09 July 2023

Novak Djokovic’s march to victory halted by Wimbledon curfew

09 July 2023

Novak Djokovic will have to cancel his day off and work overtime after falling foul of Wimbledon’s stubborn scheduling.

The defending champion and title favourite was leading by two sets, 7-6 (6) 7-6 (6), against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz when play was suspended at 10.35pm.

Wimbledon chiefs will again be under scrutiny for their insistence on starting play no earlier than 1.30pm on Centre Court despite knowing it cannot go past the council-imposed 11pm curfew.

Andrey Rublev’s five-set win over Alexander Bublik took three hours and 17 minutes, before Iga Swiatek beat Belinda Bencic in three sets, two of which were tie-breaks, which also took just over three hours.

Therefore seven-time champion Djokovic – who finished his match against Stan Wawrinka at 10.46pm on Friday night – and Hurkacz finally walked on to court at 8.41pm.

By the time the pre-match niceties, the coin toss and the warm-up were complete, Hurkacz hit the first serve of the fourth-round match at 8.49pm, giving Djokovic less than two-and-a-quarter hours to avoid having to come back on Monday.

Not that that would be beyond the 23-time grand slam champion against many players, but Hurkacz is the 17th seed, the man who ended Roger Federer’s Wimbledon career two years ago and who has not dropped serve so far this fortnight.

So, like Andy Murray on Friday, Djokovic will have to return in the afternoon and be crowbarred second into the Centre Court schedule.

Understandably, both players looked like they were in a hurry. There was scarcely a rally of more than four shots as the first set thundered towards a tie-break in just 36 minutes.

Djokovic rarely loses a tie-break. He has won all three he has faced this week, but an uncharacteristic double-fault gave Hurkacz the advantage at 4-3.

The underdog hammered down two aces to earn three set points, but two went by the wayside on the Djokovic serve before three unforced errors gifted Djokovic the set.

Djokovic fashioned three break points at 4-3 in the second but they were snuffed out by 134 and 139 mph aces and a 138 mph serve which Djokovic could only send long.

A fourth break point should have been taken with Hurkacz stranded mid-court having looped a defensive volley into the air, but Djokovic tried to be too cute and pushed it wide, almost toppling over the net as he did so.

In the inevitable tie-break, Djokovic squandered a set point after a rally broke out when he sent a forehand long, but he converted the next one to take a two-set lead before referee Gerry Armstrong came out to give everybody the predictable bad news.

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