INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—Through one set, Novak Djokovic didn't seem all that bothered by having to start his fourth-round match against Sam Querrey after midnight, and nearly four hours after the two players had originally been scheduled to begin. Djokovic did what he’s been doing all season, no matter the time of day: Winning with ease. While he and Querrey played much the same way, rallying with pace, the Serb hit a little flatter, a little deeper, and a little cleaner. And he ran a lot faster. The result was Djokovic’s second bagel set in three matches.
But nothing has come that easy for Novak so far in Indian Wells, and the same held true on Thursday morning. As he had in his opener against Fabio Fognini, whom he also beat 6-0 in the first set, Djokovic couldn’t keep the slate clean in the second. Querrey, trying not to get run out of the building with embarrassing speed, played with more determination and abandon. He stood in farther and broke at 2-3 with a big crosscourt forehand that left Djokovic rolling on the asphalt. Soon Djokovic was jawing with his coaches, as Querrey held off a break point at 5-5 with an ace. The second set would be decided in a tiebreaker. All of the fans still left in the building—it was past 1:00 A.M. at this stage—gathered in the first few rows to see if this endless day of tennis could be prolonged a little more.
Djokovic began the breaker looking ready to pounce and go home. His returns were even sharper than normal, and he upped the speed on his ground strokes—suddenly Querrey looked slow again. But again Djokovic couldn’t sustain his best level for long. He missed three forehands wide in the breaker and sailed a backhand over the sideline to squander one match point. But on his third, Djokovic made no mistake—he moved Querrey back and forth patiently, before forcing a forehand error to clinch a 6-0, 7-6 (6) win. He’ll play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals.
Querrey finishes this tournament as America’s top player for the first time. But there was one point, and moment, that stood out to me as exemplifying the difference between the U.S. No. 1 and the world No. 1. With Djokovic up 5-4 in the tiebreaker, Querrey drilled a forehand down the line. He could have followed it in for a volley; Djokovic was on the full run. But Querrey hung back. A few shots later, Djokovic drilled a shot into the open court and put Querrey on the run. Djokovic, no great net man himself, nevertheless followed the ball forward and put away an easy forehand volley to reach match point. A different result there, a different man at net, and we might still be watching tennis here now.