No one was talking about the grand slam – and certainly not on such a rain-ravaged day – but Novak Djokovic moved one step closer to that exalted distinction with another straight-sets victory.
He recently achieved a career slam, of course, winning at Roland Garros for the first time, but with the Serb there’s always another record opening up for him. Yesterday’s victory – 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) over Adrian Mannarino of France – extended his winning streak in grand slam tournaments to 30, the best of the Open era. The grand slam, of course, would be all four titles won in the same season.
“I have to be very grateful to have the opportunity to make the history of the sport,” Djokovic said after his win. “Of course, every single record that I manage to achieve in last couple of years is important and unique to me. Every next one that I have a possibility to achieve is motivation more. That’s how I look at it.”
Of his record-breaking victory, Djokovic admitted it had been a test and one he was glad to have had. “It was a challenge to play Mannarino on grass because he has a very good game for this surface,” the champion added, paying tribute to his opponent’s craft. “The shots that he comes up with are very flat, and they bounce very low. He picks up the ball very early. Has a very good variety on his serve, slice that fades away from you. It was a very good challenge for me at the right time.”
On a miserable day the left-handed Mannarino brought a soupçon of French flair to the Centre Court for those fortunate to be under cover. Despite a previous best in a slam of reaching the last 16 at Wimbledon three years ago, the underdog took the match to Djokovic, for the opening set at least, with a whipcracking serve, a deft flick of the wrist on the backhand and dancing feet. Some of his shots were pretty wild. It was all or nothing for the 55-ranked Mannarino.
He at least had the consolation of fashioning the shot of the match and – with play elsewhere so rain-ravaged – the day. It came at three-all in the first set, a delicious drop-shot, sent in a high arc to land just over the net and spin back into it with the force of a heavily-chopped golf ball or some John Virgo trickery in a snooker exhibition. The next point Djokovic slipped on the grass and Mannarino sniffed a possible break of serve but the chance went.
The first set went soon after and, with an early break for Djokovic in the second, it seemed like the match would soon go as well. Mannarino, sans backlift, appeared to have used up all his jiggery-pokery and unforced errors crept into his play. Djokovic was robotic in his consistency and that’s meant in a good way.
Early in the third Mannarino had five break points but solid serving and French slashing sent them down the drain along with all the rain.
The break for Djokovic took slightly longer to come and for some opponents there might have been a sense of the dread inevitable; not Mannarino. With Djokovic serving for the match, the Gaul with the guile broke back, an eighth Djokovic double-fault doing the damage.
There then followed the best sequence of the match, Mannarino forcing the tie-break and definitely leaving a flamboyant mark on the Centre Court, but the champion prevailed.
Can he stretch the unbeaten run even further?
“I want to keep on going,” he said. “Let’s see where it takes me.”