By Peter Bodo, Tennis.com
NEW YORK -- For all practical purposes the match was over, although you could almost have made that observation at any stage of Novak Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 third-round win over Julien Benneteau.
Still, that seventh game of the final set, which Benneteau served while he still theoretically had a chance to get back into the match, was instructive as well as somewhat representative of Djokovic at his best -- and Benneteau at his most vulnerable.
On the first point, Benneteau was getting the better of Djokovic in an exchange up at the net, but he just wasn’t quick enough to control the lob he tried to hit deep to the backcourt with Nole’s nose hanging over the net. The ball went well wide, 0-15.
Djokovic then stepped in and powdered Benneteau’s next serve with a mighty backhand, driving the ball cross-court for a service return winner. 0-30.
Next, Benneteau hit an excellent, penetrating, wide second serve, the kind that can almost be too good—because when the target is an exceptional returner like Djokovic, there’s always the chance that he’ll take a quick cut and drive a bullet into the open court, down the line to a righty’s backhand corner. Sure enough, Djokovic got his racquet way out in front, and in the blink of an eye he had the down-the-line winner to Benneteau’s backhand side. 0-40.
At triple break point, a virtual match point, Benneteau managed to initiate a rally. Djokovic leaned into his down-the-line backhand to pull Benneteau way off the court, then went back the other way, to the backhand corner. Benneteau was hard pressed to reach the ball, but just didn’t have the explosive step or the speed, and he hit a late, feeble slice into the net to end the game.
The game not only showcased Djokovic at his most deadly, direction-changing, aggressive best, it also demonstrated why a guy like Benneteau has so little real chance against the second-seeded player and defending U.S. Open champion. Benneteau has a big serve, and when he plants his feet he can get some pace as well as action on the ball, but the 30 year-old world No. 35 is just too slow, too heavy of foot, and too unwilling to attack to cause Djokovic much anxiety.
The cushion Djokovic created for himself in each set undoubtedly helped him swing freely. Nole was up a break and pulling away at 4-2 in the first set. He broke Benneteau to start the second. He won Benneteau’s serve to go up 3-2 in the third, and added the unnecessary insurance break two games later.
The stats confirm the theory that you couldn’t invent an opponent who matches up so badly with Djokovic. Benneteau had a feeble 15 winners (a testament to Djokovic’s foot speed and anticipation) while Djokovic hit 41 (a tribute to Djokovic’s sledgehammer groundstrokes, for sure, but also a comment on Benneteau’s lack of speed and defensive abilities). As well, Djokovic kept his unforced errors down to 12, while Benneteau hit nearly twice as many (22).
The most damaging stat, though, was Benneteau’s inability to arrive at even one break point, never mind convert it into a break. And it isn’t like Djokovic had a banner day at the service notch. He put just 59 percent of his first serves into play, but Benneteau put just 65 percent of his service returns into play.
So that’s the anatomy of a non-upset. There’s no use beating this dead horse, but it’s interesting to note that Djokovic’s next opponent will be either No. 18 seed Stanislas Wawrinka (a player similar to Benneteau, but somewhat better), or No. 14 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov. The latter is fleet and fearless, and likely to raise more interesting questions than would Wawrinka.
By Peter Bodo, Tennis.com