Wind and Jacob Fearnley test and tease Novak Djokovic on Centre Court

Novak Djokovic and Jacob Fearnley (Image: Wimbledon)

The charm of Wimbledon is how it tests players to the core. Unless one is well-equipped, game-wise and in terms of strong mental resilience, winning and losing are equally possible. So, when Novak Djokovic was in all sorts of trouble against British wild card Jacob Fearnley, ranked 277, in the second round, tongues were wagging.

Even after winning 24 Grand Slam titles and aiming to win a 25th Major this fortnight at The Championships, Djokovic was in trouble against fearless Fearnley on Thursday. In matches like these, a second-round contest, there is no pressure on the underdog. To do well against Djokovic, for many who are ranked below and not expected to cause an expect, raising the level of play become easier.

That said, Fearnley had taken tips from Sir Andy Murray before stepping on the hallowed precincts of the Centre Court. Call it guts or call it flinging his racquet at everything, the way Briton Fearnley took a set off Djokovic to push the contest into four was scary. Fans loved it, for a Briton to do well in their own big tennis event at home does not happen regularly.

It is this excitement, when Djokovic looked in trouble, some fans do get delusional, hoping the Serbian loses his cool and the match. Not easy, as despite that grey knee brace on his operated knee still not in sync with Wimbledon’s all-white dress code, he prepared to churn out typical stuff only he can, under pressure.

There was nothing wrong with his fitness, he knows he has put in all effort to be ready. More than his own errors, what was bothering Djokovic were the stiff windy conditions. Come on, nature and Wimbledon, if elements do not come into play, it’s like asking fans at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to stop having Pimms and Champagne, or stop eating strawberry and cream.

Yes, the flavour for local fans was Fearnley, as he had raised hopes of an upset. In the end, Djokovic, wily and so experienced, showed in the fourth set he was not going to let any damage happen as he forced a win — against all odds. On this day, Djokovic did not find rhythm. And that’s a bit like a rock star lead player on stage unable to pluck the strings on the guitar as well as he does at practice sessions. Never mind, he still won.


“The match potentially deserved to go to a fifth set, but I’m very glad it didn’t. Conditions were challenging and it was not easy to find my tempo,” admitted Novak Djokovic later. The Serbian showed respect to Fearnley, clapped on Centre Court, as fans enjoyed this slugfest.

If Djokovic was able to win in four sets, Murray’s farewell romance with Wimbledon turned out to be teary as he and brother Jamie lost in doubles. This was bravado being attempted by Sir Andy after a back surgery. He had pulled out of singles and doubles was more wishful. Yes, he got to wave to fans and will get one more chance to do it as well. He has teamed up with Emma Raducanu in mixed doubles.

The Chinese flavour on view in the women’s section was very different. It is well-known, Chinese athletes try their luck in every sport. Li Na used to be their flag-bearer many years. Now, a certain Wang Xinyu, almost unheard of, till now, pulled off a shocker when she dumped fifth seed Jessica Pegula in a three-set thriller.

For Pegula, this was a hard match trying to read the different but consistent game which Wang had produced. In terms of tennis efforts, Chinese players opt more for consistency than anything flashy. But the key for Wang was to have that immense belief, even against a Top 10 player, she could match stroke for stroke. A three-set win was a massive upset which left Pegula devastated.

To unleash 38 winners, Wang was coming up with the big stuff even as Pegula stuttered and spluttered. The American was tense, and her 33 unforced errors was a manifestation of not being in control. But then, Wang was not going to lose the chance to go for the jugular as she forced a 6-4, 6-7 (7/9), 6-1 win in the second round.

The win against a Top 10 player cleared many doubts in the mind of the Chinese girl. “A couple of days ago I was asking my coach when will this happen,” Wang said. “Jessica was really tough to play on grass. Her ball was super low, and I’m just really happy I won in the end,” she said, all smiles. This is the beauty of Wimbledon, where the unknown and unsung player can also do something against predictions.