Djokovic survives rookie test as Wimbledon craves Murray magic

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Britain’s Jacob Fearnley during their men’s singles tennis match on the fourth day of the 2024 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 4, 2024. AFP

Novak Djokovic came through a testing Wimbledon workout to stay on course for a record-equalling eighth men’s title on Thursday as Andy Murray prepared to launch his emotional farewell.

Jessica Pegula became the highest-ranked player to exit the tournament so far, dumped out by China’s Wang Xinyu in the second round.

Seven-time champion Djokovic did not have it all his own way against British wild card Jacob Fearnley but came through 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 in a second-round match lasting three hours.

It appeared to be business as usual for the Serbian as he coasted into a two-set lead on Centre Court but the 277th-ranked Fearnley broke his illustrious opponent twice in the third set to reduce the deficit.

Fearnley, playing in his first Grand Slam, carved out two break points in the sixth game of the fourth set but missed his chance and Djokovic broke in the 11th game before serving out for the win.

“I didn’t have a chance to see him play,” said Djokovic, 37. “Actually two days ago, I saw him for the first time

“Obviously there’s always an element of surprise and with him having nothing to lose.”

“Most of the British players grow up being exposed to grass courts, quick surfaces, so they know exactly how to play. It’s a very windy day, very challenging conditions and I thought he served very well.”

Djokovic, who is playing with protection after a recent knee operation, is seeking to equal Roger Federer’s record of eight Wimbledon men’s titles and is aiming for a record 25th Grand Slam title.

Pegula ousted

Fifth-ranked Pegula went down 6-4, 6-7 (7/9), 6-1 to China’s Wang Xinyu, who celebrated her first win against a top-10 player.

The American battled back after losing the first set, saving a match point in the second-set tie-break, before levelling the match.

But China’s 42nd-ranked Wang raced into a 5-0 lead in the decider.

Wang, 22, said: “Couple of days ago I was asking my coach, ‘When will this happen?’

“Jessica was really tough to play on grass. Her ball was super low and I’m just really happy I won in the end.”

Wang will face Britain’s Harriet Dart, who defeated Nottingham champion Katie Boulter, for a spot in the last 16.

Women’s world number one Iga Swiatek, who has never been beyond the quarter-finals at the All England Club, faces Croatia’s Petra Martic, searching for a 21st win on the bounce.

All eyes will be on Centre Court in the evening when Murray launches his Wimbledon farewell alongside his brother Jamie in the men’s doubles.

Murray, the champion in 2013 and 2016, was desperate for one last crack at the singles but ran out of time after recent surgery to remove a spinal cyst.

The British former world number one still has a chance to wave goodbye to his adoring fans in both the men’s doubles and mixed doubles as he treads the turf for a final time, 19 years after his Wimbledon debut.

“I’m hoping maybe for a bit of closure. I just want the opportunity to play one more time out there, hopefully on Centre Court, and feel that buzz,” the 37-year-old said before the tournament started.

Murray is a three-time Grand Slam singles champion but has form in the doubles — teaming up with Jamie to help Britain win the 2015 Davis Cup.

The Murrays will face Australian pair Rinky Hijikata and John Peers on Thursday, with the decibel count expected to soar.

Andy Murray is also scheduled to play mixed doubles with British compatriot and former US Open champion Emma Raducanu.

Two-time finalist Ons Jabeur beat US qualifier Robin Montgomery in straight sets while Elena Rybakina, the 2022 women’s champion, faces Germany’s Laura Siegemund.

On the men’s side, 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov came back from two sets down to beat China’s Shang Juncheng while Swiss veteran Stan Wawrinka exited at the hands of Gael Monfils.

French Open runner-up Alexander Zverev, the Wimbledon fourth seed, is last on the list on Court One.

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