Wimbledon: Djokovic cruises into 4th round, faces wild-card entry next
By HOWARD FENDRICH AP Tennis Writer
WIMBLEDON, England — It is, to be sure, the stuff of movies: An oft-injured guy ranked outside the top 100, making his Grand Slam debut thanks to a wild card, knocks out two seeded players on his way to a fourth-round matchup at Wimbledon against none other than top-seeded Novak Djokovic, the three-time defending champion.
We can guess what Hollywood might do with that script. Tim van Rijthoven, a 25-year-old Dutchman, earned the chance to see what will happen in real life across the net from Djokovic after both men won in straight sets Friday at the All England Club.
“Before the tournament started, it was a dream for me to play him, basically. So to be able to have that chance, and to maybe even play on Centre Court or Court 1, is beautiful and magical,” van Rijthoven said after beating No. 22 Nikoloz Basilashvili, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, on Court 12, with its capacity of 1,736, to become the first wild-card entry since 2015 to get to the round of 16 at Wimbledon.
“I go into every match thinking I can win the match,” said van Rijthoven, whose baseline-based style eliminated No. 15 Reilly Opelka earlier in the week. “Also, against Djokovic, I’ll go into that match thinking I can win that match.”
Actually, until June, the backward-ballcap-wearing van Rijthoven never had won a match on the ATP Tour. Since then, he hasn’t lost one, going 8-0, including a victory over current world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev to claim the trophy at a grass-court event in the Netherlands.
“It’s been a long one. I’ve had my ups and downs, injuries here and there. Also struggled mentally,” said van Rijthoven, whose health issues included wrist surgery, a procedure on a vein in his right arm because of thrombosis and nine months healing from “golfer’s elbow” that he noted with a smile he incurred from playing tennis.
“I’m just happy to be in the place I am right now,” he said. “I hope to be there for a couple more years – or a lot more years, actually.”
If he’s an unknown to most, he is not to Djokovic, who grabbed the initial seven games and then six of seven in a strong stretch later on, during a 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 22 Miomir Kecmanovic at nearly 15,000-seat Centre Court.
That’s in part because Djokovic is pals with van Rijthoven’s coach, Igor Sijsling. And in part, because he’s been keeping an eye on the guy.
So Djokovic offered a bit of a scouting report.
“His game, from what I’ve seen, is quite suitable to this surface. His big serve, one-handed backhand. Uses the slice well. He’s an all-around player. He can play fast, he can also stay in the rally and come to the net,” said Djokovic, who seemed to enjoy the sunny, breezy conditions in the afternoon, compiling a 36-13 edge in winners against his Serbian Davis Cup teammate. “I’m sure he’s excited to play on a big stage. He doesn’t have much to lose. He’s on his dream run. He’s a young player that is just starting, so I’m sure his career will be very good.”
Other men’s fourth-round matchups set up for the middle Sunday – traditionally an off day, that is now a scheduled day of play for the first time in the tournament’s 145-year history – are No. 5 Carlos Alcaraz vs. No. 10 Jannik Sinner, No. 23 Frances Tiafoe vs. David Goffin, and No. 30 Tommy Paul vs. No 9 Cam Norrie.
Tiafoe is in the fourth round for the first time in his fifth appearance in the tournament after a 3-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan. The 24-year-old Tiafoe’s best performance at a Grand Slam tournament was reaching the quarterfinals at the 2019 Australian Open.
Djokovic is eyeing a seventh career title at Wimbledon and 21st major championship overall. Only one other man on the top half of the bracket ever has been to the fourth round at the All England Club in the past: Goffin.
And Djokovic is the only man still around who reached last year’s quarterfinals.
“I’ve been playing better and better as the tournament progresses,” Djokovic said. “I always expect the highest of myself.”
Women’s fourth-rounders Sunday are No. 3 Ons Jabeur vs. No. 24 Elise Mertens, No. 12 Jelena Ostapenko vs. Tatjana Maria, Marie Bouzkova vs. Caroline Garcia, and Heather Watson vs. Julie Niemeier. One of those players will play for the championship; the only one who’s ever participated in a Grand Slam singles final previously is 2017 French Open champion Ostapenko.
Watson, a 30-year-old from Britain, made her Grand Slam debut in 2010 and this is her 43rd appearance at one of the sport’s four most important tournaments. It is the first time she has reached the fourth round (same for Niemeier, whose only previous major showing was a first-round exit at this year’s French Open).
“Yeah, I was just sort of waiting for it to happen,” Watson said. “I waited long enough, I think.”
ISNER SETS CAREER ACE MARK IN DEFEAT
Sinner withstood the aces and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon by beating Isner, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
The 6-foot-10 Isner hit ace No. 13,729 to break the ATP tour record held by Ivo Karlovic of Croatia. He finished the match with 24 aces.
Sinner next meets Alcaraz, who crushed Oscar Otte, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2.
VENUS RETURNS, WINS IN MIXED DOUBLES
Venus Williams made a winning return to the court in a mixed doubles victory with partner Jamie Murray.
They defeated Alicja Rosolska and Michael Venus, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3, in a first-round match on Court No. 1.
The 42-year-old Williams hadn’t had a competitive match since last August, when playing singles at the Chicago Open. Her last doubles match was at last year’s French Open.
Williams has won seven Grand Slam singles titles, including five at Wimbledon. She also has won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, all with sister Serena, including six at the All England Club. Also, she has two major titles in mixed doubles.
Murray also has a famous sibling – Andy Murray. In Grand Slam tournaments, Jamie Murray has won two doubles titles and five mixed doubles titles.
KERBER, SAKKARI OUSTED
Mertens eliminated 2018 Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 7-5, in her third-round match.
The 34-year-old Kerber, seeded 15th, has won three Grand Slam titles and was a semifinalist a year ago at Wimbledon.
The 24th-seeded Mertens of Belgium has reached the fourth round at four consecutive Grand Slam tournaments.
Fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari was eliminated after a 6-3, 7-5 loss to Tatjana Maria, a 34-year-old who had never reached the fourth round at any Grand Slam.
Sakkari is a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist but the 26-year-old Greek player made 30 unforced errors against her German opponent on Court No. 2.
Ostapenko after winning 12 of the last 13 games against Irina-Camelia Begu. The 2017 French Open champion from Latvia beat Begu, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1, on Court No. 3.
The 12th-seeded Ostapenko trailed 6-3, 1-0 when she turned things around. She won nine straight games to take a 3-0 lead in the deciding set before Begu was able to hold serve again.
Ostapenko then had to save a break point in the next game before taking a 4-1 lead.
Ostapenko reached the semifinals at the All England Club in 2018 and last week reached the final at the grass-court warmup tournament in Eastbourne, England.
Third-seeded Jabeur advanced with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Diane Parry of France. Jabeur reached the quarterfinals a year ago at the All England Club.
SOCK OUTLASTS CRESSY
Qualifier Jack Sock became the eighth American man to reach the third round at Wimbledon with a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (1) victory over compatriot Maxime Cressy, a former UCLA standout.
Those eight players account for a quarter of the 32 players in the third round, the most for the United States at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament since 1995. It’s also the most at any major since the 1996 U.S. Open.
The match on Court No. 3 was completed after being suspended Thursday evening at 6-4, 6-4.
The 29-year-old Sock is a three-time Grand Slam champion in doubles with two of those titles coming at Wimbledon.
The 103rd-ranked Sock will next face fellow qualifier Jason Kubler of Australia.