At the end of the match Novak Djokovic admitted he was hitting the ball so well it seemed “bigger” while his shell-shocked opponent David Goffin said the No 1 seed seemed to be “everywhere”.
Unfortunately for the vanquished Belgian, there is unlikely to be an All-England Club inquiry into whether there had been tampering with the green spheres or if the unstoppable Serb was now regenerating into multiple versions of himself, all of them brilliant on the return.
Goffin was a swashbuckler for the first seven games of what was his first Wimbledon quarter-final but, as he might have suspected, that wasn’t quite enough. He drew warm applause from the Centre Court for the deftness, cuteness and coolness of his play to break the reigning champion’s serve – and shouts of “Da-veed!” from his countrymen. Even Djokovic was admiring of the groundstrokes, proffering the thumbs-up for one of the winners which had hinted there might be a shock.
But Djokovic broke straight back. More than that, he won ten games in a row. Goffin couldn’t believe it. Well, when he remembered who he was up against, he probably could. “It was tough,” he said of his time in that winless desert midway through the match. “I was playing well, I had the break, but he came right back. Everything was a little bit deeper, a little bit better. I had game points but he was serving better. You have to play the perfect point to win against him. Then he would still be returning in your feet all the time. It was pressure all the time.
“Even if you’re playing well it’s not enough because he continues, continues, deep, deep, close from the line, left, right. He was everywhere.
“He’s the world No 1 and it’s so tough when he plays like this.”
Goffin, though, took heart from that blazing start, and from his overall performance at Wimbledon. “I’m disappointed to lose but also really happy at the level I played. Now I just have to continue this.”
Djokovic acknowledged Goffin’s fine contribution to the contest. “David plays very, very clean. I was a break down, he was the better player for most of the first set and the match could have gone a different way.” he said.
“But I just managed to find holes in his play and attack him. I felt like I managed to dismantle his game and find always the right shots. That’s as good as I’ve played this tournament.”
Was the grunt a factor in the victory? After all the comeback coincided with him “vocalising” his shots. Previously he’d been quite mute. “That’s interesting,” he said, “I didn’t notice that. Probably it was the case. Whether the grunting helps, I don’t think there is any particular rule, but today it did.”
Djokovic’s trump card – though the others at his disposal aren’t bad either – is his return. He admitted that, when he’s on a roll, as from the end of the first set and right through the second, the ball takes on a different aspect.
“All of a sudden it seems larger. It’s a good feeling, I must say,” he smiled.
He was asked, in advance of playing Roberto Buatista Agut in tomorrow’s semi-final, what his opponent might regard as the biggest challenge. Modestly at first he said: “I don’t know if I want to say. I guess especially at this stage you want to keep your strengths and what you feel on court for yourself rather than sharing it.”
But he was unable to resist adding: “I sincerely hope that my opponent feels like he’s got to work twice as much as against anyone else to win a point.”