It has been a while since Novak Djokovic had a bit of fire in his belly – and it has been a while since the same Novak Djokovic has been in a position to contend for a major title.
But thanks to the “indecisive” (Djokovic’s word) of the referee’s office at the All England Club on Monday night, the embers have been fanned, the fire is burning brightly and the world No 4 is through to a quarter-final against Tomas Berdych today. He beat Adrian Mannarino, pictured, the crumbling court and a sore shoulder in more or less that order 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 yesterday.
The cause of his displeasure was the scheduling on Manic Monday. His match was due to be the last fixture on No 1 Court but then Rafael Nadal took almost five hours to lose to Gilles Muller and night was falling; Djokovic’s match was held over. At the same time, the Centre Court was standing empty and had been since 7pm. Djokovic seethed less than quietly.
“I obviously was not happy not to play last night,” Djokovic said, still not looking happy. “I wanted to play. I thought we could have played. We were kept for two and a half hours in the dark, in a way, without knowing what we are going to do. So you were on your toes warming up, cooling down. Referee’s office was completely indecisive.
“Finally when the match was over, we thought, Okay, we have two and a half hours, we can go to Centre Court. They said, No, it’s going to take too long to get the crowd in.
“Anyway, it was frustrating last night, I must admit. But I quickly just turned the next page and just focused on what I need to do today. I’ve done it in straight sets. That’s all that matters.”
This was the grumpy, frustrated, growling Djokovic, the character that used to win everything in sight, and the one who has been on indefinite leave since last summer.
Ever since he won the French Open last year, completing his personal career Grand Slam and the non-calendar year Grand Slam, he has been in touchy-feely mode, all love and peace. Indeed, his mental guru, Pepe Imaz, advocates lots of hugging to promote happiness and inner peace, although quite where that fits into the cut and thrust of a best-of-five set fourth-round match at Wimbledon is anyone’s guess.
But with no sign of Imaz in the players’ box – Andre Agassi and Mario Ancic were in charge and neither of them looks like a tree-hugger – the snarling Djokovic was back to his winning ways.
It began with a plea for medical help. The former champion was 3-0 up in the first set and seemingly on his way when he called for the doctor for a throbbing head (maybe a hangover from the previous night’s argy bargy). He took a couple of painkillers and they worked a treat. On Mannarino. The Frenchman promptly held his next two service games and tried to work his way back into the match.
The next bone of contention was the court. The area just in front of and just behind the baseline was cutting up, there were pot-holes and divots nearer the net. Djokovic was seriously disgruntled, pointing out one hole to the umpire after the match.
“He wanted me to show him so I showed him,” he said with a smile and that told-you-so look on his face as he sat next to an All England club official. “His reaction wasn’t that great.”
Djokovic was none too happy with Mannarino’s backhand and drop shots, either. They were bringing up winners that the world No 4 had not bargained for.
At the same time, his own failings were doing little to lighten his mood. A break to the good and cruising in the second set, a miserable error and a double fault landed him in trouble and a couple of minutes later, his serve had been taken by the Frenchman. Cue more grimacing and harrumphing.
Twenty minutes later, Djokovic had added wincing to his repertoire as he called for the trainer to work on his right shoulder. It may have been sore but it was also proved to be extremely flexible as the medic stretched the arm this way and that and all but tied a knot in it. But it just about held together long enough to get the Serb through to the quarter-finals.