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Novak Djokovic Backhand

Novak Djokovic walked into the media session after his win over Richard Gasquet at the BNP Paribas Open yesterday with a huge bag of ice wrapped around his left knee. When someone asked him if his knee was hurting, he said no, it was just a normal precautionary procedure. Today he walks onto the court for his match with Roger Federer with funky black tape wrapped around that knee. He’s written “Japan” in white letters on the black tape to support victims of the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan. I sincerely hope he’s not developing a chronic knee problem. That’s becoming way too common for comfort.

This morning, someone in the media center asked a colleague if he thought Rafael Nadal could win 16 slams and catch up with Roger. The friend answered yes but by then Roger would probably have 18 or 19 slams. I’m not sure Roger will win even one more slam but his injury free career has been one of the more astounding parts of his game. Except for an ankle injury, his longest layoff came from a bout of mononucleosis.

I’ll be interested to see if the world of sports medicine can keep Rafa in the game long enough to match Roger. I also wonder if current tennis players will have the same physical problems retired baseball and basketball players suffer from. For sure that doesn’t include concussions, but structural problems can be severe. For example, moving a retired athlete’s bedroom downstairs when he reaches the grand old age of 45 because it’s too painful to walk up and down the stairs.

I doubt the ATP has health insurance for its players or a retirement health plan, though there is a pension fund. Forgive me for this line of thought but the US is currently in the middle of bargaining sessions between owners and players in both basketball and US football. Health care costs now essentially define labor relations in the US as some family paychecks go exclusively towards health insurance costs.

Enough of that. Let’s get started on the second slam semi of the day. At the moment things are moving along smoothly in the match between Rafa and Roger as they are on serve through four games. In the next game Roger survives one break point but gives another one away with a loose forehand. Roger then shorthops a rather defensive shot by Nole and it lands somewhere other than in the court to put Nole up a break at 3-2.

I guess Nole’s knee isn’t bothering him that much.

We’re seeing some vintage Roger today with a jump overhead and some beautiful volleys in the first set. I could watch his beautiful glide to the net all day long. But then I groan as he misses yet another shot that used to be automatic. Serving to stay in the set at 3-5, he faces a second break point when he gets Nole way out of position then totally misses an inside out forehand wide.

I’m about to start feeling bad for Roger when he breaks Nole in the third game of the second set. As Roger serves for the set at 5-3, Nole hits a forehand that barely reaches the net and then misses a not so difficult volley on set point. My head’s on a swivel looking for the trainer. Surely something’s wrong with Nole and he’s never shy about calling for the trainer.

Nothing is wrong. Nole breaks Roger to start the second set then holds. Roger is still Roger and he hits a stunning lob on the dead run in the fourth game and Nole double faults to give the break back. They’re now at 2-2 in the third set but that’s the end of closeness for the day. Roger doesn’t win another game and my tally of Roger’s missed opportunities grows. In the next game he fails to take advantage of an excellent first serve with another lose forehand.

Nole moves on to the final with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, victory and takes over Roger's #2 spot in the rankings. I think the slam foursome is about to become a threesome.

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