The members of the Witten Wall gave us some heat for faulting the lack of creativity of their cheers during their boy Jesse Witten’s second-round win the other day, and we definitely heard some more variety during today’s match against Novak Djokovic, who won, 6-7 (2-7), 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4. There was a lot of “U.S.A.,” a bunch of “Git ‘er done,” some University of Kentucky “C-A-T-S, cats, cats, cats,” and “J-Dub,” one of Witten’s nicknames, which matched the T-shirts that much of the Wall was wearing. His other nickname, Hoss, also got a lot of play. J.P. Reed, Witten’s brother-in-law, explained that Hoss means “awesome. He’s always been awesome.” His wife (and Witten’s sister) Sarah chimed in that it was “a melting pot of nicknames,” but we weren’t sure what was being melted. We loved “Hard Hittin’ Jesse Witten,” though!
There was ecstasy in the Wall, and in the whole stadium, as Witten won the first-set tiebreaker. Djokovic was looking tight, and Witten powered huge forehand winners all over the place. “Stamina will be an issue, but quickness is not an issue,” said Witten’s old World Team Tennis coach, Claude Okin. But as the second set got underway, Okin was more cautious: “He has to play and stop thinking.” A serve would help, too. The Wall couldn’t boost Witten’s first-serve percentage, which was a dismal 46% for the match. Once Djokovic got his rhythm and started attacking Witten’s second serve, things began to seem inevitable, though Witten could have held his serve to win the third set. He also had a golden, missed opportunity with Djokovic serving at 0-30, 3-4 in the fourth. By then, the Wall was hoarse but indefatigable.
“He needs a serve,” J.P’s brother Chris said. “He needs a coach,” J.P said. (Witten’s not been able to afford one.) Witten’s unforced error number spiked as the fourth set progressed, and Djokovic took full advantage. It was a remarkable performance for a qualifier, though, against the fourth-ranked player in the world. After the match, as the crowd gave Witten a standing ovation, and he got the honor of an on-court interview, Chris said, with good reason, “I think he’s on the map now.”