Djokovic having fun again

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – Novak Djokovic served five aces, smote 29 winners and conceded just seven games in romping into the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Monday night.

But that doesn't even begin to tell the full story.

Impressive as Djokovic looked in strolling past 15th-seeded Radek Stepanek in the night session at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the most important indicator that things are looking up for the world No. 4 came after he had already sealed victory and shaken hands with his vanquished opponent.

Djokovic treated the Flushing Meadows crowd to a bit of overtime, calling out John McEnroe and enticing the seven-time Grand Slam champion to sprint down from the commentary booth to take up the challenge.

The pair traded strokes – and equally riotous impersonations of each other – as the witching hour approached, with McEnroe still clad in his business shirt and slacks but thankfully having peeled off his tie.

For those who have been stuck in a two-year time warp, the jocular antics of the Serbian would have come as no surprise.

Back then Djokovic was a bundle of fun, clowning and pranking his way around the locker room and wheeling out his repertoire of hilarious player impersonations on demand.

While it may seem incongruous, Monday's little episode said far more about the 22-year-old's mindset and prospects than the way he comfortably dispatched Stepanek.

Things have gotten a whole lot more serious for Djokovic since his victory in the 2008 Australian Open, which remains his only Grand Slam title. A change of racket sponsor coincided with a dip in form, not drastic but enough to see his challenge to titans of the game Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal stall.

Djokovic was still good, one of the very best, but his star was no longer on the rise as the likes of Andy Murray, Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro began to see him as a target.

He was no longer one of the fittest players on tour either, and rumors of a lack of motivation began to surface. Three times the player who had braved the wilting heat Down Under in January 2008 was forced to retire during Slam matches, prompting Roddick to publicly poke fun at his seemingly ever-present list of ailments.

Crucially, Djokovic was no longer having fun. Gone were the impressions and the personable nature, replaced by a surlier and more serious attitude. The strain of life at the top was taking its toll.

"It is sometimes difficult to maintain your level after a very good period," said Djokovic. "It is a long season and sometimes things catch up with you. It is not always the same as when you were young and everything was fun."

The fun returned Monday. This episode, complete with the grand entertainer McEnroe, was better than the 2007 imitations of Roddick and Maria Sharapova that made him a crowd favorite before they turned against him last year.

"It was quite funny and the crowd loved it," said Djokovic. "That was the most important thing. I like to entertain them. Maybe they wanted to see more tennis as the match only went three sets, but I think we gave them a good show after."

The U.S. crowd took Roddick's side in the dispute between him and Djokovic in 2008, but with the American now a distant memory after his early loss to John Isner, Djokovic is certainly the flavor of the month once again.

His game's not looking bad either, and Roddick's departure has opened up that portion of the draw. Djokovic will now take on Fernando Verdasco, who took care of Isner in comfortable fashion on Monday.

The smile, the fun and the frivolity are back. The next week will tell if the physical capacity has returned, too.

If it has, then the D-joker can’t be discounted.

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