Wimbledon 2019: Novak Djokovic through to round four after passing stern test against Hubert Hurkacz

The defending champion was made to work by his Polish opponent in three hours of high-quality tennis on Court No.1

Kieran Jackson
Friday 05 July 2019 20:58
Wimbledon Championships in numbers

Three years ago, in the third round on Court No 1, defending champion Novak Djokovic was stunned by the 6ft 6in American Sam Querrey in four sets. A match that lasted two days due to rain, the defeat in the grand scheme of things paved the way for Andy Murray to stroll to a second Wimbledon title.

On Friday, at the same stage and on the same court, history threatened to repeat itself. But this time, Djokovic was on the right side of a four-set scoreline. A 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 victory, in three hours exactly, was a nervy afternoon at the office for the Serb against an inspired opponent in world No 48 Hubert Hurkacz.

From the off, the defending champion looked uncomfortable on what was his first appearance of the tournament on Wimbledon’s second biggest court. Hurkacz, standing an inch shorter than Querrey at 6ft 5in, was Djokovic’s first-round opponent at Roland Garros six weeks ago, and was soundly demolished. But on this occasion, on a quicker, skiddier grass court which undoubtedly favoured the Pole’s big-hitting style, the contest remained highly competitive from start to finish.

The first two sets were particularly even. The pair traded blows in a first set where Djokovic, ten years older at 32, hit more than twice as many unforced errors to winners: seven to three. The advantage, as is more prominent on grass compared to clay, was with the server throughout, and it took until the 11th game for an opening to emerge.

Djokovic propelled to 0-40, and although Hurkacz looked to have saved himself by clawing back to deuce, a fourth break point of the game was an exhibition of turning defence into attack by Djokovic. A pattern we’ve been so accustomed to seeing over the years, it left his opponent deflated after a lung-busting 28-shot rally.

Djokovic duly held to take the opening set and seemingly the initiative. But in set number two, Hurkacz played some breathtakingly impressive shots, and was ripping the ball at a standard way above his career high of 41 in the world. With both players not giving an inch on serve, the set was destined for a tie-break, and that’s despite the 22-year-old having two set points in Djokovic’s final service game. Although both were saved, within the same game Hurkacz had the near-capacity on its feet, as he used all 196cm to hit a sensational diving volley winner, leaving Djokovic shellshocked.

What’s more, it happened again early in the tiebreak, the only difference being the Pole wasn’t in mid-air this time – only a stretch. It was gripping drama, concluded at 5-5 when a net cord forced Djokovic forward, and the Pole sweetly struck a backhand pass down the line. A one-two combination on serve followed, and we were all-square, much to the jubilation of a raucous crowd.

Hubert Hurkacz in mid-air during his third round match against Novak Djokovic

Djokovic immediately strolled off for a toilet break, which crucially halted the Pole’s momentum. From then on in, Djokovic stepped it up a couple of gears, whie contrastingly, Hurkacz wavered after what had been two hours of lights-out tennis. An immediate break, followed by a second at 4-1, and Djokovic was a set clear once again.

The fourth set was similar in pattern. Djokovic broke early, though Hurkacz clung on point-to-point, game-by-game, keeping Djokovic at arm’s length. The end result did seem inevitable by this point though as Djokovic, with the poise of the champion he is, serving it out to take his place in the last-16 for the 12th time in his career.

A first proper test of the tournament, passed maturely by the 15-time major winner. For Hurkacz, who benefited from an International Player Grand Slam Grant in 2018, a performance to be proud of as he continues his steady ascension up the rankings. For Djokovic, in a week where seeds on his half of the draw have fallen strikingly by the wayside, a stuttering progression into week two but another step towards a Bjorn Borg-equalling fifth Wimbledon title.

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