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Novak Djokovic Blows Away Andrey Rublev To Extend Epic Centre Court Run

When Novak Djokovic stepped on to Centre Court on Tuesday afternoon, he had not lost on its grass in just over 10 years; 42 consecutive matches, 3,655 days. That’s 13 consecutive pregnancies. It’s the average life span of a goat. It’s almost as long as Rafa Nadal takes between points. It’s frankly, absurd, and one of the greatest achievements in sport.

Well, make that 3,656 days. Because, by the time the seven-time Wimbledon winner was returning the crowd’s applause and shaking the umpire’s hand, his record stood intact. He beat the No 7 seed, Andrey Rublev, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 in an extremely high-quality match of multiple extended rallies and showmanship.

Rublev, a powerful player with a huge first serve and dangerous forehand, has exploded into form in the past few months, winning his maiden Masters 1000 title in an emotional Monte Carlo final in April. But he has always found Djokovic a tricky competitor. Of course, everyone finds Djokovic a tricky competitor. But in the four times the two have played, Djokovic has won three times in straight sets. Rublev did, however, beat an out-of-sorts Djokovic on the latter’s home turf (or home clay) in Belgrade.

This quarter-final was a competitive bout. The two remained on serve until the first real moment of jeopardy came in the sixth game; Djokovic earning two break points off a back-behind forehand. He showed his frustration when Rublev saved both, and then another with a 96mph forehand. A lengthy rally full of zipping groundstrokes which whistled over the net, bullet-fast backhands and rapid forecourt reflexes wowed the crowd and drew oohs.

At 4-4 it was Djokovic’s turn to be in trouble, as a smacked return from Rublev brought his own chance to break. He took it, to lead 5-4, with a sumptuous whipped forehand into the ad court. The Russian, who with his sharp features and loosely tied head scarf has the look of Willem Dafoe – if Willem Dafoe played Rambo – pumped his fist. There was a brief jitter, at 30-30, as he served for it, but he wrapped up at 6-4 when Djokovic hit the ball into the net. The latter stared at the grass accusingly, although the bounce was fine.

Despite making a fast start, Andrey Rublev could not maintain his momentum. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The GuardianThen the match turned on its head, as it so often does when Djokovic is behind. Both players had multiple break points in the early stages, but only the 23-time grand slam title winner took his, to lead 3-0. That old foe of Rublev’s, the double fault, had reared its head. Before the start of the tournament he had 93 for the year, and he added two more to gift Djokovic the advantage.

An exquisite forehand passing shot into the deuce court brought up an almost immediate break-back point, but Rublev couldn’t capitalise, and soon he exchanged his dialled‑in play with unforced errors. That other achilles heel of his: slumps in concentration. Djokovic took the second set with a second break and a minimum of fuss, 6-1.

He continued doing Djokovic things as he saved double break point in his first service game of the third, and one felt the missed opportunity was a crucial blow for Rublev’s frame of mind. But at least the Russian was back to hitting dynamite groundstrokes. The problem was Djokovic’s gentle volleys, and Djokovic’s sliding court coverage, and, well, Djokovic in general. Midway through the set a lob from Rublev’s racket sailed long and he lost serve once more for the match to take an ominous turn.

The crowd did their best to buoy the Russian – the player has won plaudits for his anti-war stance and a thrilling performance in his previous match, including possibly the best shot of the tournament (a diving effort on the run) gained him new fans.

Just as it seemed Djokovic would serve out the third set with ease, Rublev found the reserves to bring up multiple break points, the pick of the bunch an incredible passing shot. He brought the crowd to its feet with a wave of the hand. But it wasn’t to be, and Djokovic held his nerve.

As the wind picked up, and with Djokovic two sets to one up, it felt the match could quickly blow away. It did, with Djokovic breaking early and then again, to finish in just shy of three hours.

In his semi-final on Friday, Djokovic will face the 21-year-old Jannik Sinner, who took the opening two sets in their quarter-final last year before the Italian fell victim to Djokovic’s legendary tenacity. Sinner, who earned his ticket into the last four after beating Roman Safiullin in four sets, has looked hungry. But Djokovic will be ready, waiting. Those steely green eyes are laser-focused on a new target: 3,657 days, and beyond.

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