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Wednesday At Wimbledon • Roger • Rafa • Novak • And A Wedding?

Roger Federer (front) of Switzerland in action against Kei Nishikori of Japan during their quarter final match for the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 10 July 2019. EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO COMMERCIAL SALES

By Alix Ramsay

 

He is the top seed and the defending champion so, of course, he gets the perks. And on Wednesday that special treatment meant that he was home and hosed (to use a horsey term) before his two main rivals had even got out of the starting gate.

 

Novak Djokovic was through to the semi-final of Wimbledon, there to play Roberto Bautista Agut, having just thrashed David Goffin 6-4, 6-0, 6-2. It was, he thought, the best he had played in the 10 days of the tournament so far. And Roger and Rafa hadn’t even started yet.

 

Goffin was good for the first seven and a half games (he was a break up at 4-3 and leading 30-0 in the first set) and then Djokovic turned on the afterburners and, winning 10 games on the trot, stubbed out Goffin’s challenge as you would stub out a cigarette. Not that Djokovic goes anywhere near ciggies. Or booze. Or gluten. But you get the general idea.

 

Djoko’s draw has been remarkable for its unremarkableness – he hasn’t played anyone of any great note since we began. Then again, that is another perk of being the top banana and defending champ. There have been years when Roger and Rafa have had easy draws at the grand slams, Rafa in Paris last month being a case in point. But eventually it catches up with a chap (or champ). It caught up with Rafa when he had to deal with Roger in the semis and then Dominic Thiem in the final. But he got the job done.

 

Now it is Djoko’s turn.

 

On Friday he will face the stupefyingly consistent threat of Bautista Agut (known to his friends as Bati). The Spaniard did for Guido Pella 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. That Bati, he doesn’t go away in a hurry. In fact, the third set against Pella was the first he had dropped in five rounds. That put him on a par with Djoko. This was a good omen for the Spaniard. Perhaps.

 

The 31-year-old is that rare creature from Spain (in tennis terms, natch) in that he actually thinks he is better on hard courts than on clay. Grass, though, is a different beast again but this is his sixth visit to the All England Club in the past seven years and every time he comes here, he learns a little more. And now he is in the semi-finals.

 

Better still, he has beaten Djoko twice this year and three times in all of their 10 meetings. He is obviously the underdog going into Friday’s showdown but he still has hope. Lots of it.

 

“I had the chance to play really good matches against him,” Bati said. “Some I lost, some I won. I played really, really tough and difficult matches against him. He’s the past champion here in Wimbledon. He really likes playing on grass.

 

“Well, I really feel good also playing this year here on the grass. I think it’s going to be a nice match.”

 

That was the diplomatic way of approaching the semi-final but there was more to come – equally diplomatic – but, this time, a bit more positive about his chances.

 

“He is very solid from baseline,” the Spaniard went on. “He likes to play a lot of rallies. Well, I like to play against opponent like this, to play a match with a lot of rallies. Against Novak, that’s what we do.”

 

And he does it well. So well, in fact that he has had to put his bachelor party in Ibiza on hold. In Britain, we call this rite of passage “a stag do”. We like to lower the tone before the first bottle has been opened. And a bunch of blokes on the lash in Ibiza could, potentially, turn into mayhem. But our Bati is not like that.

 

He will marry Ana Bodi Tortosa in November. Now, many a sensible fella will plan his stag do a week or so before the Big Day in order to recover from the hangover, pay any police fines and be in place, on time and not looking like he had been dragged through a hedge backwards (it makes for better pics in the photo album). But our lad had booked his do in four months before the Big Day. Either he has a very full diary in the coming weeks or he was planning an absolute blow out in Ibiza.

 

Either way, his mates are already in Ibiza with beers, slammers – and other things that boys like have on tap on these occasions – at the ready. And the Bati beats Guido. Oh. Down glasses, boys, we’re going to London to watch Himself play tennis. Woo-hoo.

 

Just to make it equal and fair, Ana had a fitting for her wedding dress planned for this coming weekend. That won’t be happening either.

 

But back to the serious stuff. Djoko knows exactly what he is in for come Friday. Bati will, potentially, be a serious threat.

 

“It’s his consistency, I think,” Djoko said. “His ability to stay in the point even when it seems like he’s on the back foot. He’s got amazing consistency, I think, with his shots. Very flat from both forehand and backhand.

 

“He has improved his backhand. I think he’s got more depth on his backhand. The ball bounces lower on the grass, which is I think more suitable to his style of the game. He doesn’t like when the ball bounces higher to his backhand.

 

“He’s been definitely playing some very, very high-quality tennis in this tournament. He has won twice against me so far this year. That’s certainly going to give him confidence coming into the match.”

 

Yes, but come on Djoko….tell us what you really think. What makes you such a mountain to climb at this stage of a grand slam?

 

“I sincerely hope that my opponent feels like he’s got to work twice as more than against any other opponent to win a point,” the defending champion said.

 

He knows that Roger and Rafa have their historic mountain to climb on Friday. He will, if he wins his semi, have that mountain to climb on Sunday.

 

But, in the meantime, he has the less-than-small matter of a bloke with nothing to lose, a bloke playing lights-out this past 10 days and a bloke who has given up his stag do to be there, to face in the semi-finals.

 

Friday should be fascinating.

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