Did Davis Cup compromise Djokovic?
Tennis, by necessity, is among the most selfish of sports.
Elite players, if they want to maximize their potential, must put themselves first. Ahead of friends, family, their support teams and even any sense of a normal life.
But what happens when they are thrust into the charged atmosphere of a nationalistic venue? We saw it happen this past weekend in Boise, Idaho, when world No. 1 Novak Djokovic rolled his right ankle in the heat of a possible clinching Davis Cup rubber with Sam Querrey.
Six or more titles; one event
(ATP World Tour)
|Nadal||Monte Carlo (8)|
|Nadal||Roland Garros (7)|
|Vilas||Buenos Aires (7)|
|Borg||Roland Garros (6)|
|Federer||World Tour Finals (6)|
Did the prospect of damaging his chances at Roland Garros -- the one major that still has managed to elude him -- seep into his consciousness for even a moment?
"No," Djokovic said afterward. "Just thinking about winning this match and bringing the tie win to Serbia; I'm glad I did. On the other hand, I'm a bit concerned definitely.
"It's not comfortable feeling what I feel right now with that ankle. Injuries are part of the sport. I have yet to see how serious it is. I was planning to play Monte Carlo. I live there and train there, so it feels like a home tournament to me. I love playing there, so I'm going to do everything in my power to recover for that tournament.
"How realistic it is, to be honest, I don't know."
No one, including Djokovic, knows for sure if he'll make it to the line next week in the ATP World Tour's first Masters 1000 event of the year on clay. Yes, it's in Djokovic's adopted hometown, but there two more major clay tournaments before the French Open, in Madrid (starting May 6) and Rome (May 13).
MRI tests revealed no structural damage, meaning the ligaments are intact. Djokovic, via Facebook, released a photo of his ankle during treatment. With a first-round bye, Djokovic would not likely to play until next Wednesday. Last year, Djokovic was the second-best clay-courter among ATP players, losing in the finals at Monte Carlo, Rome and Paris.
Sunday, when Djokovic lost a second-set tiebreaker to Querrey (who himself was nursing an ailing pectoral muscle that affected his serve), it looked like it might come down to a fifth and final match between John Isner and Viktor Troicki. But Djokovic composed himself and won 12 of the 13 games in the last two sets.
"Didn't look good," said Djokovic of the ankle roll. "They showed me on the TV. I know what I felt and I know how in general feeling of my ankle was in the continuation of that match. Especially in the first hour or so, I had to go through a lot of pain and struggle.
"After that, adrenaline, medications, motivation, all these things together combined eliminated not fully, but most of the pain and allowed me to play the whole match."
Still, missing Monte Carlo wouldn't be the end of the world.
Last year, Djokovic played 20 clay matches in a span of seven weeks, including three in Madrid. Subtracting the five matches he played at Monte Carlo would leave him fresher at the end of the journey in France.
The focus in the coming weeks will be on Rafael Nadal as he aims for his record eighth title at Roland Garros. After seven months away from the game following a knee injury, he has fashioned a remarkable comeback. Nadal won 12 of 13 matches on clay and then the title at Indian Wells. Understandably, he passed on the Sony Open in Miami and will be well rested for his favorite stretch of the season.
With a record of 52-1 at the French Open, Nadal will be the clear favorite. But Djokovic is trying to become the first man to win the Australian Open and Roland Garros back-to-back since Jim Courier in 1992. Can Djokovic -- provided those ankle ligaments didn't get stretched too badly -- challenge Rafa for the title?
"Certainly can," said Courier, the U.S. Davis Cup captain. "I think he would have last year, but for a rain delay."
A different final four
If you were focused on the NCAA men's Final Four last Saturday you might have missed the drama in Davis Cup doubles. Three of the four quarterfinal ties were hugely impacted by doubles -- and two of them featured spectacular matches.
Just when it looked like Bob and Mike Bryan would put the United States in a commanding 2-1 lead, they were stunned by the unlikely team of Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac. Zimonjic, of course, is a seasoned professional with three Grand Slam doubles titles and four mixed. Bozoljac, for the record, is ranked No. 1,150 in doubles and No. 334 in singles. And yet, Serbia's captain, Bogdan Obradovic, threw Bozoljac out there -- even when he could have used Djokovic.
The Bryans won the first two sets in tiebreakers, but the Serbia rallied and prevailed 15-13 in the fifth set. Mike Bryan was broken in the 27th game of that final frame and the Serbs, serving 36 aces, finished off the Americans. The match went 4 hours, 23 minutes.
It was the second consecutive Davis Cup loss for the Bryans, who turn 35 later this month. The U.S. ultimately lost 3-1.
"It wasn't about my win Friday or today," Djokovic said. "It was just about the team win, the team effort. That's something that is very special and beautiful about this competition. You can represent your country and you get to be a part of a team. [Saturday's] doubles win was extremely important for us.
"Ilija surprised us all. I knew that he was playing well. He played really well when he practiced all week. We were a bit concerned about his physical condition and concentration because he never had best-of-five, such a long match. But he has proven everybody wrong. He actually decided the win with few returns and was very calm."
