a tense encounter, the match was played in the best of spirits. Chair umpire Cedric Mourier didn't have any awkward moments, with Djokovic and Seppi making it easy for him.

Djokovic emulated Nadal's good-natured etiquette and clapped as Seppi left the court. Djokovic, again, showed off his burgeoning handle on the French language, conversing with a ball kid on a changeover in the first set.

Next up



We'll find out in the quarterfinals if Djokovic's subpar display Sunday was a temporary blip.

Here are his numbers against prospective opponents Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Stanislas Wawrinka:

Djokovic and Tsonga are tied 5-5 in their head-to-heads, although Djokovic has won three in a row, including in Rome in May.

Djokovic owns a 10-2 record against Wawrinka, having won nine in a row.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?