Wimbledon: Djokovic survives injury scare to advance

Pulling along: Novak Djokovic, despite a medical timeout, managed to get past Adrian Mannarino in straight sets.  

On a wet day, when uninterrupted play was possible only under the retractable roof of the Centre Court, it was Novak Djokovic and Adrian Mannarino who kicked off proceedings on Tuesday, essentially reserved for the women’s singles quarterfinals.

Their match on Court No. 1 on Monday was postponed as the mesmerising contest between the unheralded and astonishingly composed Gilles Muller and the ever-hungry Rafael Nadal took almost five hours before the latter went down 13-15 in the final set.

Anything that followed that match, the best so far this Wimbledon, was likely to be something of an anti-climax, but the Djokovic-Mannarino encounter — which saw both suffering from injuries, annoyed by the deteriorating surface on Centre Court, and smarting from having to sit out on Monday — was well below par.

Mannarino was nursing an injury, kept rubbing his hip and lower back area, particularly after rallies where he was forced to stretch wide or high.

There was a period during the first set when there was speculation that he may choose to retire.

As for Djokovic, his shoulder injury, which resulted in a medical timeout, could be a concern going forward, even if he made light of it as something he has been “dragging back and forth for a while”. The addition of a headache did nothing to improve the Serb’s mood.

Upset with surface

He kept picking tufts of grass off the court in a manner that showed he was very upset about the state of the surface — which seemed to play on his mind right through the match. Later, he claimed that there was a hole in the court near one of the baselines, which he said he had shown the umpire.

The 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-4 scoreline may suggest that Djokovic had a facile victory, but he was frustrated, among other things, by his own lack of consistency, including on the serve.

The Serb broke early in all three sets, but made as many as 22 unforced rally errors on his way to victory, allowing Mannarino — who was combating his own inner demons — a sniff of a chance in the second set, which went into a tie-breaker.

That neither player dominated on serve during the match was illustrated by the tie-breaker, the first five points of which were mini-breaks. Eventually, it was Djokovic who prevailed 7-5 in a tie-breaker marked by unusual caution, finishing up with a rare ace, one of only four in the match.

Djokovic is next placed to play Tomas Berdych, who is no pushover, and it will be interesting to see how he deals with his own injury and the wounded court surface that both Andy Murray and he have been vocal about.

Next on Centre Court, the Venus Williams and Jelena Ostapenko contest seemed full of promise.

Doubts about whether the 37-year-old Williams would cope with the sturdy 20-year-old’s firepower quickly evaporated with the American running away with the first three games and never looking as if she would lose in the two-set match (6-3, 7-5).

The victory was forged through a mix of clever aggression and crafty defence. Williams was very strong on serve (eight aces), which never seemed under real threat.

Defensive play

At the same time, she crafted points by playing defensively and encouraging Ostapenko to make mistakes, which she did frequently by overcooking her strokes from the baseline.

The Latvian, whose monstrous forehand was on threatening display, struck 16 baseline winners against Williams’ two.

But unlike her older rival, there are few layers in Ostapenko’s game, which is characterised by one approach: unbridled aggression.

While Ostapenko showed us why she won the French Open and why her style of tennis is like a breath of fresh air, this was not enough today.

It was Williams who crafted the points, turned defensive positions into offensive ones, and showed us that impetuousness is no substitute for strategic calculation.

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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 3:42:08 AM |

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