When Novak Djokovic arrived here this year without a warm-up event and with the wounds of another near miss at the French Open still fresh, the consensus was that it would take something special for him to bounce back by successfully defending his Wimbledon title.
Three matches in and having not dropped a set, he looks every inch the man to beat again.
On Friday it was the turn of the talented Australian Bernard Tomic to feel the heat of the Djokovic game as the world No1 recorded a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory that was utterly ruthless. The big-serving South African Kevin Anderson, who beat Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer in straight sets on Friday, may offer more resistance in the fourth round on Monday but on current form it is going to take something special to knock the two-times champion off his perch.
“It’s been great so far,” said Djokovic of his first week’s work, which consists of three straight-set wins, each one better than the last. “I was hoping that I could play better and better as the tournament progresses and that’s exactly what’s happening right now. I feel more confident on the court and in control of my baseline shots.”
Last year Djokovic also came to Wimbledon with the mental scars of having missed out in Paris, beaten by Rafael Nadal as the Spaniard claimed a ninth French Open title. If the scars are any deeper after his latest Paris disappointment, losing to Stan Wawrinka in the final, they are well hidden and he will surely draw strength from his efforts of 12 months ago, when he beat Roger Federer in five sets to clinch a second Wimbledon title.
Tomic, who reached the quarter-finals here as an 18-year-old in 2011, had no answer to the Serb’s brilliance, unable to cope in the face of what became a brutally efficient assault. Having held serve in a long third game, Djokovic promptly broke the Tomic serve and even at that stage, it looked an awfully long way back for the Australian as a one-set lead quickly became two.
The only glimmer of hope for Tomic came when he held 0-40 on Djokovic’s serve in the opening game of the third set but the top seed was in no mood to become embroiled in a scrap, saving all three and holding. One break was enough to seal victory and Tomic was generous in his praise. “I can’t even describe it in words,” he said. “Too good, too good.”
Djokovic could barely be more confident and relaxed as he heads into week two, staying long after the end of his match to pose for photos and sign autographs, including one man’s prosthetic leg. “That’s probably the first time, maybe the second time, that I’ve signed a prosthetic limb. I hope it gives him luck and he’s going to feel better.”
With Andy Murray also playing superbly and Roger Federer cruising through his first couple of matches, Djokovic knows the title will not be handed to him on a plate. He will also be well aware that Wawrinka, his conqueror in Paris, could yet be waiting for him in the semi-finals. On Friday the Swiss matched Djokovic with a third straight-sets win, his 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 success over Spain’s Fernando Verdasco – an exercise in efficiency.
When Djokovic and Wawrinka practised together here a few days before Wimbledon, the Swiss unleashed his trademark one-handed backhand down the line, only for Djokovic to gesture and tell his friend: “I’ve seen enough of those, no more.” On grass, Wawrinka, the fourth seed, does not have as much time as he does on clay to wind up the backhand but if the seedings pan out he may not have much choice. There is still a long way to go before that happens, of course, and Wawrinka’s first task will be to get past David Goffin of Belgium in round four on Monday.
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