‘Flawless’ champion Novak Djokovic stays on course for 20th grand slam title
If Novak Djokovic’s rivals for the Wimbledon title thought the world No 1 might have taken his eye off the ball after winning the French Open for the second time this month, then they would appear to be mistaken. The five-times champion produced a near-flawless performance to dismiss Kevin Anderson, the South African he defeated in the 2018 final, in straight sets to cruise into the third round.
The Serb’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory was an exercise in efficiency, one break in the first set, two in the second and one in the third enough to take him through. His serve was precise, his returns sharp and his mind, arguably his biggest strength, unwavering. Unforced errors are always subjective but Djokovic hit only six in three sets, a stat that impressed even him. “That was something I wanted to do but I did it better than I expected. I mean, I believe in myself but it was really a flawless performance today.”
When Djokovic first won the French Open in 2016, it was a victory that helped him to complete the career grand slam of all four major events: Wimbledon, US Open, French Open and Australian Open. Achieving a lifelong goal left him a little bereft and he lost in the third round here, beaten by Sam Querrey. This time, he looks totally focused, his eyes firmly fixed on a sixth Wimbledon title, the third leg of the calendar-year grand slam and a record-equalling 20th major title, putting him level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
“I was mentioning in the press conference prior to the tournament that I’m going to try to learn from that experience that I had in 2016, winning the first two slams of the year, coming in here in Wimbledon, actually feeling great, playing great, but then I lost the third round against of course a great opponent, Sam Querrey, who was a better player that day,” Djokovic said.
“I felt a little bit different, maybe a little bit deflated. I don’t want to say demotivated because playing Wimbledon is always a dream for any player, including myself. I just felt slightly different than I felt before. It was the first time I experienced that kind of situation and circumstances.
“So this time I’m probably, I would like to think, a bit wiser and a bit more experienced as a player and person. It helps. But now I’m in the third round. It only has been two matches into the tournament. Still a long way to go. Hopefully I can go very deep in the tournament. That’s the goal. But I’m very pleased with the way I’ve been playing so far.”
So he should be. Anderson reached the final in 2018 but had also given Djokovic problems here in the past, leading two sets to love in the fourth round in 2015. The South African has struggled with injury at times in the past couple of years and, though his serve was always a threat, Djokovic neutralised it brilliantly with his return and then took advantage whenever he had the chance.
From 4-3 in the first set he broke to love and then held to love to move ahead, broke twice from 3-3 in the second and then pinched the odd break in the third to claim a simple, no-nonsense victory and set up a third-round meeting with the American Denis Kudla.
The presence of Federer in the draw, at 39, has somewhat overshadowed the fact that Djokovic, at 34, is rewriting the rules in terms of what is possible at an age when, a generation ago, he would be long retired. “Age is just a number, that’s really how I see it,” he said.
“I don’t really think about how many years I have been on the tour. It’s all about perception. I really believe that a lot of things health-wise or just in general about life starts from your mind, mind-over-matter type of thing.
“As I grow older, I feel like I’m also learning new things about myself on and off the court. I’m trying to implement different elements in my game and also in my lifestyle that help me to have longevity because I want to keep on going. I don’t have any end in mind in terms of how many more years I want to play. As long as I feel that desire, as long as I’m fit, I’ll keep on going.” More bad news for the rest of the field.