Given the nerve-racking twists and turns that accompanied his second round victory over Radek Stepanek, Novak Djokovic could be excused for coveting a more straightforward progression against Gilles Simon.
And considering the score alone, the top seed achieved that, the 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory taking an undemanding two hours and 12 minutes to send Djokovic into the fourth round of the Championships for the seventh time in 10 appearances.
But as exploding Twitter feeds and much-replayed footage would testify, there was drama in the Centre Court outing – specifically, Djokovic’s heavy fall on the grass in the sixth game of the third set, which saw the Serb clutching his left shoulder as he grimaced in obvious pain. The trainer was immediately called and his support crew – not to mention countless observers around the world – anxiously watched and wondered whether the 2011 champion could play on.
As is turned out, Djokovic not only returned to the court but took just four games more to dismiss the Frenchman, whose crafty game had at times flummoxed the world No.2. Each break of serve that Djokovic amassed in the first and second sets was immediately recovered by Simon – one of them, in the second, uncharacteristically to love. In the third set, Djokovic dropped serve in the opening game, requiring some hard work to claw it back to level in the fourth game.
But it was that fall that would prove the more worrying for Djokovic, who later related the fear that he’d suffered a serious injury. “I basically had a strong impact on the shoulder. When I stood up, you know, I felt that click or pop, whatever you call it. I feared, you know, maybe it might be a dislocated shoulder or something like that, or joint problem,” he said, having arrived at his post-match press conference 20 minutes late after undergoing an ultrasound.
“That split-second was not pleasant, definitely, the feeling that I had. (But) that's why you have the medical team that reassures you and checks if everything is fine with your joint. Luckily for me it's all positive news.”
And welcome news too, given a frustrating run of Grand Slams for the six-time major champion, who followed his runner up performance at the 2013 Championships with the same result at the US Open, a quarter-final run in Australia and yet another second place finish at Roland Garros.
Injury worries aside, the most pleasing aspect for Djokovic was pulling out his best tennis when it was most required, his 31 winners and seven aces helping to counter a spirited performance from the No. 44-ranked Frenchman, who was retrieving with impressive grace.
The tough test was perhaps timely, for Djokovic will face another one against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round. He has been the winner in 12 of the 17matches they’ve contested so far, most recently at the same stage of the French Open. The Serb is braced for another challenging day.
“I don’t fear anything. I expect him to serve well. I think that's his advantage. Obviously the serve in any corner. Coming to the net, he's a very aggressive player. If he's on, if he feels good on the certain day, he can beat anybody really,” he said.
Having been warned about potential soreness in his shoulder by the medical team, Djokovic is relieved that Wimbledon’s traditional break of play on Sunday means he’ll have two clear days before the contest.
Also reassuring is the fact that his form is gradually improving with every round. “Everything is going in the right direction,” Djokovic said. “I hope I'll elevate my game as the tournament progresses. If I don't do that, then I'll find myself in a very difficult position.”
Helping him is his high profile coach, Boris Becker, a three-time Wimbledon champion himself. “That's the reason why he's there, because we want to have a success together. We want to come up with a new kind of approach that is going to allow me to grow mentally and, of course, as a player, and hopefully that can be very soon,” Djokovic said.
While reluctant to talk specifically about how that process is unfolding, the Serb could share one area they’re targeting together after today’s events. “I talked with Boris. We obviously need to work on my diving volleys, learning how to fall down on the court,” he joked. “I'm not very skilful in that.”
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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