By Alana Mitchelson
(January 19, 2014) MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic encountered little difficulty on his way to dismantling the funny Fabio Fognini on Sunday, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2, fighting off the urge to laugh at his childhood friend’s jokes to secure his nineteenth consecutive quarterfinal at a major.
It was reasonably smooth sailing for the world No. 2 as he grasped hold of an early break and held his service games all too comfortably to serve out the first set. Just 28 minutes later, Djokovic had already powered through a second set bagel much to the Italian’s disbelief.
“Mentally I was there. I was tough. I was focused. I feel great about myself in this moment,” Djokovic reflected after the match.
“There is this confidence that I carry on, obviously from the many wins that I had in the last two months of the 2013 season, and I started off this season in good style. I’m trying to keep it up.”
While Fognini’s unforced errors for the match more than doubled that of his Serbian opponent’s, it took some courage and will power to pick himself back up and return to court, even though seemingly for the slaughter. He got the crowd involved in his jokes and appealed to their tendency to support the underdog, refocusing to kick off the third set with a ‘love’ service game.
The Italian lost some focus as he allowed himself to be distracted by jokes with the crowd and an unflinching Djokovic on the other side of the net. He also grew particularly fussy about the balls he was to use; hitting, kicking and rolling those not quite up to his standard aside, perhaps desperate to make the most of loose superstitions since luck was not going his way. The Italian looked as though he was just about ready to throw down his racquet and give up altogether during many frustrating instances, especially when Djokovic launched especially elegant forehand winners which sent the crowd erupting in applause.
“When he had his moments during the match, and I’ve known him for long time, for me it’s funny but I tried not to laugh too much about it. I tried to direct my focus to my side of the court, what I needed to do and not pay attention to him – even though he was funny at times, I have to say,” the Serbian admitted.
“Being two sets up and making that break in the third, when then he started to, you know, have his five minutes of humorous actions on the court. It was funny, as I said, but you cannot get carried away too much. You can lose focus so easily on the court, really. Anything can distract you. Tennis is such a mental game at the end of the day. It’s very dynamic. Everything happens fast. In one or two points you can lose a break and the match can turn around. That’s why it’s important to really stay within yourself and focus on what you can do.”
It all became too much for the joking Italian to bear as he laughingly sent his racquet flying over the net in complete and utter despair when Djokovic broke him to lead 5-2 in the third. And fair enough considering the Serbian went on to serve out the match, acing his way to victory.
When the serious business was done and dusted upon winning the match, Djokovic also became in the mood for a good laugh and the three-time Australian Open champion graced the crowd with one of his famous impersonations – this time, of his new coach Boris Becker’s mannerisms while serving.
“I’m going to have to gain a few kilos and colour my hair in order to do the proper Becker imitation,” he joked.
The world No. 2 next faces Stanislas Wawrinka and must prepare for a potential rematch of last year’s five-set quarterfinal epic, acknowledging the fact that the match-up could very well give rise to yet another long night.
”I have to be ready to play another 12-10 in the fifth like last year. I know that he’s been playing the tennis of his life in last 15 months. He’s a top 10 player now. He’s established himself in the top level, he won against some of the top guys in the big tournaments and he is confident. You could feel that mentally when he comes to the court, he believes in himself more. He can win against the top guys in the later stages of events.”
Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.