Djokovic is an attractive choice to break Federer's stranglehold


Last updated at 14:09 23 January 2008

Serbia continues to suffer a less than glowing image in the wider world, but in the global parish of tennis its stock could hardly be higher.

Back at home the hardline nationalist Tomislav Nikolic has won the first round of presidential elections, while at the Australian Open a more outward-looking face is shown by its three nascent superstars of tennis.

Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and Novak Djokovic are worth more than international public relations can buy, and you can add to them their Goethe-quoting compatriot Janko Tipsarevic.

Scoll down to read more:

The first three yesterday made it through to the semi-finals here, with the two women overnight trying to make it into the final against Daniela Hantuchova and Maria Sharapova respectively.

Regardless of the result their attractive personas are here to stay, while Djokovic will have enormous support for his men's semi-final against Roger Federer.

Charismatic is a word that applies to the world number three - the word even ends with a Balkanish 'ic' - but that does not totally sum up why there will be a widespread desire for him to win the semi-final.

It is also down to an impatience that somebody mounts a successful challenge to Federer other than on clay courts, and Djokovic is probably the man the best-equipped to do it.

He could well have beaten Federer in September's U.S Open final but somehow lost in straight sets, having pressed too hard on five set points in the opener and two in the second.

But it gave the Swiss a considerable shock, and this time there are grounds to think that there is a real chance to deny him what would be an eleventh consecutive place in a Grand Slam final.

One basis for thought is that Djokovic is both wiser and technically improved since then. Another is that the court here bounces a little higher than in New York, thus helping the Serbian baseliner.

He will also have been encouraged that his friend Tipsarevic so nearly managed to topple Federer on the middle Saturday before losing 8-6 in the fifth.

It adds to the growing perception that Federer, who has been a little grouchy this fortnight, might be wobbling a bit.

"The players start to feel that he's beatable," said Djokovic, who overcame Spaniard David Ferrer 6-0 6-3 7-5, "Of course nobody's unbeatable, but he was very very dominant, especially on the faster surfaces.

"Players have started playing in a different way against him, with more belief that they can win, so it's a good thing for all of us. Maybe I will give Janko a call."

The lesson from Tipsarevic was that players must stick to what they know against Federer and not fall into the trap of trying too hard to play the match of their life against him.

"I didn't use my opportunities against him at the U.S Open, but I have learned from that. I am playing in a more attacking way now and I think I have improved. I'm feeling really, really good physically and mentally."

Djokovic also comes from a generation of players significantly younger than that of Blake, one that has less innate fear of the great champion.

The direct contemporaries of the 26 year-old Swiss, like Blake, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt, have taken so many beatings from him over the years that there is plenty of psychological scar tissue.

Blake had to take a 0-7 career record into his quarter final against the great man, and despite that pushed hard enough against the Swiss who, by his own serene standards, was again slightly grumpy in a 7-5 7-6 6-4 win.

Djokovic, who does not have the backhand weakness of the American, is capable of making Federer pay for the kind of loose points he played in surrendering early breaks in the first two sets.

But waiting for some Federer slippage outside the French Open could still prove a very lengthy game.

While Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wifried Tasonga were facing off in the other men's semi, the make-up of the women's final four was significant in both its lack of a Williams sister and the fact that all four were from Eastern Europe.

Venus was beaten yesterday by Ivanovic at the same stage as Serena's departure, losing to a player who had never taken a set off her in four previous matches.

The two sisters will limp back to America as they also lost in the quarter final of the doubles. What the experience of the year's first Grand Slam will have confirmed to them is that there can be no room these days for dipping in and out of the game as they once did.