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Wimbledon, watch out: You just made Novak Djokovic angry

“I’ve played in much more hostile environments, trust me, you guys can’t touch me,” Novak Djokovic assured the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon on Monday night. Even after winning in straight sets, he had the bit between his teeth. Holger Rune couldn’t touch him either, you see, so the seven-time Wimbledon champion had a little more energy to expend.

But we’ll come back to the cutting coda on Djokovic’s straight-sets victory. In tennis terms, this might have been the perfect match for him at the perfect time. There is a sense that the Serb’s powers are waning this year, if only slightly, and if only due to the looming presence of Father Time – one of the few figures in sport with a greater record than Djokovic.

Make no mistake, the 24-time grand slam champion can win Wimbledon this week. He remains among the favourites, and rightly so. But after his walkover exit from the French Open, and with that compression sleeve still hugging his surgically-repaired right knee, and with his movement a little laboured, it is fair to suggest that he’ll welcome this straight-sets win.

Djokovic, now 37, was dominant against Vit Kopriva in the first round, before qualifier Jacob Fearnley offered a surprisingly stern test in the second. Still, there was no cause for concern in Djokovic’s camp. Even after the third round, when Djokovic lost the first set but fought back to beat Alexei Popyrin, there was no reason to panic. But there was reason to wish for a more straightforward test. Still a test, of course – something to keep Djokovic alert as he bids to regain the Centre Court crown – but a simpler one.

Djokovic won the first 12 points of the contest
Djokovic won the first 12 points of the contest (Getty)

And for a few reasons, that’s what he got against Rune. In part, this was down to Djokovic’s enduring qualities. Endurance itself is one of them, and the experience and maturity that come with that were on full display under the roof. While Rune looked like a deer in headlights in the early games, losing the first 12 points, Djokovic was calm behind the wheel. And truthfully, Rune’s own, early panic was a key reason for the manner of Djokovic’s win here. But again: the veteran’s ability to capitalise was crucial.

It took Rune more than three games to even register a point, and that moment was greeted by a warm, sustained cheer. But Djokovic continued to exert greater control over the points, and when he has his rhythm, he looks more in control of a point than any athlete to have ever played the sport. The former world No 1 took the first set with such ease, in fact, that it almost seemed this would not be enough of a test. Could it fall into the sweet spot?

Eventually, yes, as Rune transformed into a different player over the latter half of the first set and the start of the second. Still, at 3-3 in the second frame, Rune was left to rue an overly ambitious drop shot at 40-30. The 21-year-old went on to give up break point, and though he saved it, Djokovic converted the next.

Djokovic had to get up off the lawn numerous times in his fourth-round match
Djokovic had to get up off the lawn numerous times in his fourth-round match (Getty)
Holger Rune runs to hit a forehand
Holger Rune runs to hit a forehand (PA)

And speaking of different versions of these players: evidence of an older Djokovic arose intermittently. Early in the second set, one rally sent both men from side to side, time and again, with Djokovic eventually hitting into the net. It’s the kind of stroke he’d have made in the past, but this time he could not, and he was left wincing and clutching his abs. And twice in the third set, just two points apart, the Serb slipped. The first time, he got up a little slowly, a little gingerly – pondering the state of his knee? The next time, he was applauded for rising to finish the point, but he still took a moment to clutch his lower back.

What looked like it would be the most concerning moment, though, came in the second set, as Djokovic was sent sliding into the splits. Yet somehow, he climbed off the lawn again, seemingly unfazed. And that is evidence that, while Djokovic may be slowly slowing, he is still a physical force.

Rune, the 13th seed, would actually save five set points in that game, with part of the crowd growing louder in its support of the Dane each time. “Ruuuuuuuune” went the low croon, but there was more to it, according to Djokovic.

Djokovic wishes the Wimbledon crowd a ‘goooooooood night’
Djokovic wishes the Wimbledon crowd a ‘goooooooood night’ (AFP)

After he saw off Rune’s resistance late in the second set, and moved comfortably through the third, he told the crowd: “To all the fans that have respect and stayed here tonight, thank you from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate it. To all those people who chose to disrespect a player, in this case me, have a gooooooood night. Gooooood night, goooooood night.

“They were [disrespecting me],” he insisted. “They were. I know they were cheering Rune, but it’s an excuse to boo. Listen, I’ve been on the tour 20 years, I know all the tricks. It’s fine, it’s okay; I focus on the respectful people who pay for their ticket, come tonight and love tennis, and appreciate the players and the effort the players put in. I’ve played in much more hostile environments, trust me, you guys can’t touch me.”

The question now is whether anyone can touch Djokovic on court. Next up, in the quarter-finals, is Alex de Minaur, who will face a different Djokovic than the one he was expecting. Forget an older Djokovic; this is an edgier one.

Truthfully, he might have a point about Monday’s crowd. Whether or not he needed to express that point is a different matter. Either way, Djokovic’s pursuit of an eighth crown just took a very, very interesting turn.

#Wimbledon #watch #Novak #Djokovic #angry

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