Thursday 18 January 2018

Wimbledon: Djokovic immune to underdog's bite

Novak Djokovic celebrates winning the second set against Germany's Florian Mayer
Novak Djokovic celebrates winning the second set against Germany's Florian Mayer

Jim White

After the calamities of Wednesday, by yesterday evening the natural order of things was restored on Centre Court.

Top seed Novak Djokovic moved serenely on into the third round, dispatching the American qualifier Bobby Reynolds 7-6 6-3 6-1 with barely a hint of doubt.

And in the process he ensured the nation which once dominated the men's game is now faced with its worst Wimbledon in more than 100 years.

Here is how bad things have got for the land of the free and the home of the brave (well, John McEnroe): there are more Jamaicans, Bulgarians and Taiwanese left in the draw than there are Americans. Believe it or not there are even more Britons.

Reynolds did his best to maintain his nation's withering prestige.

He battered and battled, once dispatching a sublime drop-shot winner that had the Centre Court crowd cooing in appreciation (and earned a nod of approval from his opponent).

However, with 155 places separating the pair in the world rankings, the 30-year-old from Cape Cod was up against an unbridgeable divide.

After all, the guy who had been obliged to win three matches before he had even earned the right to step through the Wimbledon gates was facing the top seed.

Not only that, it was Novak Djokovic (right), not Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.

There was no chink of opportunity given, no hint of decline to exploit. The fact is, on this form Djokovic does not do surprises.

Indeed, the only shock on show under the Centre Court roof was television presenter Steve Rider's hair, a great bloom of white glinting under the lights up in the Royal Box. That and the time it took the world No 1 to dismantle Reynolds's serve.

The first break did not arrive until after an hour and nine minutes of play.

Until then, the American had clung on, scrapping and fighting, clawing back break points, time and again retrieving a game just as the momentum seemed to be slipping from him.

But, like a minister for finance formulating his spending plans, you know it would not be long before the deficit overwhelmed him.

The pattern of play was established early. Djokovic, hitting the ball so cleanly he could employ his racket as a detergent, barely lost a point on his service.

As aces splatted into the back boards, his service games were generally over in under a minute.

Then Reynolds would serve and almost every game would go to deuce, with the American obliged to take to the life rafts, bailing out as he went stretching and charging round the court.

It was an odd thing to observe, Reynolds's service.

The way he went through his little pre-serve routine – point the toes, stick out the backside, then bring the feet together and rise up on to the points – he looked as though he were about to step out into the chorus line of a Broadway show.

But its theatrical flourish hid a fizzing power, pushing Djokovic time and again back to the baseline, from where the pair would exchange booming rallies.

And the top seed took his time to work it out. He took his time, too, approaching the net where his precision could tell.

He blamed the imposition of indoor conditions for his less than domineering start.

"I needed some time to adjust to the roof being closed," he said. "It was a bit slower than I thought."

Once he had figured out the air temperature, got his timing right and won the first set tie-break, however, Djokovic quickly applied the afterburners and accelerated away from his opponent.

He had the second set wrapped up within half an hour; the third was even shorter.

There was to be no succumbing to the underdog curse for the favourite.

STRANGE

"It is a bit strange that so many top players lost," Djokovic said of the extraordinary tumbles on Wednesday. "All the lower rank players have an extra motivation.

"I needed to be extra careful today. I tried to focus on my game and do everything I have planned with my coach. Mentally I felt more relaxed when I could swing through the ball."

As the game reached its inevitable conclusion, Djokovic did that all right, arcing through his shots with the easy grace of an in-form Rory McIlroy addressing his drive on the first tee.

One flicked backhand at the net, picked up from his toes and sent fizzing sideways across the court as Reynolds stood astonished on the baseline, was an ominous warning to anyone who thinks the tournament is Andy Murray's by default.

Unlike the Swiss, the Spaniard and a dozen Americans, the Serb is not going away any time soon. He smoothed on here with such ease he barely required the services of his towel.

"My game is there, I just need to capitalise on my opportunities," he said. "I missed a lot of chances on breaks. But credit to my opponent, he didn't make it easy."

So the Serb advanced, leaving behind no more than a patronising hair ruffle for the loser.

Yup, it seems American tennis really has come to that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Wimbledon,

Live, TG4/BBC2, 1.0/11.30

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