Novak Djokovic sets up Wimbledon blockbuster as he becomes third man to reach milestone

Ewan West
Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory at Wimbledon
Novak Djokovic celebrates a victory at Wimbledon

Novak Djokovic survived another tough test at Wimbledon as he battled past Alexei Popyrin in four sets in the third round.

The world No 2 downed Popyrin 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(3) in three hours and five minutes on Centre Court at the All England Club.

Djokovic dropped the opening set against the world No 47, but he did not lose his serve again in the match as he prevailed to reach the last 16.

The 37-year-old is aiming to win a record-equalling eighth Wimbledon men’s singles crown and become the oldest champion in the tournament’s history.

The great Serbian’s triumph against Popyrin was his 373rd career Grand Slam match win and his 50th since turning 35.

Ken Rosewall and Roger Federer are the only other players to achieve 50 victories at Majors after the age of 35, having earned 64 and 62 respectively.

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Djokovic has set up a blockbuster fourth round meeting with world No 15 Holger Rune, who survived a huge scare to defeat Quentin Halys in the third round.

The 21-year-old Dane came back from two sets to love down to avoid a sizeable upset and defeat world No 220 Halys 1-6, 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-1.

In his on-court interview after beating Popyrin, Djokovic said: “Well, it was another tough match, I didn’t expect anything less than what we experienced on the court today from Alexei.

“I knew he was going to come to the match with confidence, with a lot of self-belief. He was close to winning that match we played in Australia earlier this year. With that serve and powerful forehand, he’s dangerous on any surface.

“I watched him play first couple of rounds, I knew he was in form and he’s gonna come out on the court believing he can win. That’s how he started, he was the better player for the first set, and then I stepped it up.

“I think I played a really good second and third, and then fourth really was anybody’s game. He was serving very well, with a lot of accuracy and a lot of speed. It was very difficult to read his serve in the fourth.

“A couple of break point chances at 5-all, but I was actually only in one rally. Other than that, he was serving it out. So just a very challenging match today, I think mentally as well to hang in there.

“Not allowed to have too big of a concentration lapses and I think I’ve done well in that regard. I think it reflected positively in the tiebreak, that was one of the best tiebreaks I’ve played this year, that’s for sure.”

The 24-time Grand Slam winner was also asked how close he felt he was to playing his best tennis.

“Well, I think each match it’s getting better,” Djokovic explained. “My feeling of movement, confidence in my movement. Particularly the little bit of an extreme balls, the reaching, sliding.

“I definitely felt better than in the second round match. So hopefully the direction or trajectory will keep going in a positive way as the tournament progresses, each match I’ll feel better, Yeah, let’s see what happens in the next one.”

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