Djokovic Embracing History At Wimbledon

Novak Djokovic (photo: @Wimbledon/Twitter)

LONDON/WASHINGTON, July 7, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Coming into Wednesday’s men’s quarterfinals at the Wimbledon Championships, six of the eight quarterfinalists were making their debuts at this stage. The other two, top seed Novak Djokovic and eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, came in with a combined 30 Wimbledon quarterfinal appearances between them.

With their age comes the experience and wisdom to appreciate what they’ve accomplished and, for Federer, to accept the disappointment that accompanies a crushing defeat.

Along the way, there were some nice surprises at the All England Club today. By sundown, the last four were set for 2021 Wimbledon.

Quarterfinal Day began with a business-like attitude for the World No. 1 Djokovic, in his 50th Grand Slam quarterfinal, against unseeded Marton Fucsovics. The 29-year-old Hungarian was appearing in his first major quarterfinal and appearing on Centre Court for the very first time. The 34-year-old Serbian played ruthless tennis from the start, jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the opening set, and never let up en route to achieving the 100th career grass-court victory of his career.

Although the 48th-ranked Fucsovics pushed the defending champion a bit in the opening set by saving five set points, Djokovic chalked up his 13th consecutive set win, then coasted through sets two and three to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory that was never really in doubt and was finished in an efficient two hours and 17 minutes.

Djokovic hit 23 winners, benefited from 31 unforced errors by Fucsovics and converted four break points en route to his victory. With 15 straight sets won, the defending Wimbledon champion continued his relentless quest toward reaching his seventh Championships final.

Djokovic has dropped only one set in the tournament, none since the first round against British wild card Jack Draper. Through the first five rounds, he’s only lost his serve four times in the entire tournament. Round-by-round, with wins over Draper, Kevin Anderson, Denis Kudla, Cristian Garin and Fucsovics, Djokovic has worked meticulously toward adding a sixth Wimbledon crown and 20th major title to his C.V. When he takes on No. 10 seed Denis Shapovalov from Canada on Friday, he will take a 6-0 lifetime win-loss record onto Centre Court with him and undoubtedly be the favorite.

“I am aware of certain stats,” Djokovic said during his on-court interview, “and obviously, I love this sport with all my heart and body and soul; I’ve been devoted to this sport since I was four. Sometimes, things do look surreal for me. But I try to live in the moment, don’t take anything for granted, be grateful for every opportunity I have on court and, obviously going for history is a huge inspiration for me and, you know, let’s keep it going.

“I think it was a solid performance. I started off extremely well, I didn’t do too many things wrong in my game in the first six games of the match. I managed to close it out at 5-3. I guess one break of serve in the second and third set was enough to clinch the victory today.”

Disappointment for Federer, out in straight sets 

Meanwhile, age is just a number for the 39-year-old sixth seed Federer, who was in pursuit of his 13th appearance in the last four against 6-foot-5-inch “Bean Pole” Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. However, the 24-year-old native of Wroclaw had other ideas. Just six when Federer won his first Wimbledon title, Hurkacz shocked Federer, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0, in an hour and 48 minutes in front of a capacity Centre Court crowd. He was good on every level – simply exemplary – while for Federer, who never looked comfortable, it was without a doubt the heaviest loss he’s ever suffered at Wimbledon. It’s the first time he’s ever lost a 6-0 set at Wimbledon.

Hurkacz, arguably the nicest fellow on the ATP Tour – who once made the third round at Wimbledon in 2019 but never had advanced past the second round of any other major – arrived last week on a six-match losing streak. Now, he’s beaten a living legend and certain Hall of Famer and is into the Wimbledon semifinals. Hurkacz did it by hitting 10 aces and 36 winners against just 12 unforced errors – and, he won the last eight games of the match.

