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Beyond the Baseline

Daily Pain: Has Novak Djokovic changed or have we changed?

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The Daily Pain is your dose of the interesting reporting, writing and quipping from around the Internet during the French Open (otherwise known as the Daily Bagel).

• Video: Check out the best hot shots from the men's semifinals.

• Louisa Thomas for Grantland points out that not so long ago, everyone was worried that something was ... off with Novak Djokovic. Has he changed, or have we?

We called him the Djoker because he was funny and a wild card and had a crazy, slightly malevolent smile. But he took to the role of fool. He tweaked power and then played the role of king -- so honestly, so subversively that it seemed like a game, which it was. He played his best, most dangerous, most thrilling tennis when he was most in trouble. That was when he could do anything -- reach any ball, hit any shot.

Then something happened. No one, not even he, knew what. It had something to do with Nadal’s resurgence, Murray’s ascendance, and Federer’s recovery, and something to do with a natural regression, but that wasn’t all. It had more to do with what happened when he closed his eyes -- something to do with faith. He started to hesitate. It’s happened against Nadal, against Wawrinka. It’s happened in matches that he went on to win -- for instance, against a hobbled John Isner in Indian Wells, in a match that he struggled and struggled to close out.

“I haven’t really been myself in the important matches in the big moments in the last two years,” he said this spring. In his case, it doesn’t seem as simple as confidence -- not when he talks about it. What he wants, what he needs in those big moments, is something to play for.

• With Serena Williams out of the French Open, Maria Sharapova's path was nearly clear -- she just had to get around the young hopefuls of the WTA tour.

• Peter Bodo for Tennis.com takes in some of the French Open boys' tournament.

• Barstool Sports plays tennis against Andy Roddick.

• Another day, another goofy Instagram photo from Serena.

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• Non-tennis: SI's Tim Layden previews Saturday's Belmont Stakes, where California Chrome will try to win horse racing's first Triple Crown since 1978.

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