Tennis: 'Ninja' Djokovic eyes eighth Wimbledon title and 24th Slam crown

AFP , Saturday 1 Jul 2023

Novak Djokovic has Roger Federer's record of eight Wimbledon titles and a 24th major in his sights as he closes in on a first calendar Grand Slam in 54 years.

Serbia s Novak Djokovic returns to Frances Tiafoe of the US on day three of the Tennis Classic tennis tournament at The Hurlingham Club, London, Thursday, June 29, 2023. AP


Fresh from breaking out of a tie with Rafael Nadal for 23 Slams at the French Open, the 36-year-old Djokovic will comfortably be the overwhelming favourite at the All England Club when he starts his title defence on Monday.

With a 10th Australian Open and third Roland Garros already wrapped up this season, an eighth Wimbledon triumph would leave Djokovic needing just the US Open in September to emulate Rod Laver's sweep of all four majors in 1969.

"He takes your legs, then he takes your soul, then he digs your grave and you have a funeral and you're dead. Bye-bye. Thank you for coming," said coach Goran Ivanisevic when asked to caption the Serb's Grand Slam mindset.

Djokovic has won the title on his last four visits to Wimbledon and has not lost on Centre Court since the 2013 final.

His 86 match wins are only bettered by the now retired Federer and are more than the rest of the current top 20 put together.

Of those players, only two -- Cameron Norrie and Hubert Hurkacz -- have made the semi-finals of Wimbledon.

Amongst his top five rivals, not one has got beyond the last 16 while two-time champion Nadal is sitting out the rest of the year through injury.

A 24th major for Djokovic would take him level with Margaret Court for the most Grand Slam titles won by one player.

World number one Carlos Alcaraz will be Djokovic's biggest threat, especially as the young Spaniard now has a maiden grass-court title in his collection thanks to his win at Queen's last weekend.

However, Alcaraz conceded key ground by admitting that the stress and tension of facing Djokovic in the semi-final at the French Open caused the cramping that sparked his defeat.

'Like a Ninja'

Ivanisevic described Djokovic as "unbelievable".

"He's still moving like a cat on the court. He's there. Like a Ninja, he's everywhere. He's going to find some kind of motivation to win 24, maybe 25, who knows where is the end."

Not surprisingly, Alcaraz has attempted to shift all the focus onto Djokovic.

"I saw that Djokovic has never lost a match on Centre Court since 2013 when he lost against Andy Murray -- so it's 10 years, it's crazy," said Alcaraz who made the last 16 in 2022 before falling to Jannik Sinner.

"But I hope to have the crowd behind me to change that stat."

Moscow-born Elena Rybakina was the shock women's champion in 2022.

Her decision to switch allegiance to Kazakhstan in 2018 proved to be a wise move when all Russian players were banned last year.

However, her chances of successfully defending her title have suffered a setback by her failure to shake off a virus which forced an early withdrawal from the French Open.

World number one and four-time major winner Iga Swiatek, who is looking for a maiden Wimbledon title to add to her US and French Open crowns, has yet to progress beyond the last 16.

The 22-year-old Pole made the semi-finals of a grass-court tournament for the first time this week at Bad Homburg in Germany before suspected food poisoning forced her to withdraw.

"I need to take care of myself. I hope I'll be fine soon," she said.

World number two Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, banned last year because of her country's support for Russia in the war in Ukraine, made the semi-finals in 2021.

Sixth-ranked Ons Jabeur was runner-up 12 months ago and was a grass-court champion in Birmingham in 2021.

Sentimental votes for a potential women's champion will be cast for 43-year-old five-time winner Venus Williams as well as 2011 and 2014 champion Petra Kvitova, the only player in the top 10 over 30.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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