If there were fears Novak Djokovic’s double-fisted backhands may malfunction after a heavy fall on his shoulder three days ago, they were allayed on Monday by a show-stopping crosscourt service return on match point.
That effort left Jo-Wilfried Tsonga praying for a Hawkeye miracle – after the linesman and umpire failed to agree on whether the ball had kissed the line – while the wide-eyed Serb nodded his head and lapped up the cheers with outstretched arms.
Running to the net to shake hands with his French victim, Djokovic’s celebrations were briefly put on hold as he discovered that his opponent had the temerity to challenge what the top seed thought was the shot of the match.
Seconds later the deafening roar that went on and on under Center Court’s closed roof left no doubt to those inside, or outside, the hallowed arena about which way Hawkeye’s call had gone.
The 6-3 6-4 7-6 (5) victory earned Djokovic his 21st successive grand slam quarter-final date – his sixth at Wimbledon – and a last-eight showdown with Croatia’s Marin Cilic.
“I am feeling good. I had two days off and recovered a little bit,” Djokovic told reporters after registering his 35th consecutive victory against French players.
“I had a couple of tough matches last week, especially the second round against Radek Stepanek, so it was good to win this in straight sets against a quality player like Jo and I am looking forward to the next challenge.”
When Djokovic and Tsonga faced off for the first time, in the Australian Open final in 2008, many thought it was the start of a rivalry that would lead to both players battling it out for the big prizes for years to come.
Those predictions turned out to be only 50 percent accurate. While the Serb has taken his grand slam title haul to six, the Frenchman has failed to reach another major final.
To add to his woes his rivalry with Djokovic has turned into a one-sided romp. In their previous meeting at the French Open Tsonga won only six games.
If Tsonga had pinned his hopes on Djokovic still feeling the effects of Friday’s painful tumble he was left sorely disappointed.
Not only was his left shoulder in perfect working order, the top seed cranked up the power as he outgunned Tsonga with a series of double-fisted backhands.
Djokovic’s serve was also on fire as he chased an 11th successive win against the 14th seed.
The Serb dominated the opening two sets before Tsonga sprung to life in the third and threatened to take the upper hand in the set when he held two break points in the eighth game.
Djokovic snuffed out those chances with some powerful serving and a few minutes later the blazing crosscourt winner left the 2011 champion bellowing in relief.
“I did really well from the start to the end especially in the third set where I thought he elevated his level and he started serving a very high percentage first serve, very strong, all angles,” said Djokovic who has not won a slam since the 2013 Australian Open.
“It was difficult to get the return back in play but I managed to save a couple of break points, crucial ones, get myself in the tiebreak and wait for the opportunity to be presented.
“The only opportunity I had was on second serve on 6-5 and I used it. I went for the shot,” added Djokovic.
“I’m just glad I didn’t allow him to go into the fourth set because he started to use the crowd support. I knew he was going to do that because he’s the kind of player that feeds off the energy so it was very important for me to get this done in straight sets.” (Reuters)