Commentary

Djokovic, Murray find footing

Big four stalwarts struggle but advance to the third round in New York

Updated: August 30, 2013, 9:34 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Down in the bottom half of the draw, Rafael Nadal lost all of three games in his second-round match. Ancient, wheezing Roger Federer -- who just turned 32 -- lost a total of six.

You will understand the hysteria that broke loose here on Friday when No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic dropped six games -- in the very first set of his second-round match with Benjamin Becker. In fact, the 32-year-old Becker actually found himself serving for that set. "It was a struggle," Djokovic acknowledged afterward. "Very tough. It was a lot of unforced errors, very windy conditions. You couldn't really read and predict where the ball is going to go, so you have to be very alert. At the start I had difficulty with my footwork."

Eventually, we can report, Djokovic found his footing. He broke Becker and forced a tiebreaker, which, of course, he won handily. The final was 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-2 and the men's draw is still very much an Open question.

Later, No. 3 seed Andy Murray lost his concentration in the third set, but took down Leonardo Mayer 7-5, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.

Two years ago, Djokovic had a season for this or any other age. He won three of the four majors and, since then, the top of tennis has tightened up. A year ago, the 26-year-old Serb made three Grand Slam singles finals and won one. This year, he won his third consecutive Australian Open, then lost to Nadal in the semifinals at Roland Garros and to Murray in the Wimbledon final.

Before the tournament, Nadal was a co-favorite with Djokovic to win the title. Five days later, the Ladbrokes odds have shifted. Now, it's Nadal (13-to-8), followed by Djokovic (9-4), Murray (7-2) and Juan Martin del Potro (10-1).

By his own immense standards, it's been an indifferent summer for Djokovic. He lost to Nadal in the semifinals at Montreal and then to Joltin' John Isner in the quarterfinals at Cincinnati. Nadal, of course, is 17-0 on hard courts this year and his win over Rogerio Dutra Silva was the most one-sided of his Grand Slam career on a hard surface. And though it is conceded by many that Nadal -- motivated to finish points quickly after his knee soreness flared up -- is playing the best hard-court tennis of his career, the same is not true for Djokovic.

"I need to start the way I started in the first match, but my game is getting there," Djokovic said. "I feel that it was a big test for me today. It was a challenge, and I needed to overcome it. I'm glad I'm through in three."

Murray, too, was feeling fortunate. After playing a lackluster third set, he rallied to win six of the last seven games.

Murray did not serve particularly well, getting only 57 percent of his first serves in play. But, although each player earned nine break points, Murray converted five, to only one for Mayer.

"I was a bit frustrated at that point in the match," Murray said of that third set, "because I was doing quite a bit of the running. I wasn't getting much depth on my returns."

Later next week, he may regret going 2 hours, 41 minutes against the No. 81-ranked player in the world.

Smyczek going clubbing

Tim Smyczek joined Isner and Jack Sock as one of only three American men to reach the third round.

The 25-year-old Milwaukeean scored a slight upset, beating Alex Bogomolov Jr. by coming back from a two-sets-to-one deficit 3-6, 7-6 (6), 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. The match lasted one minute shy of four hours.

Smyczek, who is ranked No. 109 among ATP players, compared to No. 73 for the Russian, has justified the wild card he received from the USTA.

It's the furthest he's ever been in a Grand Slam tournament.

"Yeah," Smyczek said. "So far so good. I've still got to sleep on it maybe. Probably get a good 12 hours tonight."

Up next for the 5-foot-9, 145-pound athlete is another winnable match against unseeded Marcel Granollers.

The downside? Smyczek's out a few bucks, because he bet his coach Billy Heiser that if he reached the third round of a major, he'd buy him a new set of golf clubs.

Don't feel bad for Smyczek. He's already got $93,000 coming for getting this far, a record payday.

Trivia time

Name the player who was on the court when both James Blake and Kim Clijsters played the last matches of their career. (Answer below in Etc. section.)

The Donald departs

Donald Young qualified for this event with three stout victories, then followed it up with a surprising win over Martin Klizan in the first round. It was a nice run for the 24-year-old who was once seen as the future of American men's tennis, but has slipped to No. 157 in the ATP World Tour rankings.

Was a nice run, because on Friday, Young fell to Florian Mayer 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.

After his first-round victory, Young had said his performance here would determine the rest of his season; that a few more wins would elevate his ranking so he could play the Asian circuit. As it is, he'll likely finish up the year playing Challenger events in America.

Etc.

American Rajeev Ram lost to Marcel Granollers in the second round after running out to a big lead, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 7-5. … Meanwhile No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych handled American Denis Kudla 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-3. … The man on the court for the last career matches for both Blake and Clijsters was … Bruno Soares of Brazil. Playing with countryman Alexander Peya, Soares helped send Blake into retirement with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over him and Sock on Thursday. Last year, Soares and Ekaterina Makarova defeated Clijsters and Bob Bryan 6-2, 3-6, 12-10 in a thrilling super tiebreaker. Soares and Makarova went on to win the mixed-doubles title. … Martina Hingis and Daniela Hantuchova fell to the No. 1-seeded Italian team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 6-3, 7-5.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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