Djokovic survives scare as Stepanek wows Wimbledon
Novak Djokovic survived a Wimbledon scare as he overcame an inspired Radek Stepanek 6-4 6-3 6-7(5) 7-5(5) to book his place in the third round.
Djokovic followed Grigor Dimitrov on Centre Court and quickly got into his stride, causing his opponent several early problems with his court movement. Stepanek, though, did not roll over and produced plenty of quality to keep the top seed on his toes.
The break eventually came late in the first set when, despite stubborn defence from Stepanek, Djokovic found the extra gear which separates great players from champions.
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The second set proved a slightly easier task for Djokovic, who ground out opportunities while his opponent struggled with his serve. A double-break moved the Serb 5-2 ahead and an elegant drop shot for the set seemed to put the match beyond any reasonable doubt.
However, Stepanek refused to yield and proved incredibly difficult to break in the third set. Djokovic had to settle for a tie-break and looked set to earn his place in round three when establishing a 5-2 lead.
Stepanek, though, was far from finished. Djokovic slipped twice as his opponent won five points on the spin to earn a fourth set in front of the cheering crowd.
His tenacity persevered and Djokovic found himself supremely tested by the world No.38 in set four. Stepanek continued to rouse the boisterous crowd with a feast of on-court dramatics - feisty challenges and flat-out cross-court dives to name but a few - but his tennis was doing most of the talking.
Djokovic thanks mental strength
- Novak Djokovic admitted he was "glad" to come through his epic second round encounter with Radek Stepanek on day three at Wimbledon.
- Speaking to the BBC, the top seed said it was "annoying" he had come to Wimbledon without partaking in a warm-up tournament.
- "As soon as we come out on the court we want to win against each other. We are good friends and practised together only a week ago. I should have closed out in the third set tie-break but credit to him. Grass is probably his most preferred surface and he loves to engage the crowd.
- "On the one hand it was fun to be part of but on the other I should not have complicated my life. It was annoying I came to Wimbledon without any official match. My first match here was just over hour, so I was quite focused ahead of this.
- "I was aware of his quality on grass and, as he showed, he doesn't give up. He was reading my passing shot very well. Overall, it was a difficult one and I'm glad I stayed in there mentally."
Whatever Djokovic rallied, Stepanek found an answer with his serve. Soon, the fourth was locked at five games apiece. Stepanek challenged the umpire's call on an apparently long forehand and, showing superb sportsmanship, Djokovic conceded the point.
That put the 11th game back to deuce, but Djokovic held firm on his serve as Stepanek found the net with his return. However, the Czech responded to force the match into a second tie-breaker.
It was another tie-break where, with help from the net tape, Djokovic found himself in command with a 5-2 lead. However, the crowd roared again as Stepanek won another point against the serve before Djokovic netted the succeeding return.
In a carbon copy of the previous set, Djokovic had surrendered his three-point lead and that meant the scores were again locked at 5-5. Djokovic carved out his first match point and, after sending a backhand return across court, held his hands high to celebrate victory.
However, it was called out and Djokovic this time challenged the umpire's call. Stepanek sunk to his knees, praying the ball had landed between the tramlines, but the ball had kissed the chalk.
Djokovic was through and the pair embraced at the net, leaving to a standing ovation from their adoring audience.
Meanwhile, 14th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will have to wait until Thursday for a conclusion to his second round match with Sam Querrey.
The pair remain locked at nine games all in a decisive fifth set after play on court No.2 was suspended late on Wednesday due to bad light.
It means that Tsonga, a crowd favourite at Wimbledon, will have played every day at this year's event thus far. His first round match on Monday was suspended due to rain and had to be completed on day two.