So where does a bloke go to hide if he is the best tennis player on the planet, the reigning Australian Open champion, the 2011 Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion and the man who went unbeaten for six months of that year? Simple – he goes to the All England Club and hangs about a bit while The Championships are on.
If ever a favourite for the title has been overlooked, it is Novak Djokovic. Admittedly, there has been plenty of other things to look at in the past week-and-a-half of mayhem and upsets and the tournament is now awash with Andymonium and patriotic fervour (well, patriotic if you happen to be a Brit, less so if you happen to come from anywhere else), but, even so, it does seem a little strange.
Then again, Djokovic has done little to get himself into the headlines. There have been no five-set thrillers for him, no injury crises or medical emergencies, no spats with other players or complaints about the courts. Instead, the top seed has moved swiftly and silently through the draw like a shark homing in on an unsuspecting swimmer. He has not dropped a set, he has taken every challenge in stride, be it the big hitting of Tomas Berdych or the experience of Tommy Haas, and he has barely broken a sweat. Djokovic is looking awfully good at the moment.
“I've been serving very well, efficiently,” Djokovic said, having booked his place in the semi-finals. “I've been returning also quite good, a lot of balls back in the court, which allows me to be confident on the baseline, which is my game. I'm trying also to step in the court a little bit more.”
Oh, good. Djokovic’s rivals will be pleased: he is serving well, returning well, playing well from the back of the court and is now attacking more. So that leaves what exactly as his weakness? Well, he’s allergic to gluten but that is not really going to help Juan Martin Del Potro on Friday, not unless the tall Argentine plans on force feeding Djokovic with plates of pasta and chip butties. And we are not altogether sure that that sort of thing is allowed on Centre Court.
But Del Potro knows all about beating Djokovic here – he did it last summer in the bronze medal play-offs during the Olympics. In two tight and impressive sets, he broke Djokovic’s heart. Never prouder than when he is playing for his country, he had lost to Andy Murray in the semi-finals but must have fancied his chances against Del Potro who did not have the greatest of grass court records. There was every chance he could add to Serbia’s medal tally but Djokovic lost and it hurt.
“I lost to him for bronze medal here,” Djokovic recalled. “Was close match also. DelPo is a great player. I have a great respect for him. He's a grand slam winner. He struggled with injuries in last few years, but every time he comes back he comes back very strong because he just has this talent, you know, and qualities as a player.
“He's very tall, so he uses that serve as a powerful weapon. And of course forehand, that is his signature shot. It's semifinals, so everything is open, on the table, and we both want to win.”
Djokovic had a winning record against the big man (then again, he has a winning record against most blokes) and leads their rivalry 8-3. Del Potro is also trying to cope with a knee injury, one that he aggravated on Wednesday – and the replays of that fall made everyone wince and look away – but Djokovic is taking nothing for granted.
“The inspiration is out there, you know,” he said. “Of course you always want to do your best in the grand slams.”
After 10 days of travelling incognito, Djokovic’s cover will be blown on Friday when he steps into the spotlight of Centre Court for what he hopes will be his penultimate match in SW19 this year. And if he gets to the final, and particularly if he faces Murray, everyone will finally notice that he is here.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
20:19It was the wackiest of Wimbledons with the most unlikely of headline-makers: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Kimiko-Date Krumm, Jerzy Janowicz, Sabine Lisicki, Marion Bartoli...View all