Wimbledon 2016: Weather, and Sam Querrey, rain on Novak Djokovic’s parade
Top seed Novak Djokovic is out of Wimbledon after a surprise four-set defeat by American Sam Querrey
The weather continued to try to be the star of the show at this 130th playing of the Wimbledon championships, just as it had done at Roland Garros, at Halle, at Queen’s, and at almost every other tournament through June and into July.
Day after day, matches have been moved, suspended, and eventually cancelled before they have even begun. Refunds were handed out to ticket holders, and by Friday, with more rain showers all across the grounds, it became clear that play would be scheduled for the sacrosanct “Middle Sunday” for only the fourth time in the tournament’s history.
But it has not just been the ticket-paying public that has suffered. Practices were abandoned along with countless matches, and the schedule slipped to an alarming degree.
Centre Court, of course, had played out with relatively little hassle: Roger Federer, courtesy of playing two Britons in a row benefitted from the roof through the many showers. By Friday night, he was safely into the fourth round with days to spare. Meanwhile four second-round matches were still under way come Saturday.
For one man, though, the schedule had thrown the tournament and ticket-holders into disarray.
Top seed and defending champion, Novak Djokovic, opened his campaign at the allotted 1pm on first Monday, as tradition dictates. He advanced, relatively seamlessly, past James Ward and then Adrian Mannarino. But he drew Court 1 for his third-round match against Sam Querrey, a 6ft 6in American ranked 41 but a former No17, and their heavily-delayed Friday match was one of those postponed by rain.
Even so, jaws hit the floor when Djokovic lost the first two sets to Querrey, 7-6, 6-1. For while the American has proven his credentials on grass—a Queen’s title in 2010 for one—the form and records of his illustrious opponent apparently gave him little chance.
Djokovic had won three Wimbledon titles in the last five years, and was now going for his third in a row. And as well as holding all four Majors at the same time, he now had the Calendar Grand Slam.
Already this year he had six titles and a 46-3 record, was 54-8 at Wimbledon and this would be his 70th win on grass—if he could pull the match out of the fire. He had done just that last year when faced with a similar problem against Kevin Anderson, coming back to take the win, 6-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 over two days.
Sure enough, when they returned, Djokovic raced to 4-0 over a stiff-looking Querrey. But then the heavens opened and they raced from the court. On their return, Djokovic served for 5-0, but Querrey held to love, broke, and held again. This time, though, Djokovic served out the set, 6-3.
The fourth set would become a trial of endurance, patience and concentration for both men. Twice more they came off for rain as first one and then the other faced and resisted break points: Querrey in his first three service games, Djokovic in the fourth and sixth games. The top seed held for 3-3 with a remarkable diving touch drop shot, and implored the crowd for their support.
But Wimbledon loves an underdog, so when Querrey came back from a break in the ninth game to level again at 5-5, they roared support, and he just fitted in another hold as the rain returned. Djokovic would have to come back and serve to save the match.
An hour later, he did his bit, held to love, and took it to a tie-break—and then got the valuable opening point against serve. But they changed ends at 3-3 and Querrey edged a 6-4 lead when Djokovic but a forehand wide.
The American served for the biggest win of his life, and as another Djokovic forehand missed the mark, it was 7-6(5), and Querrey leaped with joy as Court 1 erupted. Seconds later, a roar rose from Centre Court, too, where Andy Murray was playing. Yes, the Djokovic loss was significant in all kinds of ways.
So the dream of a Calendar Slam and a Golden Slam in this Olympic year drained away with the British weather, and Djokovic cut a subdued figure minutes later.
First he complimented Querrey, before adding of his own achievements of the last 12 months: “I believe in positive things in life. I managed to win four Grand Slams in a row—two different seasons, though. I want to try to focus on that rather than on failure.”
Of the weather, he said simply “it’s the same for both of us,” and would not elaborate on his physical condition, simply concluding: “I’m not happy to lose a match, that’s for sure. But I’m going to move on from this hopefully as a stronger player.”
Querrey’s next opponent is arguably one of the best doubles players in the world, but Nicolas Mahut is a decent grass player, too, though unseeded here.
Another unexpected name, Steve Johnson, also came through this half against Grigor Dimitrov, as did No5 seed Kei Nishikori and No9 seed Marin Cilic. But few would ever have expected the name of Querrey to fill the top line of the draw come Wimbledon’s second week.