Top seed and title favourite Novak Djokovic had to dig deep to fend off a determined Radek Stepanek and reach the third round.
A win against Andy Murray and run to the semi-finals at the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club marked Stepanek out as a player in form on grass, and he tested Djokovic close to the limit. Eventually, the Serbian found a way to beat perhaps the most dangerous of the unseeded players in the draw, coming through 6-4 6-3 6-7 (7/5) 7-6 (7/5) on Centre Court.
Stepanek slipped twice in the critical fourth-set tie-break to give up the early advantage, which he clawed back but then handed straight back to Djokovic. At 5-2 it looked all over, but Stepanek had trailed by the same margin in the third-set tie-break and, remarkably, taking successive points off his opponent’s serve, got back on level terms again.
Yet a volley into the net handed Djokovic a match point behind his own serve, and when the 2011 champion went across court with a forehand Stepanek feared the worst as it landed.
The ball was called out by a line judge, but Djokovic challenged that verdict immediately. Stepanek, engaging in the mild farce he peppered the match with, got down on his knees, hands clasped together, to offer a prayer.
But there was no salvation for the 35-year-old Czech, who reached the quarter-finals in 2006, as Hawk-Eye showed the shot had clipped the outside of the line for a clean winner.
The pair embraced warmly at the net and Stepanek’s hope of an upset was gone.
Djokovic said: “I was two sets up and had some break-point chances in the third and I should have closed it out in the third set tie-breaker, but credit to him for fighting. He’s 35 years old but he’s moving very well. Grass is probably his most preferred surface. He performs really well on the big stages as you saw.
“He loves to engage the crowd, he’s an entertainer, and it was fun from one side to be part of a great thrilling match but, on the other side, I should not have complicated my own life this way. It was annoying I came to Wimbledon without any official match practice and my first-round match went just over hour, so I didn’t have a lot of match play.
“I was quite focused and tense before the match because I knew what was on the other side of the net. I knew his ability and his quality.
“It was a difficult one but I’m glad I stayed hanging in there mentally and managed to win.”