Djokovic Connects With Grass, Crowd At Wimbledon

Novak Djokovic (photo: Wimbledon video)

LONDON/WASHINGTON, June 30, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Despite a few skillful spills on the slippery grass, reigning Australian Open and Roland Garros champion Novak Djokovic is safely through to the third round of the Wimbledon Championships after defeating 2018 finalist Kevin Anderson, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, on Centre Court Wednesday. The Serbian has never lost to the South African in four meetings at Wimbledon.

The Djokovic-Anderson match was just one of 80 on Day Three’s order of play in the most backlogged Championships since 1991. Thankfully, despite ominous clouds at times, the sun poked through and conditions stayed dried to allow uninterrupted play for the first time this week. By the time the sun set at 9:21 p.m. local time, two matches – Maria Sakkari versus Shelby Rogers and Miomir Kechmanovic versus Roberto Bautista Agut – had been suspended due to darkness and the final Centre Court match between Andy Murray and Oscar Otte paused early in the fourth set for the roof to be closed so it could be concluded.

The top seed and two-time defending champion Djokovic, who has reached the third round of The Championships for the 15th time as he goes after his sixth Wimbledon crown and 20th major title, dominated his match from first ball to last ball as he didn’t face any break points. He kept many of the rallies short and moved Anderson from side to side throughout the one hour and 41-minute match.

“I’m very pleased,” Djokovic said following his win, which advanced him to face American qualifier Denis Kudla in the third round. “Kevin is a terrific player, very dangerous on fast grass courts. A few years ago, in the [2018] final here was a three-set victory. Obviously, today was a three-set victory. Still, only one break each set was enough.

“I held my serve really comfortably. I was using my angles really well from the back of the court. But it’s never easy to play an opponent that has a lot of quality in his shots, particularly in his serve, with a lot of experience playing on a big stage.

“Making as few unforced errors as possible was one of the tactical goals today. I knew Kevin was going to serve big, I wouldn’t have too many chances to break. So, I might as well try to play solid but not too risky, and I did much better than I thought I would. I mean, I believe in myself but it was almost flawless.”

Djokovic hit nine aces and 24 winners and won 84 percent of his first-serve points. He broke Anderson’s serve four times and outpointed the South African 91-58. His 10th career victory over Anderson improved his win-loss record at the All England Club to an impressive 74-10.

By the end of Djokovic’s on-court interview, he grinned when he was asked to comment how much he was enjoying interacting with the crowd, which segued into talking about the slickness of the Centre Court grass. The grass has been a hot topic early in the British fortnight after Tuesday falls by Adrian Mannarino and Serena Williams resulted in back-to-back retirements on Centre Court.

“We are used to playing in front of crowds. But the last 18 months that hasn’t been the case. I just super happy to see you all back at the court,” Djokovic said, which drew a big applause from the 7,000 fans at Centre Court.

“Also, I seem to be having a really nice connection with the grass. I don’t recall falling this much in the first two matches at Wimbledon,” he said. “But the connection with the crowd and the grass – it’s very nice.”

Memo to Andreescu: Playing Cornet is hard work

BBC tennis commentator Sam Smith was very wise when she suggested that Bianca Andreescu has to realize that playing Alizé Cornet is very hard work. And there’s no way around that.

Indeed, and you would have thought Andreescu would have gotten the message when the 58th-ranked Cornet recently beat her at the bett1Open in Berlin, 7-6 (2), 7-5. But no. Instead, Cornet, the 31-year-old grand dame of French women’s tennis, who is appearing in her 14th Wimbledon Championships – and making her 58th consecutive Grand Slam main-draw appearance – taught the 21-year-old Canadian a trick or two about playing on grass. In a matter of an hour and 23 minutes, Cornet beat the No. 5 seed Andreescu, 6-2, 6-1, to advance to the second round. She put away the victory with an unbelievable lob shot on the run.

“I think it’s very important to use your previous experiences to make a good tactic,” Cornet said during her post-match press conference. “I’m this kind of player, I need to know where I’m going and this definitely helped.”

Cornet converted five of 10 break points and saved all six break points she faced. Although Cornet hit only 11 winners, she only made seven unforced errors compared to 34 by Andreescu. The Frenchwoman, who is on track to play in her fourth Olympic Games representing France this summer in Tokyo, also outpointed her opponent 66-47. Next, Cornet will face No. 75 Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, who defeated 118th-ranked Belgian qualifier Greet Minnen, 6-2, 7-6 (5).

