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Wimbledon: Novak Djokovic made to summon true grit

By Eleanor Crooks

Top seed and title favourite Novak Djokovic had to dig deep into his reserves to fend off a determined Radek Stepanek and reach the third round at Wimbledon. A win against Andy Murray and run to the semi-finals at the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club marked Stepanek down as a player in form on grass, and he tested Djokovic close to the limit.

Eventually the Serbian found a way to beat perhaps the most dangerous of the unseeded players in the draw, coming through 6-4 6-3 6-7 (7-5) 7-6 (7-5) on Centre Court.

Stepanek slipped twice in the fourth-set tie-break to give up the early advantage, which he clawed back but then handed straight back to Djokovic.

At 5-2 it looked all over, but Stepanek had trailed by the same margin in the third-set tie-break and remarkably, taking successive points off his opponent's serve, he got back on level terms again.

Yet a volley into the net handed Djokovic a match point behind his own serve, and when the 2011 champion went across court with a forehand, Stepanek feared the worst as it landed.

The ball was called out by a line judge, but Djokovic challenged that verdict immediately.

Stepanek, engaging in the mild farce he peppered the match with, got down on his knees, hands clasped together, to offer a prayer.

But there was no salvation for the 35-year-old Czech, who reached the quarter-finals in 2006, as Hawk-Eye showed the shot had clipped the outside of the line for a clean winner.

The pair embraced warmly at the net and Stepanek's hope of an upset was gone.

Djokovic said: "I was two sets up and had some break-point chances in the third and I should have closed it out in the third set tie-breaker, but credit to him.

"He's 35-years-old but he's moving very well. Grass is probably his most preferred surface. He performs really well on the big stages as you saw.

"He loves to engage the crowd, he's an entertainer, and it was fun from one side to be part of a great thrilling match, but on the other side I should not have complicated my own life.

"It was annoying I came to Wimbledon without any official match practice and my first-round match went just over hour, so I didn't have a lot of match play.

"I was quite focused and tense before the match because I knew what was on the other side of the net. I knew his ability and his quality.

"It was a difficult one but I'm glad I stayed hanging in there mentally and managed to win."

Sergiy Stakhovsky was a headline maker again at Wimbledon as he upset Ernests Gulbis to reach the third round.

A crazy third day at the Championships last year ended with the most seismic result of all when Stakhovsky knocked out Roger Federer, ending the Swiss star's run of 26 consecutive grand slam quarter-finals.

This was not on the same scale, with 12th seed Gulbis happier on other surfaces while serve-and-volleyer Stakhovsky loves grass.

"Not even close," said the 28-year-old when asked to compare the results.

"Roger and Ernests on grass is like Rafa and me on clay."

But Stakhovksy was certainly impressive in a 6-4 6-3 7-6 (7-5) victory, thoroughly frustrating French Open semi-finalist Gulbis with his excellence at the net.

Next he meets Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, and Stakhovsky is determined to learn the lessons from last year when, having beaten Federer, he lost in the third round to Jurgen Melzer.

"I'll do everything in my power to play better next round," he said. "I believe I'm smarter. I learned from my mistakes from last year, what I did wrong, and hopefully it will be better."

Stakhovsky admitted he had got too caught up in his win over Federer, saying when asked what his mistakes were: "Like 355 press conferences.

"That was a huge problem and huge mistake I made. Today this is the only press I'm doing.

"It was just emotional emptiness. I spent so much energy on different interviews that I was empty when I went on the court."

Another seed bumped out was Russian Mikhail Youzhny, as qualifier Jimmy Wang earned a rousing 7-6 (7-1) 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 triumph against the quarter-finalist of two years ago.

Youzhny was seeded 17th but could not handle the world number 147 from Chinese Taipei.

Belfast Telegraph


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