By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) – When Novak Djokovic stood with hand on hip midway through the second-set tiebreak, glaring down at young Polish upstart Hubert Hurkacz, he could scarcely believe the drama unfolding before his eyes in his third-round Wimbledon showdown on Friday.
The world number one was caught up by hurricane Hurkacz as he came off second best in all the razzle-dazzle shots the 22-year-old could throw at him and he was also banned from wearing his baseball cap by the umpire as it fell foul of Wimbledon’s all-white rules.
However, Djokovic is not known as Mr Consistency for nothing and he survived all the hullabaloo to reach the last 16 for the 12th time at the grasscourt major with a 7-5 6-7(5) 6-1 6-4 win.
“For the opposition, he is sickeningly consistent,” summed up American great John McEnroe.
“He isn’t flashy, he doesn’t play with the same intensity point in point out as (Rafa) Nadal does, his shots are not as beautiful as (Roger) Federer’s — but rock solid is an understatement. He is so efficient.”
That efficiency has earned Djokovic 74 titles, including 15 majors, and more than $130 million in prize money.
Hurkacz, on the other hand, can only dream of such riches or records as his trophy cabinet lies empty while his bank balance would be considered loose change in Djokovic’s pocket.
Playing the Serbian for the second time at a major in five weeks, the world number 48 was expected to roll over in straight sets, just as he had done at Roland Garros.
But when the top seed was told by umpire Carlos Bernardes to remove his baseball cap midway through the first set, for a while it looked like he had been shorn of his super-powers as he missed three break points in the sixth game.
“Last match on Centre Court, I played with the hat. The same hat I took out now, I was not able to play with it,” Djokovic, the only top-10 seed left in the top half of the draw, said with a shrug.
The four-times champion eventually broke for a 6-5 lead but not before Hurkacz had offered a glimpse of what was to come in the second set as he acrobatically fell to his stomach and his racket went flying while chasing down a Djokovic dropshot.
Hurkacz raised his fist to the roaring Court One crowd when he gave Djokovic the run-around during a delightful, 29-shot exchange that culminated with a sliced forehand winner in the third game of the second.
The hollering fans were on their feet again when he earned a set point at 6-5 up on Djokovic’s serve with a brilliant diving winner that would have made Boris Becker proud.
The crowd groaned when he fluffed the next point but the thrills kept on coming in the tiebreak as he finished off a 30-stroke rally by punching away a volley as he fell into the splits.
Djokovic simply could not believe the audacious shots that kept flying his way and he would have been even less pleased when Hurkacz leveled the match on this third set point with a blazing crosscourt winner.
But, as the Pole found out to his dismay in double quick time, winning even one set against one of tennis’s Big Three sucks up an enormous amount of energy.
To win three is nigh on impossible during the first week of a major and so it proved. Hurkacz’s challenge fizzled out in the next two sets as he discovered that while the heart was willing, the tiring legs could not keep up.
“Djokovic sets the bar so high. You have to play the match of your life just to stay in it. Hurkacz played exceptionally well, he just didn’t have enough in the tank,” added McEnroe.
After dropping his first set at this year’s championships, the Serb will be looking to do better when he meets France’s Ugo Humbert on Monday.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Clare Fallon and Ed Osmond)