“Of course, I’m aiming for more because I’m an ambitious player,” Cornet said following her victory over the 2019 US Open champion Andreescu. “This year I feel particularly comfortable on grass. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I had such a bad clay season. From my first steps on the grass in Berlin, I felt like I belong on this surface. This wasn’t the case in the past.”

Meanwhile, Andreescu was asked what it was like playing without her parents or dog to support her. She didn’t mince here words. “It really sucks,” she said. “Being away from home for, like, more than six, seventh months is super hard. But this is the world we are living in now, and I feel like I dealt with it in the best way that I could.

“But it’s definitely not easy. I’m sure a lot of players can agree with me. Yeah, hopefully it ends soon. That’s all I can say.”

Kyrgios is box office, night or day

Giving the people what they came to see, the often-mercurial Aussie, Nick Kyrgios, was on his best behavior Wednesday afternoon for the continuation of his first-round match against Ugo Humbert of France on No. 1 Court, which began Tuesday evening but was suspended by the Wimbledon Village curfew at 11 p.m.

With the score level at two sets each and 3-all in the deciding fifth set, Kyrgios pulled out a 9-7 final-set triumph to win 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 9-7, in three hours and 26 minutes.

“Not too bad for a part-time player,” Kyrgios, 26, quipped to the crowd, soaking in the atmosphere and accepting the applause of the crowd. Indeed, after playing in just his seventh singles match this year and first outside of Australia in 16 months, he’s enjoying being back on the big stage.

Kyrgios fired 23 aces and hit 51 winners to 37 unforced errors, while Humbert finished with 13 aces and 60 winners to 43 unforced errors. Kyrgios converted five of 13 break-point chances, including to go ahead 8-7 in the final set. He outpointed Humbert 162-147.

“It wasn’t hard to get off the couch in Canberra, as Wimbledon is one of my favorite events,” said Kyrgios during his on-court interview after the victory, which advanced him to the second round. “It was a long day yesterday with the rain and I ate so much food, thinking the match may be cancelled. I got home late last night. It’s very easy to get up for a match with a full crowd.”

When Kyrgios was asked how he would spend his evening tonight since he finished his work early today, he said: “I’m just going to the hotel, probably play some Call of Duty with my girlfriend and chill out, come back out here and try and play again – it’s simple.”

Nishikori garners 100th major win

Japan’s Kei Nishikori became just the 12th active player to earn 100 Grand Slam match victories following his 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over 67th-ranked Alexei Popyrin of Australia.

The No. 53 Nishikori hit 30 winners and broke his opponent three times as he aims towards equaling his best Wimbledon finish in reaching the 2019 quarterfinals. Next, Nishikori will face another Australian, No. 78 Jordan Thompson, who took down No. 12 seed Casper Ruud of Norway, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3), 2-6, 2-6, 6-2 in four hours and four minutes.

“I started really well,” Nishikori said. “I think in the first set I was a little bit shaky, but in the second and third sets, I played really good solid points. I served well and I think the return was key. I broke one game in each set, so I am really happy with how I played today.”

It took three days … but Monfils wins and advances

No. 13 seed Gaël Monfils ended a five-match losing streak on grass and beat 130th-ranked Australian qualifier Christopher O’Connell, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, in a first-round match that began Monday but was suspended by darkness, then didn’t make it on court because of rain delays Tuesday. It was finally completed on Wednesday.

Around the All England Club


• Seventh seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy came on strong and advanced to the second round with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over No. 59 Guido Pella of Argentina in two hours and 16 minutes. He struck 20 aces and hit 47 winners, plus won 45 of 54 first-serve points.

“[My level of confidence was] definitely something that helped me today when things got a little bit complicated,” the World No. .9 Berrettini said after his victory. “Sometimes, you win also with the confidence that you feel in yourself. Today, especially in the third set, I used that as a weapon to overtake him. 

“I know that I have the level [to go far]. I have the weapons. Also, the mental mindset to get there. But every match is a fight, every match is really difficult. I have to go step-by-step now.”

• No. 16 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada is now 7-2 on grass following his 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 win over Thiago Monteiro of Brazil. He hit eight aces and broke his Brazilian opponent four times to advance against 98th-ranked 20-year-old Mikael Ymer of Sweden, who defeated former World No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.

