Wimbledon 2021: Djokovic, the big, bad wolf of Wimbledon, roars into the semi-finals

Opening up Centre Court for the day could never be called “slumming it” and no one would dare compare Novak Djokovic to the hapless comedian charged with the task of warming up the studio audience for a live recording of a sitcom when everyone’s still drowsy from the bus journey.

A study in concentration, Novak Djokovic was in total control in his quarter-final
A study in concentration, Novak Djokovic was in total control in his quarter-final

But Wimbledon scheduling - a controversial issue this year - had required the world No 1 and hot favourite for yet another title to play his quarter-final first, leaving the optimum slot and a bigger teatime crowd for Roger Federer.

The Serb may never be quite as loved like his great rival, at least not here, but did he look bothered as he breezed to another straight-sets victory? Not really. If the big Fed constituency really want him to lose, clearing a path to glory for their man, then maybe they should start going orgasmic when Djokovic performs the splits for an impossible return or hits one of those cruel drop shots. Perhaps this would surprise him so much he’d crumble.

Then again, probably not. And especially not this year. If he wins the final on Sunday he’ll join Club 20 - not a holiday complex for randy youngsters but the select band of tennis superstars with a score of Slams (members: Rafael Nadal and The Fed). And if he then wins the US Open he’ll have achieved a calendar Slam - all four majors in the same year. And if along the way he climbs onto the highest podium at the Tokyo Olympics then a golden Slam will be his.

Against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics he didn’t perform with the usual cold beauty, but then he didn’t have to. His unseeded opponent, from being initially spooked, made a match of it later, but Djokovic, who at times seemed to be toying with him, prevailed, winning 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Afterwards Djokovic was asked if he minded, compared with the Club 20’s joint life presidents, being regarded as “the bad guy”. “I don’t consider myself that,” he bristled. “I’m not chasing anybody. I’m making my own path and my own journey. My own history.”

Always good copy, Djokovic has told the story this Wimbledon of sheltering aged 12 in the mountains around Belgrade while Nato forces bombed the city during the Yugoslav Wars. This, he said, was character-forming and had imbued him with a “wolf energy”.

At key moments in matches Djokovic oftens lets rip with a fearsome howl. If the moon isn’t up then perhaps it’s aimed at his dissenters or maybe those fiendish court-schedulers. Who’s he like? Maybe Howlin’ Wolf, the great Chicago bluesman with the booming voice. Or Wolfman Jack, the legendary DJ who appeared to gargle with gravel.

Fucsovics’ only hope seemed that the champ would have woken up with a sore throat and was more like thin, reedy Simon Le Bon on Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf. But early on there wasn’t much evidence of a weakening of the power. Wolfman Djok broke Fucsovics’ serve at the first time of asking.

Fucsovics was the first Hungarian to reach the men’s last eight since Jozsef Asboth in 1948. He made for an impassive figure on the other side of the net and early on a typical point would be Fucsovics allowing himself to get into a long rally with Djokovic - because there seemed little other option, really - and as the Serb sprinted after a volley and loomed over the net, the challenger seemed like a rabbit caught in a wolf’s menacing stare. Djokovic got to 5-0 in no time.

But there was a huge cheer of encouragement for Fucsovics when he saved the first couple of set points and finally got himself on the board - and an even bigger one when he broke Djokovic’s serve. The set arrived eventually for the latter but when Djokovic threatened to start the second in the same imperious manner, Hurkacz dug in, ventured off the baseline, found some clever angles.

Djokovic reckoned this was one of his windiest Wimbledon days and the conditions mildly bothered him. “It’s the same for both players but you have to adapt,” he said. “It’s both a mental and a biochemical challenge on the court because sometimes if you’re not feeling comfortable to go for your shots, you're a bit tight, your legs stop moving. If the legs stop on a windy day like this, you're going to be in a lot of trouble.”

It was first in the world against 48th but for a while the gap seemed much closer. Djokovic’s tactic of waiting for his opponent to muck up needed some tinkering. Showing some impatience, he was making unforced errors, but Fucsovics was also winning points with more-than-decent hits. He would win the longest rally thus far - 27 points - to save a break-point but couldn’t stop Djokovic surging into a two-set lead. It was time for a howl.

In the third set Djokovic broke first game. Fucsovics tried to hit back immediately but Djokovic held serve - another howl. The match seemed over and the crowd appeared to nod off, possibly saving their energy for Roger You-know-who. Fucsovics roused himself and got to break point. It was going to be a long road back if he truly fancied making the journey. He contrived some deft winners, applauded by Djokovic, but the man going for history kept a foot on Fucsovics’ neck. That’s a metaphor, by the way. Your favourite, brilliant big, bad wolf didn’t really do that.

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