When Novak Djokovic Unable to compete at the Australian Open in January after his visa was revoked, he wasn’t the only player to see the trajectory of his year shift immediately. Miomir Kecmanovic, his 22-year-old compatriot, was originally Djokovic’s first victim, but unfortunately an opportunity presented itself. Instead of the best player in the world, he faced lucky loser Salvatore Caruso. The Serb vowed to do everything to get “revenge” on Djokovic.
Even he could not imagine how faithfully he would live up to these words. He immediately reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time and continued to do so throughout the year.
He did consecutive quarterfinals in Indian Wells and Miami. He was the protagonist in one of the best matches of the season, against Carlos Alcaraz. After starting the year ranked 77th, he is now at a new career high of 30th.
But under the increased pressure of the center court, this time paired with Djokovic, none of this form and admirable progress showed in the slightest. Kecmanovic, who was Djokovic’s first seeded opponent at the tournament, was gutted by his older compatriot, who is still rounding into form. After just one hour and 53 minutes, Djokovic comfortably moved into the fourth round with a 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 win.
“I thought I started very, very well,” he said. “Very strong with very good intensity, good concentration. I know Miomir quite well, we trained a lot, we come from Serbia. The victory was dictated by a commanding performance in which Djokovic immediately imposed himself on Kecmanovic with his depth and intensity, challenging the youngster to keep pace. He couldn’t. Kecmanovic was swept in the first set and could do little to stop Djokovic’s momentum.
A decisive moment in the third set underlined the challenge he was up against. At 1-1, a break, Djokovic sealed the game with some absurd play. He first slid deep into the right corner to claim the forehand with a superb defensive lob, then flipped the serve over his head and finished with a neat drop shot and lob combination.
In the end, Djokovic closed with 36 winners and 19 unforced errors. Despite his low first serve percentage, he served well in the crucial moments and didn’t drop his serve until his first serve of the match at 5-2. The writing was so clearly on the wall that Djokovic’s slight hiccup, a forehand error on the break, had both players smiling. On the second attempt, he served out the match without any problems.
Both his win and performance were exactly the type of progression Djokovic is looking for. As in recent years he has reached Wimbledon without a match on grass since the French Open. Last year he lost his opening set of the tournament to Jack Draper and this year it was the second set of his opening match against Kwon Soon-woo. He has since responded with two extremely solid wins. He looks relaxed and composed.
“I think I played better and better as the tournament went on,” he said. “It’s something that as a player you always wish that every match you play will raise the level of matches at least a notch higher. And I think that’s what’s happening right now.”
It’s hard to overstate how crucial this week is for Djokovic. He is currently unable to enter the United States to compete in the US Open because the country does not allow unvaccinated visitors.
He made it clear before this tournament that he would not make any changes to his status and would sit out Flushing Meadows if nothing changed. After not being able to compete in Australia and then suffering a heavy defeat to Rafael Nadal quarterfinals of the French OpenHis season could hinge on next week’s nine game days.
The ultimate goal this year is a seventh Wimbledon title, a number that seemed unattainable until recently when Pete Sampras earned it. Victory would mark the Serb’s fourth title in a row, his sixth in eight years, true dominance. With any other outcome, it would be hard not to consider this season one of the low points of his career.
At a time when other natural hard court players have struggled to adapt their games in recent years, his success on grass is even more impressive. His adaptation to the surface has been continuous over the years, from improving his serve later in his career to the way he has embraced the net.
Djokovic’s 8% of serve and volley points so far this year is well above the tournament average of 5%. Despite hard courts being his best surface, these days he seems to have an even greater advantage on grass, partly because there are fewer opponents to keep up.
The next challenge will be unknown Tim van Rijthoven, the Dutch wild card who continued his eight-match run since his surprise Libema Open title in ‘s-Hertogenbosch by reaching his first Grand Slam fourth round with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win over 22nd seed Nikoloz Basilashvili. Georgia.
As Carlos Alcaraz walked off Court No. 1 on Friday after his 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 demolition of Germany’s Oscar Otte, one fan told him: “see you in the final.” The 19-year-old Spaniard’s answer? “I will try to”.
Alcaraz still has a long way to go to reach the Wimbledon final, but the rate at which he is learning is such that even in his third grass-court event, it is not an entirely outlandish thought. At 19, she is already seeded 5 and seems to be a potential champion no matter what surface she plays on, hard courts, clay or grass.
Now, with Italian Jannik Sinner next in the fourth round and six-time champion and top seed Djokovic likely to await in the quarter-finals, it’s still a big jump. But the level he had reached in crushing was so high that anything was possible. “Well, it was probably the best match on grass that I’ve played,” Alcaraz said. “I enjoy every second I play on the grass, on this amazing court. I’m really happy to be in the fourth round.”
His tennis is breathtaking. Few players have the ability to take a crowd’s breath away; Juan Martín del Potro has done it with his forehand, so has Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and Alcaraz is next, his blistering speed matched by his incredible racket head speed, which allows him to hit scorching shots on both sides.
Next up is Sinner, the Italian who did what Andy Murray failed to do, taming John Isner’s giant serve in a 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory. “Everybody knows the level of Jannik Sinner,” said Alcaraz, the youngest man to reach the fourth round since 2011. “He’s a great player, a very aggressive player. It’s going to be a really fun game, a tough game. I’m just going to enjoy it.”