Djokovic is left running on empty

Serb loses in Halle final and admits to still feeling effects of epic Nadal match
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The Independent Online

The length of the grass-court season has long been a bone of contention. From the day the French Open champion is crowned on the red clay of Paris there are just 14 days for players to prepare for battle on the green grass of Wimbledon. It is by some margin the shortest period between Grand Slam tournaments. Grass is also the surface to which most players have the greatest difficulty in adjusting.

Most of the modern game's leading men prefer not to play competitively in the week before any Grand Slam tournament. They might play in an exhibition event (of which there are a number in Britain this week), where they can experiment with parts of their game, but otherwise they prefer to go to the practice court to work with their own entourages at their own pace.

As far as grass is concerned, that leaves just one week for the players to hone their competitive game in time for Wimbledon. Recently that has meant playing at Halle in Germany or at Queen's Club in London.

For those who make the final weekend in Paris the temptation is often to rest. Roger Federer, who usually warms up at Halle, missed the event two years ago after losing to Rafael Nadal in the final at Roland Garros, but it did not prevent him going on to win his fifth Wimbledon title.

After winning the French Open last weekend he again decided to skip Halle and will go to the All England Club having not played a competitive match on grass since losing to Nadal in last year's final.

In Federer's absence the top seed at Halle was Novak Djokovic, the world No 4, who had lost to Nadal in the Queen's final 12 months ago. Yesterday he was beaten again, losing to Tommy Haas, who had given Federer his toughest test at the French Open. Haas, the world No 41, won 6-3, 6-7, 6-1 to claim his first title on grass at the age of 31.

Djokovic did not force a single break point in the first two sets but won the tie-break after Haas served three double faults. Nevertheless, the German recovered to win the third set with something to spare.

It was Djokovic's fourth defeat in a final this year. "I did not play well at all," he said. "I was lucky to win the second set. I didn't put any pressure on his serve. I served very badly, I did not return well, I gave him many opportunities. But it was a good week and getting to the final is a good achievement. I've had enough matches on grass before Wimbledon, but I would not call myself one of the favourites."

Djokovic, who lost in the third round of the French Open to Philipp Kohlschreiber, said he was still feeling the effects of his defeat last month to Nadal in the semi-final of the Madrid Masters. The match lasted more than four hours and Djokovic had five match points. "That loss exhausted me mentally," he said. "I am still trying to recover."

Nadal pulled out of Queen's this week because of tendonitis in both knees. He has been having treatment at home in Spain but is due to arrive in London tomorrow. He has not made a final decision on whether he will be fit for Wimbledon but he is expected to play.

After his victory at Queen's yesterday Murray was asked whether he thought it was of any significance that Federer and Nadal would be going to Wimbledon without any competitive matches under their belts.

"I can only talk for myself," he said. "For me, it's been a good week in terms of the confidence and playing matches on this surface. It's been very good preparation. But I would also be very confident if I had just won the French Open like Federer and had to skip a couple of weeks.

"Nadal is someone who normally likes to play a lot of matches and get used to surfaces and courts. Maybe for him that will make a difference, but you never know until you step out on the court. He might have been practising for the last 10 days or so."

Crowned Queen's: Two trophies on grass

*From Barons Court to the All England Club: players who have won at Queen's and gone on to win Wimbledon in the same year*

1981 John McEnroe

1982 Jimmy Connors

1985 Boris Becker

1995 Pete Sampras

1999 Pete Sampras

2002 Lleyton Hewitt

2008 Rafael Nadal

*Statistics go back to 1979, when Queen's Tournament was relaunched as the Stella Artois Championships