Djokovic cruises on as old stagers show Next Gen the way

Tuesday, 2019-07-09 07:04:52
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Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action during his fourth round match against France's Ugo Humbert - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - July 8, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)
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Novak Djokovic remained firmly in cruise control on Monday to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals as he swatted aside France’s Ugo Humbert, the latest of tennis’s up-and-comers to show promise but ultimately fall short.

Djokovic, capable of jaw-dropping feats of agility when pushed to the brink, has barely stretched a sinew in reaching the last eight and the 21-year-old Humbert proved incapable of applying any real pressure in a 6-3 6-2 6-3 defeat.

The Frenchman had let it be known after his third-round victory over the much-heralded Felix Auger-Aliassime that he too was part of tennis’s “next generation”, yet in the current climate that appears far from a badge of honour.

It is said that youth is wasted on the young and tennis fans surveying the current crop emerging in the men’s game might be inclined to agree.

With the early Wimbledon exits of the game’s brightest starlets - Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov - the hunt for a worthy successor to Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer seems as futile as ever.

The trio, who make up tennis’s immovable oligarchy having won the last 10 Grand Slams and 53 between them, have dropped three sets in total in the opening four rounds and Djokovic is at a loss to explain why the younger generation cannot get a look in.

This is the first Wimbledon in the professional era when players aged 30 or over outnumbered 20-somethings and teenagers in the men’s round of 16.

The nine elder statesmen who reached this stage also equaled the record for the most men in their 30s to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

Significantly, that record was set at this year’s French Open when once again tennis’s old stagers remained stubbornly awkward to beat.

The top three, said Djokovic, have taken their rivalry to such a level that winning had become a lifestyle choice involving extraordinary levels of dedication.

Humbert was not among the most feted of the rising stars and was ranked only 66 in the world but, after dashing the hopes of Auger-Aliassime, he became the youngest player left in the men’s draw and a symbol of the future.

Humbert and the 23-year-old Matteo Berrettini, who also exited in the last 16, were the only players remaining in the draw under the age of 27, another statistic that paints as bleak a picture of the future of men’s tennis as Humbert’s performance on Court One.

Djokovic flashed a brilliant backhand return to break in the fourth game of the first set, which he took in 32 minutes, and broke again in the third and seventh games of the second set.

An opponent needs to be technically as solid as stone to trouble Djokovic but Humbert was occasionally ragged, gifting points to the world number one, who accepted them gleefully.

Djokovic, chasing a fifth Wimbledon title, broke serve twice more in the third set, sealing victory when Humbert netted a forehand to set up a last-eight clash with Belgium’s David Goffin, who overcame 35-year-old Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 7-6(9) 2-6 6-3 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

Switzerland's Roger Federer in action during his fourth round match against Italy's Matteo Berrettini - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - July 8, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)

Roger Federer's warmup was probably more taxing than his fourth-round match as he raced into a record-extending 17th quarter-final with a ruthless dismissal of exciting young Italian Matteo Berrettini.

On paper it looked like being Federer's first serious test of the tournament against the powerful 17th seed with form on grass, but it proved no-contest as the Swiss won 6-1 6-2 6-2 in one hour 14 minutes.

While an over-anxious Berrettini thrashed around with little effect, Federer, approaching his 38th birthday, glided across the turf in his usual silky fashion as another of the game's so-called next generation was swatted aside.

Rafael Nadal had plenty to grumble about during the first week of Wimbledon.

The Spaniard was irritated at being seeded third at the grasscourt major despite his status as world number two and was left exasperated when the draw put him on a second-round collision course with Australian hot-head Nick Kyrgios - a player who thrives on rubbing Nadal up the wrong way.

Those setbacks have well and truly fired him up and it was poor Joao Sousa who felt the full force of Nadal’s fury on Monday during a 6-2 6-2 6-2 demolition job in the fourth round.

Tougher tests will surely come for the twice champion, who may have to beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic if he wants to complete a Roland Garros-Wimbledon double for the third time in his career, but for now he was happy to show the kind of ruthless streak that Boris Becker hailed as “vintage Nadal on grass”.

In the women’s side, Coco Gauff's dream Wimbledon run came to an abrupt end on Monday when the consistency of seventh seed and former world number one Simona Halep proved a step too far for the 15-year-old American, who went down 6-3 6-3 in only 75 minutes.

After stunning Venus Williams then saving two match points en route to beating Polona Hercog last week, Gauff was suddenly the hottest ticket in town but she was always going to find it tough against Halep, last year's French Open champion and the first top-10 opponent she had ever faced.

Bidding to become the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since fellow-15-year-old Jennifer Capriati in 1991, Gauff was by no means overawed, keeping the crowd entertained with some crashing backhands and athletic recoveries, but there were also far too many simple errors that the American was never going to get away with at this stage of the tournament.

Serena Williams reached her 14th Wimbledon quarter-final by overwhelming Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2 6-2 even though she was not at her magnificent best on Court One on Monday.

The 37-year-old American, aiming for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, produced 19 unforced errors, including a bizarre mistake when she leaned over the net to hit a volley and had the point docked.

Earlier, Alison Riske of the United States created one of the biggest shocks of the tournament with her 3-6 6-2 6-3 victory over French Open champion Barty who was on the sort of run that made losing to a player of the American’s lowly 55th ranking appear almost impossible.

She lost the first set but dug in for a trench battle, out-slugging Barty to take the next two and set up a last-eight clash with seven-times champion Serena Williams.