Djokovic cuts down tall ‘Poppy’; Aussie beaten but earns applause in big Wimbledon moment

Novak Djokovic has delivered an impressive performance at Wimbledon to edging Australian Alexei Popyrin in a high-quality clash that forced the Serbian to produced his best tennis to date since undergoing knee surgery a month ago.

Although the 24-time major champion started slowly in his third round outing against the powerful Popyrin, but the third set he was playing puppet master as he pulled the Australian to all corners of the court in a 4-6 6-3 6-4 7-6 (3) triumph.

Popyrin, who was playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon for the first time, began well and showed significant fight in a brilliant fourth set but ultimately fell short against the seven-time champion, with untimely dips in concentration early in the second and third sets pivotal.

It leaves Alex de Minaur as the sole Australian left in the draw, with the world No. 9 progressing without striking a ball on Saturday after Frenchman Lucas Pouille forfeited with an abdominal injury.

The world No. 9 plays another Frenchman Arthur Fils on Monday as he bids to reach his first Wimbledon final.

Watch selected NRL, AFL, SSN games plus every F1 qualifying session and race live in 4K on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start Your Free Trial today >

Popyrin started his first service game with an ace that arched away from Djokovic on the deuce court and finished it with a beautiful drop shot hit to the other wing of the champion.

It was evident immediately that the Australian planned to move his rival as much as possible in a bid to test the fitness of the seven-time Wimbledon champion.

The Sydneysider was the first to snare a break at 3-all, whipping a forehand winner across the front of the advancing Djokovic after he failed to do enough with a drive volley before serving out the set with a poised opening.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. Photo by Ben Stansall / AFP Source: AFP

“It was another tough match. I didn’t expect anything less than what we saw on the court with Alexei,” he said.

“He was close to winning the match we played in Australian earlier this year. With that serve and that forehand, he is dangerous on any surface.

“He was the better player for the first set and then I stepped it up and played a really good second and third and the fourth was really anyone’s game.

“It was just a very challenging match today mentally to hang in there. I was not allowed to have too big of a concentration lapse and I think I did well in that regard. And in the tie-breaker, it was one of the best tiebreakers I have played this year, for sure.”

After the roof was closed at the end of the first set on another challenging day in London given the miserable weather, Popyrin had a chance to seize an early break again at 1-all as he strived to do better than their second round clash in Melbourne in January when beaten in four sets.

But Djokovic was good enough to work through that tricky moment and then struck on the Australia’s serve for the first time in the following game when stretching Popyrin on a volley which he netted.

From there, the Serbian started to dictate proceedings throughout the next two sets in the third round match, with his grass court experience and superiority coming to the fore as he levelled the encounter.

Play was delayed for a period midway through the second set as a massive roar broke out when England clinched a semi-final spot in the European Championships, with Popyrin and Djokovic joining the byplay with some fancy footwork of their own.

Djokovic was well aware of what was at stake and later said; “I tied to shoot a penalty – I am a left-footer – but Alexei defending it well.”

At stages in the middle of the match it seemed the 37-year-old, who secured the sole break of the third set in its infancy, was toying with his rival as he pulled Popyrin to all corners of the court.

The further the match progressed, the better last year’s finalist looked in every facet of the sport, with his serving powerful and precise, his groundstrokes reliable and his touch superb.

Australia’s Alexei Popyrin. Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP Source: AFP

To his credit, Popyrin rallied in the infancy of the fourth set after both players left the court for a brief break after the Serbian snared the third.

Unlike the previous two sets, he was more switched on when serving early on, which gave him a chance of staying with the all-time record holder in the game in men’s tennis. He rifled serves and fired forehands and was impressive when pushing forward to the net.

As the set progressed, the atmosphere rose with it, with both combatants gesturing for support from the fans in attendance as the prospects of Popyrin forcing a deciding set increased.

But Djokovic served superbly to deny the No. 47 whenever a half-opportunity arose, ensuring the match remained on his racquet.

With Popyrin serving at 5-all, the stakes rose as Djokovic moved to a 0-40 lead, only for the Sydneysider to save all three break points.

The plucky Australian brought the crowd to their feet after a superb exchange from both men, which ended with the underdog bunting a half-volley drop shot winner, to edge ahead again 6-5. Showing his appetite for the fight, he celebrated like he had won the match.

It proved premature.

A champion accustomed to the dealing with the highest pressure moments in sport, Djokovic raised his level again in the tie-breaker and clinched the match when drawing an error off a serve down the T.

“Each match is getting better,” Djokovic said.

“My movement to extreme balls, the reaching and sliding, I definitely felt better today than in the second round match. Hopefully the trajectory will keep going in a positive way. Let’s see what happens in the next one.”

Alexei Popyrin of Australia. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Source: Getty Images

An hour after the loss, Popyrin embraced his girlfriend on the balcony overlooking Court 14 and then clasped hands with his agent Fraser Wright.

Wimbledon was in darkness and the Aussie and Djokovic were the last players remaining on site, but the sting of the narrow loss cut deep.

“I feel a little bit bummed, but I’m close. I feel very close,” he said.

“(I needed to be) smarter with one or two points and important moments. He was quite solid. I played a few loose points in the tiebreak and that’s all it took for him to kind of take charge.”

Asked what he would take from Wimbledon, he said he had now learned he could play on grass and lamented the season was so short, saying he hoped that would change in the future.

But he also said being able to extend Djokovic again following their tight encounter in Melbourne suggested he was on the right path.

“I’ve done it twice now and I’ve had chances both times,” he said.

“The first time could be a fluke, but the second time, I came out and felt really comfortable in the first set up until. you know, I had breakpoints in the second set also early on and it was all on my racket up until that point.

“But then I just let my foot off the pedal a little bit and kind of lost focus, but like I said, I’m close and I feel very close (to the top guys).”

Leave a Reply

Verified by MonsterInsights