Novak Djokovic first entered the Center Court at 1:45pm and did not finish his fourth round match against Tim van Rijthoven until nearly 11pm, after what must be considered a Wimbledon scheduling error.
The top seed and six-time winner took part in a parade of former Wimbledon champions alongside Rod Laver, Billie Jean King, Bjorn Borg, Andy Murray and Roger Federer to celebrate Center Court’s centenary before play began.
However, the decision to start the ceremony at 1:30 PM meant that Heather Watson’s match against Jule Niemeier didn’t start until 2:24 PM.
By the time Jannik Sinner had beaten Carlos Alcaraz in four sets, Djokovic finally started his match at 8pm.
The 20-time grand slam champion was therefore in a hurry, but after racing through the first set, the Dutch dark horse Van Rijthoven took the second at 9.45 pm.
But Djokovic put his foot down to make sure he narrowly surpassed the 11pm curfew at Wimbledon by 21 minutes, meaning he didn’t have to come back to finish the game on Monday, with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 winner.
Djokovic’s Wimbledon day started in the company of some of the greatest lawn tennis players in history and ended with him taking another step to the top of that list.
That may once have seemed a surprising destination for a player not in the classic turf of John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras or Roger Federer, but his place among those greats is already assured.
A late night four-set win against Van Rijthoven was his 25th in a row on Wimbledon grass and if he triumphs again on Sunday, he will only join Sampras, Federer and Bjorn Borg in the Open era to take four consecutive Wimbledon titles. to have won titles.
The name Borg in that list is instructive because it shows that there have always been different ways to achieve greatness, even on the fastest courses. Like the Swede, Djokovic’s greatest technical weapon is clearly the unerring strength and accuracy of his foundations, especially the depth he so routinely maintains. It pins its opponents to the back of the field, leaving virtually no opportunity to step in and gain the kind of quick points that come with a smooth surface.
Djokovic made 19 unforced errors over 2 hours and 38 minutes on the field against Van Rijthoven – almost three times less than his opponent.
Iron will and concentration
Probably Djokovic’s best feature and clearly visible in bundles during this win against Van Rijthoven, perhaps most impressive in the second set he actually lost. Why? Because the way he enforced such a flurry of twos and breakpoints at the end of that set, appreciated his 5-0 canter to a lead into the third set.
That may sound strange, but Van Rijthoven only managed to improve the second set with a monumental effort that always seemed impossible to sustain. Understandably, after that emotional high, a dip followed.
Djokovic’s focus and concentration, on the other hand, almost never wavers and before Van Rijthoven knew it, he had the finish in sight. It looked like he had an uphill task to finish before the Wimbledon curfew at 11pm, and Djokovic raced through the last two sets with the loss of just three games to finish with 20 minutes left.
“Thank God – I’m lucky,” said Djokovic, when told that the game would indeed have stopped at 11pm and force him back again on Monday.
Djokovic later called for an earlier showcourt start at a press conference that ended just before midnight.
“I’ve heard there’s a discussion about moving it a little earlier,” he said. “It really is an indoor tournament, usually you are last on Center Court or Court One. I think most players would probably agree that we would like the Center Court start sooner.”
Return and second service
Van Rijthoven had broken his serve just three times in three games in what was a stunning breakthrough tournament before facing Djokovic. Four sets and six serve breaks later, he had discovered what it was like to take on one of the greatest servers in history. Like Borg, Chris Evert and Andre Agassi, Djokovic has shown that this one shot on a lawn can be just as deadly as smashing first serve and volleys.
“You have to give Novak something else if you don’t want to break a few times,” McEnroe said in the BBC’s commentary box.
Another important weapon is Djokovic’s second serve, which, as Sampras famously found, could be crucial to success on the lawn. Pretty much every player will get a healthy majority of points when their first serve goes in. Djokovic often does it in his second serve and he won almost the same points ratio (69 percent against 75 percent) from Van Rijthoven as he did with his first. “It was supreme – it doesn’t get any better than that,” said McEnroe of a player who now almost only joins Sampras and Federer with seven titles in men’s singles.