<
>

Ferrer stands tall versus Djokovic

Exiting the tube station that leads to the O2 Arena, home of the ATP's World Tour Finals, you will see pictures of the players that are posted on several pillars.

Novak Djokovic is front and center, although are there two Djokovics? One has the Serb listed at 6-foot-2, while the other says 6-3. Must have been a misprint.

He is, for the record, 6-2, which is a fair bit more than David Ferrer. Yet the Spaniard continues to play substantially bigger than his 5-9 frame, as he knocked off the world No. 1 6-3, 6-1 to seal a spot in the semifinals from Group A. For the second straight night, a top-two player was crushed.

"I just wasn't there," Djokovic said. "It was the worst match I've played this season so far, definitely. So many unforced errors. You know, I'm not playing well. That's a fact. Maybe it's because of the length of the season. Maybe it's just because I'm not feeling well, you know, on the court."

At least Djokovic lasted a little longer than Ferrer's countryman, Rafael Nadal, who was taken apart by a sublime Roger Federer.

When Djokovic rallied from a match point down to beat Tomas Berdych on Monday, he seemed destined to turn the corner. He found a way to pull things out, which was sure to give him confidence in a stretch when he hasn't contested many matches. Perhaps the shoulder would continue to recuperate.

And early on, he was sharp. Unlike against Berdych, when he double-faulted on his first service point, he began with an ace. A good sign, or so it was thought.

In the first several games, Djokovic had much more zip on the ball from the baseline and was being aggressive, not pushed around, as he was versus Berdych. Incorporating the backhand slice threw Ferrer off, too, which made sense because Ferrer loves pace.

It seemed it was only a matter of time before he'd break, take hold of the encounter and cruise.

But it didn't happen, and when Djokovic was broken at 3-3, it was essentially over. There wasn't much fight, in truth. Midway in the second set, as errors mounted, Djokovic was rushing between points and looking as though he wanted to get off the court as soon as possible. The classy Ferrer, who beat a world No. 1 for the third time (Andre Agassi, Nadal and now Djokovic), obliged, not getting tight.

The stats demonstrate how far Djokovic is off his game. Entering the match as the second-best returner of first serves, having registered 36 percent of points won, he won a meager 14 percent against Ferrer. Ferrer might have had a little more pop on the serve, but he's not known as a massive server. Never has been.

Djokovic leads the tour in winning 58 percent of points on opponents' second serve; the figure against Ferrer finished at 31. Although he cleaned up behind his own first serve in the first two games (going 9-for-9), that number subsequently dropped.

Thankfully for Djokovic, he still has a good opportunity to advance to the final four. Such is the nature of round-robin tennis. But if he produces another shoddy display, fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic is sure to take advantage Friday.

"If I don't play at least 50 percent better than I did tonight, I don't think I'll have any chance," Djokovic said. "You always hope that tomorrow will bring something better. That's the way I'm thinking now."

Time for Djokovic to stand tall, indeed.