There were moments in this one-sided quarter-final when it felt like the battle between reigning champion Novak Djokovic and his unseeded opponent Marton Fucsovics was not so much for points as for the affection of the crowd. With 20 minutes on the clock Djokovic led 5-0, and so when Fucsovics finally mustered the confidence to introduce himself to the scoreboard, Centre Court unleashed its familiar underdog’s roar. Djokovic is chasing respect as much as rewards these days and at times he turned to the crowd too, beating his chest and almost demanding their applause as he cruised to a straight sets victory, winning 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
The biggest threat to Djokovic’s attempt at a third successive Wimbledon title and the chance to join Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slams was not the spirited challenge of Fucsovics, who recovered gamely from a slow start to make a fight of it, but a slip on the baseline which momentarily had hearts in mouths. Djokovic had tried to change direction but ended up almost doing the splits. He gingerly got up, retrieved his racket and continued his seemingly irresistible march towards history.
“It was a solid performance,” said an unflustered Djokovic on court. “I started off extremely well, I didn’t do much wrong in the first six games, managed to close it off 6-3. Credit to Marton for fighting and hanging in there, he had a great tournament so well done to him. I’m aware of certain stats, I love this sport, I was devoted to this sport since I was four. But I try to live in the moment, not taking anything for granted, and obviously going for history is a huge inspiration for me. Let’s keep it going.”
Fucsovics showed courage once he finally found his feet and he fought to the end, unwilling to roll over even in the final throes of the third set when all seemed lost. It has been quite a couple of weeks for the Hungarian, going deeper than ever before at a slam aged 29, and if it was to be his career highlight then he did himself justice, at times going toe-to-toe with his illustrious opponent from the baseline and coming out on top.
He departed the stage to another enormous ovation. As he reached the edge of the court he stopped and made a quick detour, grabbing a Wimbledon-branded towel and slinging it over his shoulder, no doubt a souvenir of the July day he took on Djokovic on Centre Court.
The world No1 will be back on Friday to face the 22-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov, conquerer of Andy Murray, and Djokovic can be assured of a much stiffer test. Shapovalov was battling in a fifth set on Court One at the same time as Djokovic was packing up his bag and eventually came through his thriller with Karen Khachanov 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4.
“It was definitely super super tough,” Shapovalov said. “I was in a similar position in the US Open quarter-finals last year and I started the fifth set slow there, so I just told myself to play every point in the fifth set as hard as I can. [Djokovic] is the best player in the world but I think anything is possible, and when you look at the scoreboard on Friday it’s going to be zero-zero. It’s a tennis match; it can go either way. I have full belief in me and my team. Anything is possible.”
The fact that Djokovic’s brow was bone dry as he walked off court, while Shapovalov slugged out that fifth set, suggested the tournament favourite will be more than ready for what’s coming.
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