Meanwhile, Canada's Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil outlasted the Italian team of Fabio Fognini and Daniele Bracciali -- by the same gargantuan 15-13 score in the fifth. David Nalbandian and Horacio Zeballos scored a surprise doubles victory for Argentina over the favored team of Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.
As a result, the defending champion Czech Republic hosts Argentina in the September semifinals, while Canada visits Serbia.
Still Young at heart
Donald Young, the one-time prodigy, is still only 23 -- a year out of college for some kids.
Eight years ago, at the age of 16, he finished as the youngest No. 1-ranked junior ever. Today, he's still trying to realize that vast potential.
This past Sunday, Young won the Leon, Mexico Challenger. And he showed some remarkable grit, saving 16 of 17 break points in a semifinal victory over Israel's Amir Weintraub. Against Jimmy Wang in the 6-2, 6-2 final, Young saved another 10 of 11 breaks. It's the kind of heart, going forward, he needs to show more of under duress.
The win brought him only $5,000 but, more importantly, some 80 rankings points. Young is now at No. 160, a far cry from his career-high of No. 38 achieved a little more than a year ago. Still, he's been making progress, winning 11 of 15 qualifying matches this year.
On The Move
Juan Monaco: 3-6 (.333)
Lucie Safarova: 7-9 (.438)
Jeremy Chardy: 6-7 (.462)
John Isner: 7-8 (.467)
Dominika Cibulkova: 8-8 (.500)
Philipp Kohlschreiber: 6-6 (.500)
Alexandr Dolgopolov: 6-6 (.500)
Ekaterina Makarova: 7-7 (.500)
Simply Serena on clay
Serena Williams, despite her relatively spotty French Open record, has always insisted that she loves playing on the dirt.
Well, here is more proof: She's won the title in Charleston all three times she's played there and has produced a 15-0 career mark. Williams beat a spirited Jelena Jankovic 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 in the Family Circle Cup final.
"I had so many opportunities that I missed," Serena explained. "She took advantage of all of that, and she went on to glory in that first set. After that I just got really relaxed and was like, 'Serena, you have to chill out and not get crazy, and if you win, great. If not, you're trying.'"
It was her 49th tournament win, five more than any other active player. And, it was her 71st win in 75 matches since the beginning of last year's clay-court season. One of those losses still burns her: a first-round shocker at the French Open at the hands of Virginie Razzano.
In Miami and Charleston, Serena said her goal was to win "a match" at the French Open. Don't believe it. She's locked in, looking for her first title at Roland Garros since 2002.
5 Questions with Gael Monfils
"Lamonf" is consistently one of the most entertaining players on the ATP World Tour. When Gael Monfils runs down a ball -- and he is whippet-fast -- his gangly 6-foot-4, 177-pound frame careens seemingly out of control. His wide eyes, flowing dreadlocks, tattooed arms -- well, it's hard to keep your eyes on the ball.
Nine years ago, he was the world's best junior, producing a rare hat trick, winning titles at the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon.
Monfils, the 26-year-old Frenchman, was ranked in the top 20 for four consecutive years, from 2008-11. He rose to a career high, No. 7, in July 2011. After suffering a right knee injury last year that was traced to Osgood-Schlatter disease, he currently finds himself outside the top 100, at No. 103. We are happy to report that Monfils, after missing more than three months last summer, is on his way back.
He began the year winning eight of 13 matches (reaching the quarterfinals at Doha and semifinals of Auckland), but had lost three of four going into this week's U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship in Houston. Monfils dispatched James Blake in straight sets to open the event before running into No. 1 seed Nicolas Almagro in the second round.
Monfils, despite his ranking, is excited about his tennis again and is looking forward to Roland Garros, where he has had his best Grand Slam results. He reached the semifinals there in 2008 and the quarters in 2009 and 2011.
ESPN.com chatted with Monfils from Houston after a practice hit on Tuesday.
ESPN.com: First of all, how is that knee holding up?
Gael Monfils: I am happy with it. The knee is 100 percent. It was frustrating missing so much time last year. It is good to be playing tennis again.
ESPN.com: You looked sharp in Monday's 7-6 (5), 7-5 win over James Blake. Are you happy with where your game is right now?
Gael Monfils: [Long pause] Well, I could be playing better -- a lot better. I only had a couple of weeks to prepare [for clay], so there are many things I need to work on.
Gael Monfils: Actually, I was a bit lucky. It's never easy to come back after being out for so long. I will keep fighting to improve all the parts of my game. To get a couple of more wins under my belt would be good for me.
ESPN.com: How much are you looking forward to the French Open?
Gael Monfils: Ah, Paris this is the tournament I always dreamed of winning, the one I always played to win. It's home and my friends and family are all there for me. There is more to the season, though. I want to get my ranking up and play well in the big tournaments. I will keep my other goals for myself.
ESPN.com: You are one of the fastest players in the game today. Is there anyone who could beat you in a race from the net to the baseline?
Gael Monfils: [Laughing]. Ah, well, you tell me. I don't know, really. Speed, for me, is one of my biggest weapons. To cover the court is so important. But to compare me to the other guys I will let other people's eyes decide.