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TENNIS FROM QUEENS | FEVER-TREE • NOVAK DJOKOVIC DRILLS DIMITROV FOR 799th CAREER WIN ON ATP WORLD TOUR

Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after beating Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov in their Round of sixteen match at the Fever Tree Championship at Queen’s Club in London, Britain, 21 June 2018. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL

 

 

By Richard Pagliaro

 

LONDON—Thousands of revelers danced around Stonehenge celebrating the summer solstice this morning.

 

On the longest day of the year, Novak Djokovic quickly closed the curtain on Grigor Dimitrov.

 

A ruthless Djokovic broke serve three times dispensing a 6-4, 6-1, thrashing roaring into his third consecutive quarterfinal at the Fever-Tree Championships

 

Defusing Dimitrov with sharp shots from the baseline, Djokovic needed just 65 minutes to beat the former world No. 3 for the seventh time in eight matches.

 

“It was important match for me today for various reasons,” Djokovic told the media afterward. “Obviously I didn’t win too many big matches in the last 12 months. You know, I’m still kind of finding my form. This was a great test playing against one of the top players of the world, a player that I guess prefers this surface the most.

 

“It was just a great challenge that I was looking forward to. I was very focused. I was very determined to play my best, especially after a great performance in the first round and managed to deliver.”

 

It was Djokovic’s 799th career victory moving him one win from a milestone.

 

The former world No. 1 can become the eighth man in the Open Era to reach the 800 career victory mark when he faces a Frenchman—either 26th-ranked lefty Adrian Mannarino or qualifier Julien Benneteau—in tomorrow’s quarterfinals. Djokovic has dropped only eight games in two tournament wins.

 

“These two matches have been exactly what I needed and what I was looking for, what I was hoping for,” Djokovic said. “But as I said, I don’t want to get too much ahead of myself. I’m enjoying the grass. I’m enjoying this tournament. This was a big win for me today, but I have to keep on going.”

 

In the aftermath of his three-set opening-round win over Damir Dzumhur, Dimitrov candidly said the 22nd-ranked Serbian isn’t the same player he once was since undergoing right elbow surgery in February.

 

“Of course it’s not easy when you come off of surgery or any type of injury,” Dimitrov said. “And you can see his level has dropped a little bit, yes. Everybody can see this. It’s no secret.”

 

It was hardly a revelation or an incendiary comment—the pair are good friends and sometime practice partners—but Djokovic is well aware his former aura of invincibility has been stripped and opponents now see the 12-time Grand Slam champion as an opportunity opponent rather than an oppressive one.

 

It’s been two years since Djokovic tamed a stubborn surface and tenacious Andy Murray to capture his first Roland Garros title and complete the career Grand Slam. Djokovic joined the giants of the game capturing his fourth consecutive Grand Slam crown at the 2016 French Open joining Don Budge and Rod Laver as only the third man in history to hold all four major championships simultaneously—47 years after Laver completed the feat.

 

Contesting Queen’s Club for the first time since 2010, Djokovic knew he needed a statement win and delivered today.

 

The wild card won 10 of 26 points played on Dimitrov’s first serve and spooked the 2014 champion into coughing up five double faults, including a floating double to end the 34-minute opening set.

 

“Look, you know, everybody sees my game or any other player’s game different,” Djokovic said when informed of Dimitrov’s comments. “We all see it from different perspectives, and I feel that in the last three tournaments basically my level of my tennis has improved and I start to feel comfortable with my game, in general, and I can actually finally focus on my game, which I wasn’t doing 100 percent because I had to, you know, more or less every time I stepped on the court, think about the elbow or other things that might occur.”

 

During his undefeated streak to the Nitto ATP Finals championship at London’s O2 Arena last fall, Dimitrov varied his serve to set up his first forehand strike. That aggression helped spike his ranking to a career-best No. 3, but Dimitrov hasn’t served with the same confidence or exhibited similar clarity in recent weeks.

 

Since surging to the Monte-Carlo semifinals in April, the Bulgarian has sputtered to a 5-5 record. Dimitrov’s slice backhand lacked some bite today, he struggled to put productive points together in the second set and couldn’t cope with Djokovic’s first serve.

 

Djokovic served 65 percent, won 30 of 34 first-serve points and permitted only eight points on second serve.

 

The only true test Djokovic confronted in the second set came when he faced his only break point serving for the match.

 

Djokovic denied it then converted his fourth match point defeating Dimitrov for the fifth straight time.

 

It was one of Djokovic’s most complete matches in recent weeks.

 

But given the fact he’s suffered losses to No. 109 Taro Daniel (Indian Wells), No. 140 Martin Klizan (Barcelona) and 72nd-ranked Italian Marco Cecchinato (Roland Garros) in recent months, the former No. 1 is intent on avoiding complacency and putting positive matches together.

 

“I haven’t had that consistency in my game and obviously mentally trying to put things together in the last three, four months,” Djokovic said. “So far, I mean, I’m pleased with the way I have been training here. I have been playing my matches. I’ll treat the next match as I treated the one today and like I’m playing against, you know, a top player of the world…

 

“It’s just very important for me to keep building on this high level of tennis and confidence.”

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