Halfway through Novak Djokovic’s first match of this tournament, against Londoner James Ward on Monday afternoon, a fan shouted: “He’s only human, James!” It brought the usual guffaws.
The world No1 and defending champion duly won, as expected, and smiled broadly afterwards. On Saturday, the laughter stopped.
Djokovic is indeed human and is on his way home – a little sulkily it has to be said – after losing in four sets in the third round to the American Sam Querrey. But Andy Murray, whose ambitions of winning the tournament have risen sharply after his rival’s shock departure, refuses to join the chorus of premature celebration.
Murray tidied up his 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 win over the Australian John Millman with his eighth ace after two hours and 11 minutes under the roof on Centre Court, not long after Querrey had shaken up the other side of the draw by beating the Serb on the exposed No1 Court. The serial interruptions to play were an obvious source of irritation to the Serb, who was understandably devastated afterwards.
While Djokovic struggled to hide his disappointment – and refused to discuss concerns about his left shoulder, simultaneously admitting there was a problem – Murray put the events in a wider context, although diplomacy hummed through his words.
“It doesn’t [affect the Scot’s chances]. If I was to reach the final, then it may have some bearing, really, but it doesn’t right now. My draw’s still exactly the same. The matches, in the next round especially, are tough.”
In a pointed jab at experts who got the European referendum wrong, he added: “The bookies don’t always get it right. They made a few mistakes over the last few weeks – across a number of different things. Your job is to go out there and try to win the matches that are there in front of you. That’s what I’ll try and do.”
Murray awaits the outcome of the held-over match between Nick Kyrgios and Feliciano López, which his Spanish friend has pulled back to one set all after a tie-break in the gloaming. He might be encouraged that the Australian, whom he has supported through many travails, is, nevertheless, in a state of turmoil after more on-court outbursts, which included a shameful echo of Bernard Tomic’s outburst of “retard”.
The use of this offensive word has gone beyond Australian sporting argot. Both of them must surely be held accountable for such excesses. Murray beforehand was supportive of Kyrgios. He might have to change his mind.
Murray added of Djokovic: “The run that Novak has had has been incredible. Everyone expects him to win every match but history suggests that’s not going to happen. There’s going to be a match where maybe you don’t play your best, and your opponent plays great tennis. But rather than this being a surprise, he should really be almost celebrated for what he’s actually done. I mean, it’s incredible. He broke a number of records, winning all four slams, what was it, 30 consecutive grand slam matches? It’s amazing.”
When Ivan Lendl returned to Murray’s team last month, it was with the express purpose of beating the seemingly unbeatable Djokovic. He will be well pleased with Murray’s form – and Djokovic’s absence.
This was Murray’s third excellent win in a row and, coming after he won a record fifth Queen’s title, stretched his grass-court run to eight on the spin. He is serving well, winning 84% of first-serve points here, and just over half on his second serve, which has been a weakness. He dominated the short exchanges – 56 points of 96 in rallies of four shots or fewer – and was similarly solid in the longer rallies.
The pivotal point of the match arrived, appropriately, around the middle of the contest, as Millman, a stubborn customer, prodded Murray into the most competitive exchanges of the afternoon.
“Some of the tennis I have played at the end of the matches, in particular in the third sets of the last two, has been very good,” he said. “Today I went through a tough 15 to 20 minutes in the second set and came through it well. There were a lot of long rallies and tough games. I played some good stuff in those tough moments.”
Millman, who said Murray was “just too good”, thinks he could capitalise on Djokovic’s defeat and go on to win his second title here, but said there are others who would similarly take heart. “There is a long way to go, isn’t there?” he said.
“I know Djokovic is out, but you’ve got some very, very good players still in. I’m sure everyone senses it’s a slightly better opportunity just because of the high standards that Djokovic has set the last few seasons. Andy has won this before, and I think that really helps.”
As for his match against Murray, who eats Australians for breakfast, Millman said: “I don’t think any of the Australians have anything against Andy and I’m sure he doesn’t have a grudge against us, but he’s a very, very, very good player. I left it all out there. Andy was too good.”Djokovic wasn’t the only player to lose his way at Wimbledon on Saturday – and Millman was blissfully unaware that stewards looking to lead the players on to court couldn’t find him at first. “I was just in my north locker room,” he said. “I wasn’t in the seeded locker room, obviously. That’s the fancy one. But Wimbledon is a great place. Any locker room will do me.”
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