Thursday 15 November 2018

Djokovic all fired up to ruin Wimbledon party for Nadal and Federer

Novak Djokovic celebrates his win against Karen Khachanov on day seven of the Wimbledon Championships. Photo credit: John Walton/PA Wire
Novak Djokovic celebrates his win against Karen Khachanov on day seven of the Wimbledon Championships. Photo credit: John Walton/PA Wire

Charlie Eccleshare

For all those punters convinced of a Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal final on Sunday, it is worth recalling a cautionary tale from a decade ago.

Back in 2008, Nike were so sure the pair would meet in the US Open final that even before the event started they launched an advertising campaign trailing the match. Legendary boxing promoter Don King was brought in to hype up the contest, using the moniker 'Grapple in the Apple'.

As it turned out, events conspired to spoil Nike's plans as a 21-year-old Andy Murray knocked out Nadal in the semi-finals.

The upset serves as a reminder that, in sport, match-ups cannot be cherry-picked in advance.

Desperate to spoil the Federer and Nadal carnival over the next few days are six challengers - all of whom yearn to play the role of party pooper.

Two of those men have experience in doing precisely that. Novak Djokovic saved match-points in consecutive US Open semi-finals against Federer to deny the New York crowd their dream final, while Juan Martin del Potro thumped Nadal in the 2009 semi, before taking down Federer in the final.

Of the half-dozen pretenders, these two appear most likely to play the pantomime villain.

Djokovic, in particular, has been masterful so far. The noise around his spat with the crowd in the match against Kyle Edmund distracted from an imperious performance and disguised the more important truth that Djokovic is never more dangerous than when battling a perceived slight or injustice.

Over the past two years Djokovic seemed to have neutered the antagonistic side of his personality, but here at Wimbledon he has been at his abrasive best. Chest puffed out, eyes bulging - the Djokovic who won 12 grand slams appears to be back.

And it is not just his temperament that makes him a convincing contender to win a fourth Wimbledon title.

In the fourth round against Russian rising star Karen Khachanov, Djokovic produced his most complete performance of the year.

As he screeched across the court to retrieve what felt like every shot, Khachanov must have felt like he was playing against a brick wall.

Next up for Djokovic is Kei Nishikori, who shocked him at the 2014 US Open but tends to lack the firepower to trouble the very best.

World No 4 Del Potro, meanwhile, is no respecter of reputation, a player who can pummel even the very best. Along with Djokovic, he is one of just two men to have beaten Federer and Nadal at the same grand slam.

The main doubt hanging over the almost universally popular Del Potro ahead of his match against Nadal today is how fit he will be. The Argentinian, who has suffered so badly with wrist injuries, will be playing for the third day running after his four-hour 24-minute grind against Gilles Simon was held over until yesterday.

But Del Potro has a habit of using his lolloping movement and doleful eyes to rope-a-dope opponents into believing he is struggling more than he actually is. Then comes the 100mph-forehand gut punch.

The supporting cast also includes by a trio of huge-serving giants - American John Isner, Canada's Milos Raonic and South Africa's Kevin Anderson.

Between them they have racked up 348 aces in this tournament, and stand at an average height of almost 6ft 8in.

First up to try to knock Federer off his perch will be Anderson in today's quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, Jelena Ostapenko laid down a marker in the women's singles as she blew away Dominika Cibulkova. Despite being broken three times by Cibulkova, the Latvian arrives in the last four as the only woman yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Serena Williams battled back to beat Italian Camila Giorgi 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Wimbledon,

Live, BBC 2, from 1.0

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