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WIMBLEDON 2021 – For Novak Djokovic, the road to the title could be harder than you think

If we were in cycling, since it’s topical, it looks like Novak Djokovic has a huge sign on his back. Finally, there, it’s not even a sign anymore: it’s a building facade! Let’s say, to stay in the cycling analogy, that the world No. 1 is now about as much favorite to win at Wimbledon this year as Tadej Pogacar on the roads of the Tour de France.

Favorite, the Serb was already before the tournament, of course. But there was a “but”. How was he going to digest, physically and especially mentally, his title at Roland-Garros? Well, at the end of a first week smoothly conducted, we saw. After a warm-up set lost from the start against the Briton Jack Draper, Novak Djokovic restored the house price and reached the quarter-finals without losing a single extra set, even if he had to save a 3rd set ball against to the American Denis Kudla. Nothing bad…

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At the same time, most of its main rivals all tripped over the green carpet. In addition to the absence of Rafael Nadal, wrung out of his season on clay, and Dominic Thiem, in full physical and tennis burn-out, four other top 8 players have already bitten the turf: Stefanos Tsitsipas from the 1st round, but also, in the eighth, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev, which theoretically promised to be the first serious test for Djokovic but who did not pass the cut against the Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.

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In the end, when you look at the players still in the race, it’s whey for the five-time Wimbledon winner who has never lost a match against Fucsovics (2 out of 2), no more than against Denis Shapovalov (6/ 6), Hubert Hurkacz (2/2) or Mattéo Berrettini (2/2). He has only lost once in five encounters against Karen Khachanov and beaten Roger Federer three out of four times at Wimbledon, while he has never faced Felix-Auger-Aliassime.

To tell the truth, it is difficult to estimate who now looks like the main competitor of the world No. 1. Most bookmakers put Berrettini and Federer in the front line, which seems quite consistent even if you have to be wary of a Shapovalov on fire or a Hurkacz much more dangerous than his natural discretion suggests.

Many dream, of course, of a rematch of the legendary 2019 final between Djokovic and Federer, the longest in the history of the tournament, lost by the latter in the tiebreak of the last set after having two match points.

It would be magnificent, certainly, and an already phenomenal achievement for the Swiss. But what reason objectively allows us to think that Federer could do at almost 40 years old what he has not done since he was 30, namely to beat Novak Djokovic in a Grand Slam (it was at Wimbledon in 2012, precisely)? Apart from the glorious uncertainty of sport and the romantic or dreamy spirit with which we are more or less endowed, not much.

A 50th Grand Slam quarter-final

So, that we immediately give the trophy to Novak Djokovic and that we put an end to this Wimbledon which is slow to snort in madness? Not so fast… We know it well: it’s always when things seem too calm, too drawn, that they reserve us an improbable blow from Trafalgar.

Regarding Djokovic, who will celebrate his 50th Grand Slam quarter-final this Wednesday (in just 65 appearances) including 12 at Wimbledon (one better than Boris Becker), this status as a great favorite looks like a false friend when launch an assault on the greatest feat in the history of his sport: to achieve the Golden Slam, that is to say to win the four Grand Slam tournaments in the same season (which has not been done since Rod Laver in 1969) plus the Olympic title.

A possible success in Tokyo would, in fact, be the icing on the cake for Djokovic. We know that all his attention is now focused on the Grand Slams and even more on this damn race for major titles, in which he returned to a small unit of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Another three successes for the Serb and the three monsters will all be at 20, which would have, let’s face it, a hell of a lot even if it would probably only be very temporary.

We don’t realize it, as the Big Three have given us the bad habit of trivializing the greatest exploits: but for Djokovic, it’s a monumental pressure, which could well catch up with him when the road rises a so be it, he who has, let’s face it, only won plain stages so far at this Wimbledon.

The Roland-Garros/Wimbledon double, an ultimate feat

In 2016, when he had already won the first two major tricks of the season, Djokovic had also succumbed to this pressure, beaten in the 3rd round by Sam Querrey. At the time, he was starting to suffer from some elbow pain that would eventually sideline him a year later. But Djokovic is too focused on the relationship between body and mind not to suspect that this injury was the sign of an overflow of victories, pressure and emotions.

Even if he spared his calendar on purpose not to experience the same fuel shortage this year, the Serb is not immune to a new blow of bamboo. Beyond the Golden Slam, beyond the GOAT title that it would be very difficult to challenge him if he succeeds, he is above all at the gates of another extremely rare feat: the double Roland-Garros / Wimbledon, that his Big Three comrades are the only ones to have succeeded (Nadal in 2008 and 2010, Federer in 2009) since Björn Borg in 1980.

Suffice to say that Novak Djokovic’s road to the Grand Slam is about to take a decisive (first) turn here. He tackles it from the bottom of the hold, unquestionably with the best mount on the circuit. So far, so good. But be careful, because we repeat: the road is more slippery than it looks…

Novak Djokovic, watch out for the slip all the same…

Credit: Eurosport

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