Wimbledon 2013: Novak Djokovic's bid to make final looks far tougher than previously thought


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The Independent Online

When the draw for Wimbledon was made a week ago, the common consensus was that the biggest winner was Novak Djokovic. While Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer would have to fight it out in the other half of the draw, the highest-ranked player in the 26-year-old Serb's section was David Ferrer, who has just one quarter-final appearance to show from 10 visits here.

The likes of Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic were potential threats, but the luck of the draw had clearly favoured the world No 1.

What a difference a week makes. While the mayhem in the bottom half of the draw has left Murray as the only top 15 player left in his section, there are still six standing in Djokovic's.

A routine 7-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over the American Bobby Reynolds, the world No 156, sent Djokovic into a third-round meeting with either France's Jérémy Chardy, the world No 25, or Germany's Jan-Lennard Struff, the world No 115. Bigger challenges will lie ahead if the Australian Open champion keeps on winning. Djokovic could face Tommy Haas in the fourth round, Berdych in the last eight and Ferrer in the semi-finals.

After the pain of losing to Nadal in the semi-finals of the French Open, which had been his major target for this year, Djokovic is bristling with ambition here. He has got off to the perfect start with two straight-sets victories. The last time he failed to reach the third round of any Grand Slam tournament was in 2008, when he lost to Marat Safin in the second round here.

Djokovic, who is the only former Wimbledon champion left in the draw following the exits of Federer, Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt, was not at his best under the Centre Court roof as rain curtailed play on all the other courts, but there is plenty of time for improvement.

This is the third year in a row that Djokovic has not played a grass-court tournament in the build-up to Wimbledon – it did not stop him winning the title two years ago – and it is no surprise that he is taking time to break in his grass-court shoes.

Reynolds, in truth, was never likely to provide much more than hitting practice. When he beat Steve Johnson in five sets in the first round it was his first victory at a Grand Slam event for five years.

The 30-year-old American has reached the third round of Grand Slam events only twice in his career – at the Australian Open in 2005 and here in 2008 – and earned his place this week through the qualifying tournament. He has never gone higher than No 63 in the world rankings and spends most of his time these days playing on the Challenger circuit.

The American, nevertheless, held his own in a tight first set as Djokovic struggled to cope with the slower conditions under the roof. On his Centre Court debut Reynolds chased everything and regularly had Djokovic at full stretch. The Serb forced four break points in the opening set but was unable to convert any of them. He quickly took charge of the tie-break, however, comfortably prevailing 7-2 after winning the first five points and then finishing off emphatically with an ace.

Reynolds, who did not have a single break point in the match, saw a glimmer of light when he had Djokovic at 0-30 on the Serb's serve in the second game of the second set, but the American hit a smash long on the next point and his chance was gone. Djokovic, who took only four of his 18 break points in the match, finally broke for the first time in the next game and had little trouble from that moment on.

"I tried to focus on my game and do everything I had planned with my coach tactically," he said afterwards. "I think my game is there. I just need to try to capitalise on my opportunities. Today I was very poor on the break points."

Djokovic added that the events of this week had shown the importance of not looking beyond your next match. "I think the fact that top players lost in the last few days gives enough reason for all of us to not underestimate any opponent," he said.

"Everybody, especially lower-ranked players in the opening rounds, have nothing to lose when they go on the centre stage and come up with their best game."

The Serb agreed it had been unusual to see so many surprising results and retirements but added: "Grass is a very special surface. It requires a different kind of movement. It's a big effort, especially for tall guys like [John] Isner and [Marin] Cilic. I understand they retired because of their knees.

"If the grass at the beginning of Wimbledon is still not so worn and a little bit slippery, it can be dangerous until you really get your right footing on the court. That's probably the reason why they all felt uncomfortable and they all injured themselves unfortunately."