There has never been much between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, even their birth dates are separated by a mere week. Murray may have arrived first in May 1987, but it was the Serb who announced his arrival first in terms of Grand Slam tennis, winning the 2008 Australian Open. Since then Djokovic has gone on to outpace his rival and friend by six Slams to one, but the world No.2 is closing the gap on the world No.1 and we may be about to find out just how much now separates them.
So far in these Championships they have matched each other stride for stride: Murray won his opening match in straight sets and the following day Djokovic did the same; it was ditto in round two and then last night the British No.1 despatched his first seeded opponent, Tommy Robredo, of Spain, in straight sets. Today on Centre Court it will be up to Djokovic to do likewise, if only for the sake of uniformity.
There is every chance of that happening because Djokovic hasn’t dropped a set to Jeremy Chardy in six meetings. The last time they met was here at Wimbledon two years ago when Djokovic won the title; he barely broke sweat in their first-round match which lasted just an hour and 20 minutes.
For Djokovic, his first serious challenge of The Championships could be in the fourth round, where he is seeded to meet Tommy Haas, who somewhat surprisingly beat him in straight sets in Miami this year. Or perhaps it could be in the quarter-finals where he is scheduled to meet Tomas Berdych, who ambushed him here in the semi-finals in 2010.
Haas, who is having to play twice in two days because of the recent rain, first has to dispose of Spain’s Feliciano Lopez on No.2 Court. Haas leads their head-to-head 2-0 but the last victory over him, on grass, was nine years ago. A lot has happened to both men in that time, particularly Haas, as he is constantly reminded.
He has maintained a good sense of humour throughout all his time in and out of the treatment room and when he was questioned about his advancing years for the umpteenth time yesterday, the world No.13 replied: “Yes, I'm 35. There's nothing I can do about it. These are all things that don't matter once you get out there. I don't get 15-0 or 30-0 every game because I'm 35."
If Berdych is to keep that reunion with Djokovic the Czech first has to beat South Africa’s Kevin Anderson on No.1 Court for the ninth time out of nine before taking on the winner of the match between France’s Richard Gasquet and the young Australian Bernard Tomic, which promises to serve up some of the most enterprising tennis of the day in the opening match on Centre Court.
Both men are fine grass court players and have saved their best Grand Slam performances for the All England Club: Gasquet was a semi-finalist here in 2007 and has made the fourth round on four other occasions while Tomic was a quarter-finalist in 2011 and twice a semi-finalist in the boys' singles too.
At the opposite end of this half of the draw Juan Martin Del Potro continues to fly under the radar. No less a grass court sage than Tim Henman has questioned whether the big man’s movement is good enough on this surface, but he has only dropped one set since he set foot on it at The Queen’s Club two and a half weeks ago and should be too powerful for Slovenia’s Grega Zemlja on Court 12.
Meanwhile, in the ladies' singles Great Britain’s Laura Robson should take another precocious step towards a potential quarter-final appointment with the No.1 seed and five-time Wimbledon singles champion Serena Williams.
Marina Erakovic, her opponent on No.2 Court, shouldn’t really have the quality to prevent Robson from reaching the fourth round, which would equal her best Grand Slam performance, at last year’s US Open, but the New Zealander is hugely experienced on grass and beat Robson in Birmingham last year.
The 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm will need all of the wiles gleaned from her long, distinguished career just to snatch a game or two away from Williams on No.1 Court. The Japanese’s only hope is that Williams finds her serves so inviting that she over-hits her returns. It’s reckoned that there will be a discrepancy of more than 40mph in the speed of the two women’s serves, Williams’ coming down at over 120mph from a right hand with the word “POW” appropriately emblazoned upon her thumbnail.
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