Monday 20 November 2017

Emotional Djokovic serves up warning to his rivals

Novak Djokovic celebrates after clinching his place in the quarter-finals
Novak Djokovic celebrates after clinching his place in the quarter-finals

Daniel Schofield

Novak Djokovic is into the last eight with a shout that was heard far and wide across the All England Club.

Those in the immediate vicinity, most notably an unfortunate ball girl, certainly felt it, but the defending champion's tenacity against Kevin Anderson will also have been grimly noted by the other seven quarter-finalists.

The startling scream came in the fifth set of his victory and Djokovic himself admitted it spurred him on to triumph, even if it also forced the nearby ball girl to turn as white as the All England Club's regulation kit.

"It was a very intense fifth set," Djokovic said. "Because he was winning his service games so easily, it put an extra pressure on my service games.

"That was maybe one of the turning points, that game where I won that very close point.

"I just took out everything I had, not on anybody but me. I was looking at the box, but I was talking to myself."

It just so happened that the ball girl, towel at the ready, had strayed into the blast radius.

"I'm sorry," added the Serb, who prevailed 6-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5. "There was nothing towards her. Maybe she was just afraid of my screaming there. I was pretty close to her."

By completing the fourth comeback of his career from two sets down, Djokovic extended his record of reaching 25 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals and booked a Centre Court showdown with Marin Cilic, the US Open champion, today. But how he was made to fight for it in a match he rated as one of the toughest of his career.

"Until the last moment, until the last point, I didn't know if I was going to win or no," he said.

Even after levelling the match at two sets all on Monday before bad light stopped play, Djokovic had to face a renewed avalanche of Anderson aces on No 1 Court yesterday.

The 6ft 8ins South African with a reach seemingly as high as Table Mountain sent down three 130mph aces in his opening service game of the fifth set to set an ominous tone.


The frustration mounted for Djokovic. Not only was Anderson serving exceptionally, but he was dominating most of the backcourt exchanges, forcing a couple of break points in the fourth game that the champion saved.

In the sixth game, Anderson sent a forehand fractionally long and Djokovic's emotions came to the surface.

Although not a practising Buddhist, Djokovic is a frequent visitor to the Buddhapadipa Temple close to the Wimbledon.

Such tranquillity and harmony are on occasions no substitute for the cathartic release of a good old fashioned roar.

"Emotions are present. Always going through ups and downs. I was trying to get myself motivated," he said.

"I was not showing much emotions yesterday. I was just trying to keep it together. Sometimes it's just good to scream and let it all out, because that's the way I work."

It is testimony to the consistent pressure that Anderson applied that Djokovic was so far removed from his comfort zone.

How cruel then that a serve that had produced 40 aces would eventually prove Anderson's downfall when a pair of double faults gave Djokovic the chance to break in the 11th game.

Djokovic closed out the game, which extended to 3 hours 47 minutes over the two days, but dismissed the idea that his physical and mental reserves have been diminished.

"It was a big challenge. Now that I managed to survive, it adds more confidence. I'm going to be fine for the quarter-final. I haven't spent too much energy this tournament."

Meanwhile, Andy Murray goes into his quarter-final against Vasek Pospisil determined to avoid the sort of mental meltdown that gripped him 12 months ago.

Last year, Murray went into his quarter-final against Grigor Dimitrov on an apparently faultless run of form, only to suffer an inexplicable power fade and lose in straight sets.

To go out in such limp fashion - as defending champion too - made it the most disappointing result of his Wimbledon career to date.

Perhaps today's quarter-final against world No 56 Pospisil will turn into another car crash, but it seems unlikely.

Where Murray was at his most turbulent against Dimitrov - wild-haired, foul-mouthed, yet still strangely heavy-footed - he has barely uttered a curse in 2015.

Perhaps marriage really has helped him find a steadier equilibrium. And we should probably credit the input of his coach, Amelie Mauresmo, as well.

Asked if she noticed greater serenity about Murray, Mauresmo replied: "I hope, I hope, but he's improved a lot in that area as well.


"He is feeling great in the team, he's feeling the people around him are really committed 100 per cent. He feels he is out there performing at his best, so that helps him to be more serene on the court."

Pospisil has his own distinctive approach to the mental side of the game. He takes a purple notebook on court, placing it on the chair next to him at the changeovers and consulting it from time to time - just as Pete Sampras once melted Wimbledon hearts by reading an inspirational love letter from his wife Bridgette Wilson.

(Not that it stopped him losing to Georg Bastl in a contender for the title of greatest Wimbledon upset in history.)

"I have been looking at the same page for the matches, but the book is getting filled up a little bit," Pospisil said after his five-set win over Viktor Troicki on Monday.

"It's just reminders and pointers, things I should be looking at during the match, so that will change a little bit match to match.

"I'm working on my mental side of the game," added Pospisil, who also explained that he worked on some "things" every day for half an hour before breakfast.

When asked about these "things", he said they were secret, but we can assume he is talking about visualisation and other psychological push-ups.

The investment seems to have paid off, for Pospisil is the only -unseeded player left in either draw. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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