AS THE dust settled on the first week of Wimbledon, two figures stood tall amongst the wreckage of what is laughingly called the draw – Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
Former champions have long since departed, joined in the queue at the airport by those pretenders to the crown who never made it past the second round. The No.1 and No.2 in the world, though, are staring at each other from opposite ends of the draw and both look to be in a class of their own.
Djokovic eased into the fourth round with an 86-minute, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 thrashing of Jeremy Chardy. If anyone thought the mayhem of the first week meant that Wimbledon would turn up a new champion this year, Djokovic was here to prove them wrong. He was untouchable for three blistering sets. He committed only three unforced errors – all of them in the last three games – and dropped only six points on serve. He cracked 38 winners and tore Chardy’s serve to shreds with his returns.
“I neutralised his serve,” the 2011 champion – the only remaining men’s champion in SW19 – said. “I got the crucial break at 4-3 in the first set and then felt confident enough to step into the court. Everything went my way. I did everything I wanted to do.
“I have returned a few times as well as this but it doesn’t happen often that you get to play this way against a big server.”
But the way Djokovic is playing at the moment, he looks as if he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Tommy Haas, the 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 winner over Feliciano Lopez, stands between the Serb and a place in the quarter-finals and, as much as the story of the 35-year-old’s comeback from injury is one to warm the cockles of the heart, it is not one that inspires too much confidence about the outcome of tomorrow’s match.
“Tommy’s playing the best tennis ever,” Djokovic enthused. “We played in the quarter-finals of the French Open and it was three, tough sets. He’s very fit and he loves to play on grass. I don’t see any favourite, to be honest.”
If Djokovic was telling the truth then he is the only one who cannot pick a winner for tomorrow. But it is what happens after that that could prove interesting. Should he beat Haas, he will face either Tomas Berdych or Bernard Tomic, both of whom have the game to make the top seed work for his money.
While the established order at Wimbledon was collapsing around him, Berdych spent the week calmly and powerfully moving through the draw and yesterday reached the fourth round with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 win over Kevin Anderson. It may not have been the prettiest match to watch – both men welt the ball and serve like cannons – but the 2010 finalist got the job done efficiently enough. That is Berdych for you: efficient but not exactly exciting. But in Tomic, he faces Australia’s great hope for the future – and possibly the present – and a character about as different from his own as he could hope to meet.
Two years ago, Tomic launched himself on to the world stage by coming through the qualifying competition in SW19 and then reaching the quarter-finals in the main draw; only Djokovic could stop him and even then it took four sets.
Since then, Tomic’s life has been a mixture of controversy and apathy – last year he admitted to not trying hard enough in training and matches while just last month his father, John, was arrested after allegedly head-butting Bernard’s hitting partner, Thomas Drouet. John has now been banned from gaining accreditation to ATP events and the grand slams followed the ATP lead by refusing Tomic Senior access to the French Open last month and from Wimbledon this week.
It does not seem to have affected Tomic too badly, however, as he kept concentration in lock-down to oust Richard Gasquet, the No.9 seed, 7-6, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6.
“I love playing here,” Tomic said. “I just feel good on grass. The whole Wimbledon thing is very good to me. I’ve always been happy playing here. I think that’s why I play very good tennis here.”
He will need to play very good tennis to get the better of Berdych and he will need to play out of his skin to beat Djokovic – the world No.1 has his sights set on next week’s final and it is unlikely that anyone is going to stop him before he gets there.