• No. 18 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria won 82 percent of his first-serve points (60 of 73) in his 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Fernando Verdasco of Spain.

• No. 23 seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, a finalist last week in Eastbourne, beat Pedro Sousa of Portugal, 6-2, 7-5, 6-0.

• No. 32 seed Marin Cilic, a 2017 Wimbledon finalist, advanced with a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-1 win over Salvatore Caruso of Italy.

• In his Wimbledon debut, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain recovered from down a break in the final set and hit 65 winners during his four hour and 18-minute victory over Yasutaka Uchiyama, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, which advanced him to face No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev in the second round.

“I am really happy to reach the second round here at my first Wimbledon,” Alcaraz said. “It was a really tough match. I really like [grass], I feel comfortable playing here. I could not play any tournaments on grass before Wimbledon, but every day I feel more comfortable.”

Among the upsets: No. 11 Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain lost to 54th-ranked American Sam Querrey, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 7-5; and No. 28 John Isner of the United States lost to No. 58 Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4.


• No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus advanced to the third round after beating British wild card Katie Boulter, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, on Centre Court Wednesday afternoon. After suffering back-to-back first-round defeats in 2018 and 2019, Sabalenka has strung together consecutive victories this week. Against Boulter, she converted five of six break points while Boulter was only able to cash in on three of 12 chances.

“I’m proud that I actually could get through this match, because I was really emotional in the beginning and I didn’t really feel the surface out there,” Sabalenka said during her post-match press conference. “[Boulter] was playing really great.”

After Boulter’s Centre Court debut, she said: “I think my first and only takeaway is that it’s definitely the best court in the world. I’d not had a chance to play on it yet, that’s my first time. I absolutely loved every minute out there. The British crowd were incredible. I thought it was a really good match, one I won’t forget.”

• No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine survived a first set challenge from Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck, but emerged with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 win in an hour and 41 minutes in back of 34 winners.

“I think the return was quite good for me today,” said Svitolina, a 2019 Wimbledon semifinalist. “I was striking the ball really good. On important moments, I thing I was calm and my shots were quite good in the end. Just happy the way I was tracking the ball and that I could hold my nerves. This was very important for me today.”

• No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland advanced past 2010 Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva of Russia, 6-1, 6-3, by converting five of 11 break points.

• No. 11 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, the 2017 Wimbledon champion, eased past qualifier Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove of the Netherlands, 6-1, 6-4, in 68 minutes by hitting 22 winners to reach the third round at Wimbledon for the third time. In two previous times that she’s made it to the third round, she has gone on to the final, finishing runner up in 2015 and winning it all in 2017.

• No. 12 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2011 and 2012, advanced past the first round for the 13th time in 14 appearances with her 6-1, 6-3 victory over Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine.

• No. 16 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia and No. 19 seed Karolina Muchova of Czech Republic both were winners. Pavlyuchenkova, playing her first match this season on grass, beat Ana Bogdan of Romania, 6-2, 6-2, while Muchova defeated Zhang Shuai of China, 6-3, 6-3.

• Among the upsets: World No. 102 Kaja Juvan of Slovenia ousted No. 9 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, 6-3, 6-3, in an hour and 20 minutes. Both players hit 22 winners, but Bencic also committed 28 unforced errors and committed six double faults. Also, No. 4 seed Sofia Kenin was ousted by fellow American Madison Brengle, ranked 82nd, 6-2, 6-4, in just 46 minutes.

Wednesday’s Wimbledon results

Thursday’s Wimbledon order of play

Ons Jabeur: The trailblazing continues for the Tunisian

No. 21 seed Ons Jabeur defeated five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, 7-5, 6-0, and became the first Tunisian woman to reach the third round at Wimbledon.

Dan Evans: Third round for the third time

British No. 1 Dan Evans, ranked 26th, was solid in winning his second-round match over No. 42 Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Elise Mertens: Every picture tells a story

No. 13 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium served five aces and hit 22 winners during her 6-2, 6-0 victory over No. 99 Zhu Lin of China on Court 17 Wednesday.

“Quotable …”

“To be back at Wimbledon is very special. I love to play on grass. I was lucky to spend one week at home before the tournament, so I was really happy to enjoy that with the family. I am really happy with my match today. I think I played a really solid match from the beginning to the end.”

– No. 61 Jeremy Chardy of France on his 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6), 6-3 win over No. 20 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia.