There are times when Novak Djokovic's tennis borders on frightening. It's nothing less than a magical experience for spectators, but to be on the other side of the net, as Andy Roddick was during the second round of Tuesday's Olympic tournament, is to be rendered helpless.
Djokovic's 6-2, 6-1 win was masterful and comprehensive, a performance in which "everything was working perfectly," as he said during his on-court interview. There have been times this season when Djokovic seemed to have lost his edge -- the utter command that carried him through an historic 2011 season. On this day, under the roof of the All England Club's Centre Court, every bit of that aura had returned.
Thoroughly dominant on his serve, he crushed 14 aces, including the last two points of the match. His court movement was astounding, his groundstrokes crisp and on the mark. It was the touch, however, that truly defined Djokovic's virtuosity.
On a break point in the second game of the second set, Djokovic made a lunging forehand return of a blistering first serve down the middle. Roddick confidently came in behind a sliced forehand, only to watch Djokovic tap a perfect backhand lob over his head.
With Roddick serving at 3-0, Djokovic surprised him with a backhand drop winner so perfectly placed, Roddick stopped to surrender the point. There was another drop shot-lob combination at 4-1, and at this point, the Serb appeared confident of attempting every shot in the book. Roddick did manage to retrieve a sliced backhand lob in the final game, only to watch Djokovic sprint to the scene and hit a delicate, cross-court backhand volley winner -- a shot so impressive that Djokovic remained at the net to raise both arms in triumph.
It's difficult to say where Roddick goes from here, beyond the obvious trek through the summer hardcourt circuit and the U.S. Open. He's ranked 21st in the world, with two tour titles this year (Eastbourne and Atlanta), so the notion of retirement seems quite unlikely. But this match was a stern reminder of Roddick's place in the hierarchy, and at this stage of his life, that's not going to change.
As for Djokovic, who wears his national pride so handsomely, this victory left the hint of a semifinal meeting with Andy Murray (who also won Tuesday) and perhaps a final against Roger Federer. Like Wimbledon itself, this tournament gets more interesting by the day.
As he sat before the Bravo cameras and apologized for his behavior in a first-round loss to Colombia's Santiago Giraldo, Ryan Harrison put some pressure on himself. His sincere words will be rendered meaningless if he continues to slam tennis balls and destroy rackets in fits of temper.
"I feel embarrassed," Harrison told studio host Pat O'Brien, saying his actions were "completely unacceptable" in the Olympic Games setting, which is "something that's so much bigger than myself. From here on out, my focus is going to be on the positive -- what I can do to prevent this from happening."
Analyst Justin Gimelstob, sitting in on the interview, seemed to be acting as Harrison's agent. "You deserve to be commended," Gimelstob told him, for making strides all year in the realm of comportment (until the Olympics, Harrison had yet to be fined this year). And it hardly seemed appropriate when Harrison and Gimelstob mentioned Roddick as a "mentor" in this regard, Roddick being one of the tour's brattiest players when he senses the burden of injustice.
At any rate, Harrison needs to trust and believe in his own words. No crimes were committed here; racket-crushing has become a common sight among the game's more temperamental players. But it hardly becomes a 20-year-old player who represents so much of the future in American men's tennis. Harrison should watch that interview a couple of times when he gets home, just to remind himself of what he told the public.
That interview marked one of the better moments for O'Brien, the breezy commentator well remembered for his work on tennis, the NBA and other major events in years past. His work in general, regrettably, has been a catastrophe.
Names have been a puzzler. He introduced SI.com's Jon Wertheim as "Werheim," and about 20 seconds after getting it right, he came back with "Werthum." Similarly, after correct stabs at Roddick and analyst Rennae Stubbs, O'Brien went with "Roggitt" and "Hobbs." Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was boldly announced as "Tonga."
Some of O'Brien's comments were downright baffling. Here's how he introduced the coverage of Serena Williams' first-round match:
"There were 12 Americans in the tennis field, 11, one of the ones still in the field now, it's actually 9, one left, Serena Williams...with...Jelena Jankovic, down on Centre Court."
On the typically bad weather of an England summer:
"If you've never been to London, think Seattle, or Miami." (Three times he said this. It's safe to say that never, over the course of centuries, has London reminded anyone of Miami.)
After engaging Lisa Raymond in a bit of 80s rock-music trivia: "All right, what happened on June 9, 1987?" There was silence, and he snickered, "My son's birthday."
And the topper, regarding Roger Federer's appearance in a red shirt:
"Well, Federer wore the Tiger Woods red, but Tiger Woods has won 75 matches in a row, Federer 74, so he's gotta win one more to be honored with that, uh, red."
I think I speak for everyone when I say, "
Final word on Olympic television: The game's leading broadcasters have been roaming London with other assignments. Ted Robinson calls the diving for NBC, Mary Carillo is the indispensable late-night host, and John McEnroe has appeared with Bob Costas to discuss his experiences as a fan.
As the tournament concludes, some order will be restored. Carillo will work the women's final, with Robinson and McEnroe teaming up for the men's final.