Wimbledon: Djokovic d. Stepanek
A day after Lukas Rosol’s sensational performance, another Czech briefly threatened another upset of a top seed under the roof on Centre Court. But defending champion Novak Djokovic quickly steadied the ship and ended the match on cruise control, defeating Radek Stepanek, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.
The evergreen Stepanek, who at 33 was the oldest man left in the singles draw, is a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist and a colorful character, but his shoes were too distracting for the tournament’s predominantly-white dress code. The start of the match was delayed slightly as he was asked by the umpire to change them.
Now shod in more subdued footwear, the challenge faced by Stepanek was made immediately clear, as Djokovic passed him easily with backhands as the Czech attempted to serve and volley twice in the first three points. Stepanek faced a break point in each of his first three service games, then two as he served at 4-4, but each time he produced his most aggressive serving and effective volleys to protect his serve.
Djokovic’s best chance came at 4-4, 30-40 when, having successfully tempted his opponent into a baseline exchange after a second serve, Stepanek’s backhand was incorrectly called long, but the call was quickly overruled and the point replayed. Stepanek proceeded with a first serve and went on to hold. Whether that slightly rattled Djokovic’s concentration or not, he was quickly in trouble on serve, down 0-30. A poor slice into the net gave Stepanek three set points, and he took the first as Djokovic popped a backhand volley wide.
For a brief moment there, Stepanek actually had more winners from the baseline than Djokovic, but order was quickly restored as Nole nailed two backhand swipes to break and lead 1-0. A drive volley wide at 3-2 held out the possibility of a break back, but Djokovic snuffed that out with an ace up the T, broke again, and served out a set in which he had picked up his first serve percentage to 68 percent (from 56 percent) and hit 17 winners.
From there it was all Djokovic, the Serb continuing to raise his level and punish anything less than perfect approaches with passing shots. Stepanek’s last moment of glory, perhaps his last ever on Centre Court, came when he held for 1-4 in the fourth set after a 10-deuce game. The encouraging applause elicited a goofy smile, but the match ended as it had begun, with Djokovic hitting a clean backhand winner as the Stepanek charged in to the net. It was a calm and confident performance by the world No. 1, refusing to panic when his opponent gave him plenty to be rattled by, and it will stand him in good stead for his Monday fourth-round meeting with Viktor Troicki.