“It’s super special for me, playing on this special court against Roger,” Hurkacz said during his on-court interview, commanding the attention of the crowd. Could he imagine beating Federer at Wimbledon and with such authority? “Probably not. The special things he has done here throughout his career, it’s a dream come true. Playing here in front of you guys, thank you so much for coming here and cheering. I’m super proud and super happy to be here. I can’t wait for the next one.”

As Federer sat for press, there was a definite sign of disappointment on his face and in his voice. “The goal was to be ready for Wimbledon last year, and I barely made it this year,” he said during his post-match press conference.

Federer was asked whether he thought today was his last match at Wimbledon. He answered: “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I need to regroup. My goal for the last year or more was always to play another Wimbledon. I was able to make it this year, which I was really a happy about.

“We were always going to sit down and talk about what comes after. Obviously, we will speak a bit tonight and the next couple of days as well and we go from there. It’s like what do I need to do to be in better shape and more competitive and we go from there. Of course, i would like to play it again, but at my age you just never know.”

Shapovalov part of new generation, ready to step up

There’s new blood knocking and ready to show that the next generation has arrived. Such was the case with 22-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Canada, the 10th seed, who took on 25th seed Karen Khachanov of Russia to begin the day on No. 1 Court. Each equaled their best Grand Slam result this week by reaching the quarterfinals. When it was over, Shapovalov had won 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 in three hours and 26 minutes to become the third Canadian all-time to reach the Wimbledon semifinals. By the end of the match, he was playing exceptional tennis and finished with 17 aces and 59 winners. Now, he’s into his first Grand Slam semifinal.

“It was definitely super tough, especially in the fifth set, having love-40 and not converting. Then, having the craziest game of my life, being able to win that was massive,” Shapovalov said after his victory. “I was in a similar position at the US Open last yer in the quarterfinals, and I thought I started the fifth set a little slow. So, I told myself just play every single point as hard as you can, and a bit of luck was on my side.

“[Djokovic] is the best player in the world, but when you look at the scoreboard, the first thing on Friday, it is going to be level. I have full belief in me and my team, anything is possible.”

More Italian joy, thanks to Berrettini

Finally, when Italian Matteo Berrettini, 25, took to No. 1 Court for his match against 20-year-old best buddy Felix Auger-Aliassime from Canada, one could ask: Would there be more joy for Italy to complement the country’s Euro 2020 semifinal victory over Spain? In a matter of time – three hours and four minutes to be exact – the answer to that question would be spelled out.

While Berrettini was attempting to become the first Italian man in over 60 years – following in the footsteps of Nicola Pietrangeli, who achieved the feat in 1960 – to reach the Wimbledon semifinals, the 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime, who had won his last three matches against Top-10 competition,  including against Federer in Halle last month, was looking to climb to his first major semifinal and join fellow Canadian Shapovalov in the men’s final four. However, it was Berrettini who gave Italy more to celebrate thanks to his 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Auger-Aliassime, in back of 12 aces and 23 winners. It was Berrettini’s 10th straight victory on grass and follows his recent semifinal performance at Roland-Garros.

“Everything is crazy right now,” an out-of-breath Berrettti said during his on-court interview on No. 1 Court. “Thanks to Felix, I think we made a great match. I hope you guys enjoyed it. He’s probably one of my best friends on tour, so it’s never easy to play against him. But that’s sport and I’m really happy.

“In Australia, when we did the quarantine, we practiced for two weeks together. So, we know each other pretty well. Today was really tricky. Good luck for him, but now I’m happy for me.”

Wednesday’s Wimbledon results

Thursday’s Wimbledon order of play

By the numbers

• At age 39, Roger Federer was the oldest man in any Grand Slam quarterfinal since 1977. He was making his 18th appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and bidding for his 14th semifinal.

• Come Friday, in one semifinal will be 19-time major champion Novak Djokovic against first-time major semifinalist Denis Shapovalov, in the other it’s first-time major semifinalist Hubert Hurkacz facing second-time major semifinalist Matteo Berrettini.