Wimbledon: Djokovic Extends Streak To 25, Sinner Next

Novak Djokovic (photo: Wimbledon video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, July 4, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic capped a busy Middle Sunday at the Wimbledon Championships with his 25th consecutive victory on grass at the All England Club.

The World No. 3 and top seed ended the perfect 8-0 grass season of 104th-ranked Dutch wild card Tim van Rijthoven with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 Centre Court victory to reach his 13th Wimbledon quarterfinals – and he did it with about 20 minutes to spare before Wimbledon Village curfew was due to begin at 11 p.m. The match ended about 10:40 p.m. local time with the roof already closed due to darkness. It moved Djokovic one round closer to winning his seventh Wimbledon crown and 21st major title overall.

It was a day that began with the six-time Wimbledon champion Djokovic being acknowledged during a special Parade of Champions that took place Sunday afternoon on Centre Court as part of the centenary celebration before prior to the first match between Great Britain’s Heather Watson and Jule Niemeier of Germany. Djokovic, who received thunderous applause from the sellout crowd of 15,000, got to renew acquaintances with some of his contemporaries like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, as well as to be recognized among Hall of Famers such as Rod Laver, Billie Jean King, Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert.

During his on-court interview after beating van Rijthoven, Djokovic thanked King for staying well into the evening to watch his match from beginning to end. “Thank you, Billie Jean, for staying!” he said. “I know it’s been a long day, so thank you.”

Djokovic shared that although he considers himself a decent student of the history of tennis, King is the master – and he enjoyed learning from her.

“I heard Billie Jean speak and I figured [out] how much I really don’t know about tennis history,” he said. “So, thank you, Billie Jean, for bringing me a lot of really valuable lessons today.”

Although Djokovic was challenged by van Rijthoven’s powerful serve and ability to score points from both wings, Djokovic responded solidly from the baseline and came back strong after dropping only his second set of the British fortnight.

“I knew coming into the match that it was always going to be a tough, challenging matchup against Tim, who I’ve never faced before,” Djokovic said during his post-match press conference. “I watched him play. He’s got a really good game for grass, which he proved today. [It] was a very good fight, especially in the first two sets.

“But overall, I think I’ve played very well, very solid from back of the court. I got into his service rhythm, started reading his serve better in the third and fourth sets.”

After van Rijthoven leveled the set by saving four second-set break points to serve out the second set, Djokovic came back strong by jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the third set. He dropped just three games over the final two sets to put away the two hour and 37 minute match.

“I just really am pleased with the way I closed out the match,” Djokovic said. “I lost the rhythm on my serve a little bit towards the end of the match, but overall just a good fight and really challenging match for me on grass.”

Next, Djokovic, 35, will look to extend his winning streak on grass when he faces No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy, who did not drop serve during his  6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-3 victory over No. 5 seed Carlos Alcaraz.

Djokovic and Sinner have met once, last year at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters on clay, won by the Serbian, 6-4, 6-2. He said he’s looking forward to playing the 20-year-old rising star.

“He’s maturing a lot on the big stage,” Djokovic said. “I think he doesn’t feel too much pressure on the big stage. He’s very solid. He has every shot in his game: serve, return, forehand, backhand. He’s constantly putting pressure on opponents.”

Djokovic said he sees a little bit of himself in Sinner’s game. “From back of the court, playing flat backhands, constantly staying on the back of the line, trying to put pressure on opponents,” he noted.

Around the All England Club

• No. 3 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia is the highest-remaining seed left in the women’s singles draw. On Sunday evening, she held off a strong challenge and downed No. 24 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 7-6 (9), 6-4, to make back-to-back Wimbledon quarterfinals. The victory improved Jabeur’s grass-court record to 9-0 this season, which includes one title on grass at Berlin. She’s not dropped at set at the All England Club in her first four matches.

Next, Jabeur will face unseeded Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic for a place in her first Grand Slam semifinal.

After her victory against Mertens, in her on-court interview, Jabeur said: “Hopefully, I can continue the streak. I love playing on grass. I love the connection between nature and me. Hopefully, it can continue to the final.”

Jabeur was asked about being a trailblazer, not only in her North Africa home country of Tunisia but also on the African continent and in the Arab world.

“I’m just trying my best to break records, to really open the path for the next generation,” Jabeur said.

She also believes it’s realistic to believe that come Saturday she could win the Wimbledon title, which would be her first major crown. After all, a year ago in reaching the quarterfinals, Jabeur was ranked 24th. This time, she’s ranked World No. 2.

“I’m just very positive about what I want to do. I have my goals very high for this tournament, so I’m going to keep doing that,” she said.

“No matter who’s coming, I’m going to build the fight, I’m going to fight until the end because I really want the title.”

• It was a Wimbledon mixed doubles battle between two wild card teams, both with a British flavor to them – but also one which featured a very big-name American star, Venus Williams.

On No. 2 Court, the all-British pairing of Alicia Barnett and Jonny O’Mara edge out former Doubles World No. 1 players Williams and Great Britain’s Jamie Murray, 3-6, 6-74, 7-6 (16), in two hours and 12 minutes.

Williams, 42, took a cue from her younger – and just as famous – sister, Serena, and returned to competition for the first time in nearly a year. She and Murray won their first-round match on Friday.

On Sunday, Barnett and O’Mara advanced to the quarterfinal round after tying the longest match tiebreak in any of the Wimbledon draws so far this fortnight. While Williams and Murray saved four match points, Barnett and O’Mara saved five as the match tiebreak evened at 16-all. Afterward, Barnett and O’Mara gained their fifth match point at 17-16 after Williams netted a backhand return. Finally, they won after Murray erred on a volley return.

Also, Americans Coco Gauff and Jack Sock advanced to the quarterfinals with a 75-minute, 6-4, 7-6(3) win over No. 3 seeds Zhang Shuai of China and Nicolas Mahut of France.

Sunday’s Wimbledon results

Monday’s Wimbledon order of play

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic’s 25 consecutive grass-court wins – all of them at Wimbledon – are second all-time. While he broke a tie with Hall of Famer Rod Laver, who was in attendance at the All England Club Sunday, he still trails Roger Federer’s 65 stright grass-court victories, which were compiled from 2003-08. The last time Djokovic lost on grass? Try the 2018 Queen’s Club final against Marin Cilic.

• For the first time since 1999, there are four Australians who have reached the fourth round at Wimbledon – three men and one woman – and all of them will be in action on Monday. They are are Alex de Minaur, Jason Kubler, Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanovic.

“Quotable …”

“Obviously a very big match for me, playing for the first time on Centre Court against one of the greatest players of all time. [It] was for me already a big win, the fact that I was on Centre Court. Really the first couple games I felt that, was a little nervous.

“I grew in the match, started to play better. Actually got the second set. Then, Novak did his Novak thing and played very, very well. He had all the answers. I tried to make it more of a fight, but just wasn’t possible today.”

– Dutch wild card Tim van Rijthoven, during his post-match press conference, speaking on the experience of losing in four sets to top seed Novak Djokovic Sunday evening.