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Thursday, July 5, 2007
Djokovic ready for Big Dawgs?

Novak Djokovic played like he had a point to prove against Lleyton Hewitt today, although it may have been the wrong point. Djokovic banged out a 7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 win, playing mostly from the baseline on Wimbledon's spongy, slick turf. Sometime between now and his next match, he needs a reminder that beating Hewitt at his own baseline game is an achievement, but not one that is going to leave the Roger Federers and Andy Roddicks of this world much impressed. Not at Wimbledon, anyway.

Sure, Hewitt is a former Wimbledon champ and world No. 1, but if you can't break his serve on grass, you're not going to pose a huge threat to the Big Dawgs. This is something that Djokovic, the long shot turned short-shot favorite among the young players who have yet to win a major, has to think about as he sits staring out his window, wondering when the rain is going to stop.

The tiebreakers saved Djokovic today, and while he plays them well, you know the old saying: He who lives by the tiebreaker dies by the tiebreaker. OK, I just made that up. Still … tiebreakers on grass are as much crapshoot as shootout.

Djokovic was of two minds on this issue after his match. He was proud to have stood his ground but a little gun-shy once Hewitt rifled a few winning passing shots by him. He admitted, "In the first and second set, I think I was going to the net. I was using my chances, trying to be aggressive, especially in the first set. But then, you know, I lost my serve in the third set. Things a little bit changed. If you want to be aggressive all the time, you got to stay mentally strong all the time with him from the first to the last point, because he plays every point like it is the most important one."

This was a pretty frank assessment, given that the essential message was, "I lost my nerve." And if one or more of those tiebreakers had gone the other way -- that they didn't was partly because Hewitt failed to capitalize on some good chances -- Djokovic might have been ruing how he was lured into a slugging match with the combative Hewitt. Short version: Djokovic dodged a bullet, but in so doing he opened a window on the grass-court game.

If you look through that window, what you see is a lot of guys, like Djokovic, who are starting to realize that the attacking game, which has gone the way of Pete Sampras and Pat Rafter, is not just a great ticket to winning matches at Wimbledon, it's also a surprisingly draining one, taking you into mental territory that the baseliner never has to negotiate. But occupying that ground can pay great dividends.