Novak Djokovic broke through his defensive shackles to often play at his aggressive best in a hard-fought victory over British No. 1 Kyle Edmund at The Championships on Saturday.
Initially defensive and pervious to Edmund’s power, Djokovic rallied back in an entertaining 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win on Centre Court for a place in the Wimbledon fourth round.
"[He is] probably playing the tennis of his life in the past 12 months. He won our last encounter. You could see he came out on the court, played better than me for a set and a half. He was really, really playing well, hitting the ball clean from both ends," Djokovic said. "It was a high-quality tennis match, to be honest. It was very, very, very intense. [It] just was a couple points here and there."
The three-time former Wimbledon champion will next look to beat Russian Karen Khachanov on Monday for a place in his 44th Grand Slam championships quarter-final (second only to Roger Federer’s 61, an Open Era record).[ALSO LIKE]
Djokovic, the No. 12 seed from Serbia, is now 21-9 on the year, which includes a runner-up finish for the second time (also 2008) at the Fever-Tree Championships two weeks ago (l. to Cilic).
Edmund capitalised on defensive play from Djokovic in the first set by striking 80 miles per hour forehand winners and showcasing aggression on serve. Edmund converted his third break point chance in the seventh game with a backhand winner, then withstood pressure from Djokovic in the next game.
Djokovic, far from peak form, began to dictate as Edmund’s service speeds dropped. Finally, on his ninth break point opportunity, Djokovic was gifted a 5-3 advantage in the second set courtesy of a double fault. The momentum shifted in Djokovic’s favour early in the third set, with Edmund striking a forehand long to give away his serve in the first game.
At 3-4 in the fourth set, Edmund withstood four break points — including a contentious pick up off a Djokovic drop volley at 15/40 — but soon paid the price as Djokovic channelled his energy in the 10th game by breaking the No. 21 seed, who struck a forehand wide. Shortly, after three hours of play, Djokovic closed out the pair’s fifth FedEx ATP Head2Head match with his 18th ace, letting out a primal roar.
The match had been scheduled third on Centre Court in an attempt to avoid a direct clash with England’s World Cup football quarter-final against Sweden in Russia. And while the football team advanced, the home favourite fell short of the second week.
"Today was reasonably good. Not too much in terms of margins. I would have maybe, looking back on it, liked to have been a little bit more aggressive at stages. But easier said than done when you're in rallies," Edmund said. "Overall I'm happy with the way it's gone. Yeah, I just would have liked to have won today, but it didn't happen."
Edmund beat Djokovic 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 for the first time at the Mutua Madrid Open in May this year. He is now 23-13 on the season, which also includes advancing to his first ATP World Tour final at the Grand Prix Hassan II in Marrakech (l. to Andujar) and the Australian Open semi-finals (l. to Cilic). And while Djokovic came out on top this time, he was impressed with the Brit.
"He improved his game in the past 12 months. His backhand, we always knew forehand is a weapon, but backhand, he was making a lot of unforced errors from that end," Djokovic said. "He improved a lot since he started working with a new coach. He completed his game. He's Top 20. He's going towards the Top 10. He's definitely going to be a contender."