Novak Djokovic inspired by England win as Wimbledon champion survives another scare | Tennis | Sport

Djokovic and Popyrin were set for another Grand Slam showdown after contesting a four-set thriller at the Australian Open earlier this year, after which Djokovic said his opponent “possessed great quality”. They took to Centre Court with the roof open for their third-round match on Saturday evening – a risky move given the unpredictable weather throughout the day.

The seven-time champion at SW19 struggled with the conditions early on as commentators speculated whether it was getting too dark for him to see. The 37-year-old was broken in the seventh game and it proved crucial as Popyrin took the opener 6-4 just before more rain started to fall.

There was a brief break as the roof was closed and it was exactly what Djokovic needed. He came back ready and refreshed, landing more first serves in the box and more than doubling his winner count in the second set.

And he was spurred on by England’s win against Switzerland when play was briefly interrupted with Popyrin serving at 1-4. The stands rang out with cheers when the fans, who had been keeping up with the football, when the fans learned that Trent Alexander-Arnold scored the winning penalty just as the world No. 47 was ready to serve.

Djokovic responded by pretending to score a penalty and launching his leg into the air. Popyrin caught on immediately, diving with his arms in the air as though he was the goalkeeper. And the 24-year-old’s imaginary save inspired him to save a break point to keep his deficit to just one break.

But Djokovic maintained his advantage to even the score and he kept rolling, breaking immediately to start the third set. His level continued to rise – he didn’t drop a point on his first serve in the third set and only hit two unforced errors. He clinched it with a second-serve ace as Popyrin could only shake his head in disbelief.

It was the Aussie who lifted his game in set four, following Djokovic by winning more points on serve and cutting down on his mistakes. Popyrin roared as he dug himself out of a hole, saving a triple break point to guarantee at least a tiebreak. As he always does, the world No. 2 went into another gear in the breaker and he sealed victory after three hours and five minutes.

Djokovic will now face 15th seed Holger Rune, who came back from two sets down for the first time in his career to beat Quentin Halys in the third round. The Serb has a 3-2 record against the 21-year-old. After the match, the 37-year-old said: “Well it was another tough match. I didn’t expect anything less than what we experienced on the court today from Alexei.

“I knew he was going to come to the match with confidence, with a lot of self-belief. He was close to winning that match we played against each other in Australia earlier this year. With that serve and powerful forehand he’s a danger on any surface.”

And he finally found out the football score after taking his own mock penalty mid-match. “I assumed that it was a penalty shootout between England and Switzerland so I mean, it felt like for a set and a half the crowd really wanted to understand what the score is in the football match. Did England win in the end? That’s why you guys stayed! Yeah congrats. Congrats to England. I tried to shoot a penalty, I’m left-footed but Alexei defended it well,” Djokovic joked.

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