Andy Murray said it best when he was asked to comment on Novak Djokovic’s third round exit at Wimbledon. The Scot said that a loss like this gives way to a proper celebration of everything Djokovic has managed to accomplish over the past 12 months – winning four-straight majors, 30 consecutive grand slam matches and breaking records that were seemingly untouchable.
It surely does give Djokovic a chance to take stock of everything he has done and can provide a spark for him to try and go on a similar run again.
Djokovic was doing everything in superhuman fashion and it made people forget that he is human. That he can have a sore shoulder one day or that he can get overpowered by an inspired, fearless opponent. The more dominant he got the less relatable he became, to both his rivals and the public.
He gained lots of respect and admiration for what he’s been achieving but he also distanced himself from the rest of the “tennis mortals” to an extent that he was becoming someone you cannot sympathise with. His matches became foregone conclusions, which is hardly ideal in sport.
Tennis fans typically tune in because they’re curious to see what happens. That element of unpredictability had virtually disappeared from Djokovic’s matches on the big stage.
A champion is often the most connected to his fans when he is at his most vulnerable state. Such moments of vulnerability had gotten so scarce when it comes to Djokovic. But his loss to Sam Querrey was a reminder that he too can have bad days and that something unexpected can actually happen when he is on the court.
What Djokovic has done in the past 12 months has undoubtedly had a tremendous impact on the sport but it also highlighted the need for fresh blood in tennis.
Stan Wawrinka snatching two slams in the past two and a half years was such a welcome and refreshing feat but at 31, the Swiss is hardly the answer to tennis’ future.
Djokovic’s Wimbledon shocker does not mean a young gun will suddenly emerge and win the title at the All England Club but it might inspire some belief in the minds’ of his rivals that could lead to some more surprises in the future.
Right now, it’s hard to look past Murray for the Wimbledon crown. His path in this second week could potentially look like this: Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/Richard Gasquet in the quarters, Bernard Tomic/Tomas Berdych in the semis and Roger Federer/Milos Raonic in the final. Certainly not a walk in the park but they are all players, barring Federer, he has had success against in the recent past.
Federer definitely has an opening but a possible semi-final with Raonic could be tough for him, especially because the Swiss hasn’t played much this year as he battled with knee and back injuries. He is also 1-3 against top-10 opposition in 2016.
Still, Federer is arguably the most well-rested player in the draw having had two days off between his third and fourth rounds.
Raonic is probably the biggest benefactor from Djokovic’s exit because he was drawn to potentially face the Serb in the quarter-finals. The Canadian is yet to drop a set this fortnight, is armed with massive self-belief, which is impossible to miss every time he speaks to the press, and has been tailoring his game more and more for success on grass.
His body failed him in the Australian Open semi-finals this year and he’ll need to make sure there is no repeat in the next few days.
Tomic has a genuine shot at making the quarters or semis, which is a huge step forward for the under-achieving Aussie. Still come Sunday, it’s highly likely Murray will be standing with the trophy on Centre Court.
Novak Djokovic’s exit at the hands of Sam Querrey has opened the door for many players, whose chances of winning the title just got higher in the Serbian’s absence, although not everyone is willing to admit it.
The winner of the last four consecutive majors and six of the last eight, Djokovic has been the man to beat at the grand slams – along with every other tournament – and not having him around will surely have an effect on the rest of the field’s psyche.
“I think for most of us it’s somebody different who’ll will win a grand slam, but that’s it,” said Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has lost to Djokovic five times in six meetings at the majors.
Andy Murray, who was defeated by Djokovic in their last five consecutive grand slam showdowns, doesn’t feel the 29-year-old’s exit has much bearing on his chances, at least for now.
“It doesn’t because if I was to reach the final, then it may have some bearing really, but it doesn’t right now. My draw’s still exactly the same. The matches, in the next round especially, are tough,” said the No2 seed, who faces Nick Kyrios in the last 16.
No7 seed Richard Gasquet follows a similar logic. The Frenchman is in Murray’s section, in the bottom half of the draw and is keeping his eyes firmly set on the immediate task in hand.
“I think it’s a big surprise that he lost, of course. I think he was a bit tired after Paris mentally. I think it was tough for him,” said Gasquet.
