3 July 2023; London, United Kingdom; Novak Djokovic (SRB) returns the ball during his match against Pedro Cachin (ARG) on day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
After Novak Djokovic’s straightforwardness victory in the third round over Stan Wawrinka 6-3 6-1 7-6(5), the Serbian can mark another field in the realm of the record books. Next week will be Djokovic’s 61st Grand Slam appearance in the second week, having lost just four times in the first week. Needless to say, Djokovic is the heavy favorite in week two, with his mental strength alarming any opponent in his path. If Novak Djokovic is on his A-game, he won’t lose to anyone except a potentially top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz. But if Djokovic doesn’t bring his best, who could realistically defeat him next week?
Who can realistically stop Novak Djokovic?
Given his phenomenal run in week one, Hubert Hurkacz is, in my opinion, the biggest threat to Novak Djokovic before the final. Hurkacz defeated Lorenzo Musetti in three simplified sets, hitting 16 aces and winning 80% of first-serve points. He also hit 47 winners in his second-round straight-set win over Choinski, silencing the home crowd. Hurkacz’s game revolves around big serves, solid drop shots and deep groundstrokes that can confuse opponents. The big serves can help him against Djokovic; Hurkacz fired third fastest serve of the tournament at 138 mph (currently).
Still, Hurkacz can often play inconsistent tennis and does not excel at break points. If Djokovic can force Hurkacz to foul, it should be over in four sets at most. However, a good start from Hurkacz can upset Djokovic. While Djokovic tends to counter his opponents’ top starts, at some point the Serb must break down after an incredible Grand Slam streak dating back to the 2022 French Open. Another positive for Hurkacz: he pushed Djokovic into a close four -set match on Wimbledon Championships 2019.
The quarter-final round could be less difficult than the fourth round, provided Djokovic advances against Hurkacz. Andrey Rublev brings out the best tennis in Djokovic, sadly for the Russian. This was evident in Djokovic’s demolition job of Rublev in the Australian Open quarters; Djokovic won 6-1 6-2 6-4. While Djokovic fell to Rublev on one occasion in 2021, his three wins against Rublev have been noticeably authoritative.
His other potential opponent could be the all-too-strange Alexander Bublik. After Bublik won at the ATP 500 event in Halle, he has broken infamous Halle curse and could advance to a first Grand Slam quarterfinal. The key to the Kazakh’s success is his unwavering focus on the field; he has not given up and tried his foolish and outrageous trick shots. That focus has led him through some quick three fights, evident in his last quick win over Marterer. In a match against Djokovic, the outcome would probably be very different. Bublik could potentially win the first set, but staying mentally tough for four hours is a tall order for any player, let alone one whose weakness is mental toughness.
It looks pretty clear that Novak Djokovic’s semi-final opponent will be Jannik Sinner. The Italian can often play some shaky tennis in key moments, putting him at risk of some potential upsets from time to time. Getting through three games with relative ease should help him, though. His potential opponents are also players with plenty of confidence, but they don’t have the mental stamina needed to pull off a major Grand Slam. Sinner is also long-awaited for a first Grand Slam semi-final.
Djokovic’s quarter-final win over Jannik Sinner naturally made headlines at last year’s tournament as it was the toughest task for Djokovic in his quest for title No. 7 at SW19. Sinner won the first two sets by hitting countless powerful forehands and using his speed to his advantage. On the other hand, the match was a good example of the crowd bringing out the worst in Djokovic; yet it always seemed inevitable that Djokovic would bring out the “mental goat” at some point. The fight was associated with Andy Roddick’s now-viral statement from 2021, “First Novak takes your legs, then he takes your soul.” I expect the same to happen if they meet in the semi-finals. Since Sinner’s weakness comes down to lapses of inconsistency, any brief half-set slump will make it nearly impossible for the Italian to win.
The final for Novak Djokovic would certainly attract media attention internationally, with the possibility of the Serbian matching Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles. While sixteen players could be Djokovic’s final challenger, Carlos Alcaraz is increasingly likely to be his opponent. A peaking Matteo Berretini could take Alcaraz out, but I don’t see the Spaniard letting up mentally if he makes it past the fourth round. It is clear that this match will be a much more difficult task for Djokovic. It is also too early to predict the result, given both players’ lack of match play against top stars. If this match happens, there will be plenty of insight into whether Djokovic can wear down the Spanish star again like he did in the semi-finals of the French Open.
Main photo credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports