Wimbledon: Favored Djokovic Has Plenty Of Respect For Kyrgios

Novak Djokovic (photo: Wimbledon video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, July 10, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

As World No. 3 Novak Djokovic readies for his 32nd career Grand Slam singles final, against No. 40 Nick Kyrgios at the Wimbledon Championships Sunday, he hasn’t lost on Centre Court since the 2013 final. That’s when Andy Murray won and broke a 77-year drought in becoming Great Britain’s first male Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry.

Fast forward to this year, Murray reached the second round before bowing out and the man seen as the greatest threat to the three-time defending champion Djokovic’s chances of winning a fourth consecutive crown, Rafael Nadal, withdrew on the eve of his semifinal match against Kyrgios with an abdominal injury.

Speaking of the mercurial Aussie whom he considers as a friend, Djokovic said that “as a tennis fan,” he’s pleased that Kyrgios is through to his first Grand Slam final. He said it a place that someone of his talents needs to be and deserves to be, too.

Djokovic has never taken a set off Kyrgios, although they’ve not faced each other in five years – and, surprisingly, this will be their first meeting on grass.

After beating Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie in a four-set semifinal Friday on Centre Court, which followed a come-from-behind five-set victory over No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner in the quarterfinals, the top-seeded Djokovic was asked about Kyrgios during his post-match news conference. He had plenty to say.

“Nick’s a big match player. If you see his career, the best tennis he’s played is always against the top guys,” Djokovic said. “That’s why we all respect him, because we know what he can come up with. It’s going to be an interesting match.

“I mean, in a way, it’s a surprise [he’s in the final] because of his ranking. He has never reached a Grand Slam final. So, maybe not too many people are giving him big chances to reach the finals.

“I think between us players, we always know how dangerous he is, on grass particularly, because of his game, because of his attitude on the court being so confident, just going for it, being a very complete player.”

Added Djokovic: “It seems like mentally he’s at a better state than what he was, where he was, some years ago. As I said, of course as time passes by, you’re maturing, you’re understanding yourself what you need to do in order to get yourself to the best possible, optimal state of mind, body and soul in order to perform your best.

“These are the occasions that he loves, where he thrives on a big stage. So, in a way it’s also not a surprise for me that he’s there.”

And what did Kyrgios have to say on the eve of his first Grand Slam final? Plenty, as usual. He spoke to the media on Friday prior to the Djokovic-Norrie semifinal.

“I feel like it’s the pinnacle of tennis,” he said. “Once you are able to raise a Grand Slam trophy, that’s like, I mean, what else is there to achieve?

“So, I never thought I’d be here. I’m just super proud and I’m just ready to go. I’m going to give it my all and we’ll see what happens.”

Although Kyrgios will be the underdog against Djokovic, he’s ready for the challenge and feels anything’s possible.“I feel like it’s possible,” he said. “It’s still possible to achieve something quite special if you just believe in yourself.

“I never really lost belief in myself. I feel like most people around me at some stage in my life have lost belief that I would ever make a Grand Slam final [or] doubted me a little bit with my behavior or just the way I trained. I think everyone, it’s safe to say.

“That’s fine they doubted me, but I never lost belief in myself.”

With the extra rest as a result of the walkover into the final due to Nadal’s injury withdrawal, Kyrgios will no doubt be ready to play come Sunday afternoon.

“I feel like I’m just a reckless ball of energy right now,” Kyrgios admitted. “I want the final to come right now.”

Ebden and Purcell overcame great odds to win men’s doubles title

Australia’s Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell, seeded 14th, went the five-set distance five times during the British fortnight. It was worth it. On their fifth time, they won their first Grand Slam doubles title.

Ebden, 34, and Purcell, 24, this year’s Australian Open finalists, defeated defending Wimbledon champions and No. 2 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 4-6, 6-4, 10-2 in four hours and 11 minutes on Centre Court Saturday. Match point was struck in fading daylight.

In the first fifth-set tie break to determine a Wimbledon men’s doubles champion, the Aussies jumped out to a 5-2 lead and soon increased it to 9-2 as fatigue and errors began to befall the Croatia duo. Then, on match point, Ebden fired an ace – his team’s sixth of the title final – to win. Both he and Purcell collapsed on their backs and began celebrating.

Ebden and Purcell outpointed Mektic and Pavic 199-187 to earn their second tour-level victory of the season after winning on clay at Houston.

Mektic and Pavic, who revealed after the match that he played the final with a fracture in his right wrist suffered during Thursday’s semifinal match, were vying to be the first repeat Wimbledon men’s doubles champions since Daniel Nestor of Canada and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia achieved the feat in 2008-09. The loss ended an 11-match Wimbledon winning streak.

“It was tough to handle those two matches,” Pavic said. “It was tough to play. Obviously, we were close. It’s a bit frustrating [when] you’re not 100 percent.”

Still Pavic and Mektic praised Ebden and Purcell for their fighting spirit.

“These last two matches were probably the most emotional, the best of my life. So, I’m grateful,” Mektic said.

Ebden and Purcell became the first Wimbledon champions in any discipline to save match points in multiple matches en route to winning the title Earlier, they saved three match points in their first-round win over Andre Goransson of Sweden and Ben McLachlan of Japan. They, they saved five match points during their semifinal upset win over No. 1 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain.

“I thought we were out of here in the first round,” Purcell admitted. “We [faced three match points] and we just won Wimbledon. How good is that?”

Ebden, who reached the mixed doubles final with fellow Australian Samantha Stosur, gave praise to their fallen opponents afterward. “They have been the number one guys for the last year, the last two years, and they almost beat us with an injury,” he said.

“We were very lucky to win. That just shows how great a team they are. With a big problem, they almost won Wimbledon. Incredible, you guys.”

Saturday’s Wimbledon results

Sunday’s Wimbledon order of play

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic hasn’t lost on Centre Court since the 2013 final, when Andy Murray became Great Britain’s first men’s Wimbledon champion in 77 years.

Playing in a record 32nd Grand Slam men’s singles final, Djokovic will be chasing after a 21st Grand Slam title with a victory, which would move him to within one of Rafael Nadal’s record of 22. The three-time defending champion is also in pursuit of a seventh overall Wimbledon crown, which would tie him with Pete Sampras.

“Quotable …”

“The experience that I have at this level, playing in the finals against someone that has never played a Grand Slam final, could be slightly in my favor. But at the same time, knowing who he is and how he goes about his tennis and his attitude on the court, he doesn’t seem to be falling under pressure much.

“He plays lights-out every time he steps out onto the court. Just a lot of power in his serve and his game. So, I’m sure he’s going to go for it. No doubt, he’s going to be aggressive .I expect him to do that.”

– Top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia, during his Friday news conference, describing his finals opponent Nick Kyrgios.