Indoors or outdoors, no matter the conditions, returning Hubert Hurkacz’s serve remains one of the biggest challenges in the grass-court game.
Novak Djokovic nonetheless found a way to blunt the Pole’s booming delivery and seal fourth-round victory on Monday at Wimbledon, where Hurkacz sent down 33 aces but was unable to deny the seven-time champion in a match that began on Sunday evening in London.
“[It was] kind of two different matches: last night and today,” said Djokovic, who had led Hurkacz by two sets to love overnight before wrapping a 7-6(6), 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-4 win. “Completely different conditions. Playing under the was roof more humid, more slippery. Obviously, no wind. A bit easier for the rhythm for the serve. At the same time, it was a bit slower from the back of the court.
“Today, completely different. Very, very windy. Difficult to get the rhythm and tempo on the toss. It didn't seem to affect him much.
“I thought maybe that could be my chance to start reading his serve a bit better. That wasn't the case. He was serving incredibly well. I don't recall being so helpless on the return games, to be honest. I knew that he's a big server and he's a fantastic player on the grass particularly, but I didn't expect him to serve this well and this accurately. Credit to him.”
Djokovic was visibly frustrated after dropping the third set to an opponent who had not, at that point, dropped serve at this year’s Wimbledon. The World No. 2 regained his composure in trademark fashion on Centre Court, finally breaking through against Hurkacz’s delivery in the seventh game of the fourth set before serving out for his win.
“I go through my moments,” said Djokovic, when asked about his mental battle as Hurkacz threatened a comeback. “I think in matches like this, where you don't have many chances at all in the service games of your opponent, when they're presented and you don't use them, then obviously the pressure builds up.
“I don't have as strong a serve as Hurkacz. I had to probably work a bit more for my service games, and I knew that. Eventually that pressure that builds up just goes out.
“I was frustrated the way I played the last game of the third set. Also credit to him, he played a really, really good game. I was a bit passive, and the set was gone. I liked my chances going into a tie-break in the third set. That's why I was, of course, more frustrated.”
Djokovic’s resolve earned him a quarter-final clash with Andrey Rublev at the grass-court major, where he has now won 32 consecutive matches. The Serbian heads into that clash with a 3-1 Lexus ATP Head2Head series lead against Rublev, but is more than aware of what the seventh seed will bring to court.
“Andrey Rublev is a fantastic player who's got one of the best forehands in the game,” said Djokovic. “He brings a lot of intensity to the court with his grunts. He kind of scares off his opponents across the net. He’s an extremely nice guy and works as hard as anybody out there to be a Top 10 player, which he has been for the last several years. He's one of the most consistent players on all surfaces. I have lots of respect for him.
“I was surprised that he has actually never reached the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, which obviously will serve as a motivation more for him tomorrow, to be inspired, and play his best tennis.”