“But for me, the door is not so open because I have Murray on my side. Jo Tsonga is there. Many players are on my side. But for sure for further up, I think for Querrey, maybe for (Milos) Raonic, guys like (David) Goffin, they can go to semis. So of course it’s another draw that’s hard, but for me it doesn’t change.”
No6 seed Raonic was slated to potentially face Djokovic in the quarter-finals and is definitely one of the real favourites in the top half of the draw, that also includes seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer.
Asked what his reaction was to Djokovic’s defeat, the Canadian said: “Nothing really changed. It was obviously a surprise. You know where you stand with that, so you push a little harder.”
Kyrgios, seeded 15 at Wimbledon and eyeing a big upset over Murray, was more forthcoming in his views on the impact of having no Djokovic in the draw anymore.
“I think as soon as Novak loses, you look at Andy and you look at Federer’s eyes light up. They think that their chances probably doubled,” said the 21-year-old Aussie.
“I think a lot of people in the locker room now believe they can win it. If the stars align and they’re playing well, there’s a lot of people that can go get it.”
He includes himself in that list.
Querrey, who faces Nicolas Mahut in the last 16, is not getting too carried away with regards to his enormous feat.
The No28 seed calls his victory over Djokovic “not career‑defining, but it’s really exciting. It’s something that I’ll always get to have, which is great”.
Querrey added: “I think it gives guys belief. I’m not the first guy to beat those guys. Half the locker room has a win over the four of them at some point.
“I think on a short‑term basis, for Stevie (Johnson) going out against Roger (Federer) on Monday, yeah, I think maybe it can help give him a little belief that, hey, if Sam did it, maybe I can go out there and do it.”
Feliciano Lopez, who lost to Kyrgios, believes Murray now has the biggest chance of capturing the title.
“The person with a real opportunity is Andy, to win another grand slam,” said the Spaniard. “Federer has one too but he has barely competed this year, he’s played like two or three tournaments. Obviously with all his history and the career he has and the number of Wimbledons he has won, you can think he will win another grand slam but since the Australian Open he practically hasn’t competed.
“So that’s why I believe Andy has a real opportunity.”
There are a few players who have been just absolute gold in press conferences this past week at Wimbledon, including Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova and Australia’s Nick Kyrgios.
Kuznetsova has not been in the second week at Wimbledon since 2008 and her reaction when I reminded her of that was: “This is because of rain, right?” she said with a self-deprecating laugh.
“It’s great. It’s great. I have difficult friendship with the grass. This year and every year I try to convince myself that I can do well.”
The two-time grand slam champion has been on tour since the year 2000 but finds it funny when she is referred to as a “veteran”.
“Serena is a great example for everybody who is in this, who are over 30, I’d say, in the fourth generation of our 10th year,” said the 31-year-old.
“Actually, great. She’s No.1 dominating, because before, if you’re like 30, I heard some times in the interview, you’re veteran. I’m like veteran? I’m 30.”
Kuznetsova shared a hearty hug with Sloane Stephens after beating the American in the third round and was asked about that moment in press.
“Quality was good?” she teased the reporter who asked about the hug.
“I got all respect for her. I think she does the same for me… Great, great sportsmanship. I think it’s a great example for the next generation, you don’t have to have hate for each other. It’s all about peace, not war.
“We have to show it, because sometimes they mix sport with politics. It’s very important that we show for next generations that, you know, it’s out of that. Give good example.”
So is she implying that a hug between a Russian and an American like herself and Stephens is important in light of the current political situation in the world?
“That has nothing to do with our countries. This is the thing. Here we are united. Doesn’t matter what country you are. We have difficult relationship with Ukraine now, Russia, but we have nothing to do with that. We are doing sports, we are out of politics,” said Kuznetsova.
Meanwhile, Kyrgios has been particularly great in press this past week, responding to tricky questions with humour rather than reverting to his typical defensive mode. He has left a positive impression on the media and has come up with some brilliant one-liners.
Two reporters asked him the same question, just a couple of minutes apart in the press conference on Sunday.
“Are you guys friends?” he responded with a smile. “Exact same question.”
While heaping praise on the game of Andy Murray, his next opponent, he said: “I don’t move anywhere near as well. I don’t know if he’s got the tweener like I do though.”
Here’s hoping this fun Kyrgios continues to show up to the press conference room.