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Novak Djokovic Overcomes Challenge To Halt Jacob Fearnley’s Wimbledon Run

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Jacob Fearnley admitted he didn’t have the answer to how to beat Novak Djokovic, and he wasn’t going to lose sleep over it. After all, how could you prepare for a match against arguably the greatest of all time, an opponent seemingly without flaws, except for the compression strapping around his right knee?

Walking onto Centre Court against the seven-time Wimbledon champion is a daunting prospect, especially when your experience is limited to won challengers and college matches in the United States.

Perhaps the only strategy was to take everything in stride and play with nothing to lose, which Fearnley, the British wildcard and world No. 277, did brilliantly.

Undeterred by the big moments going against him in the first two sets and unflustered after going a break down in the third, Fearnley renewed his attacks against Djokovic.

With each forehand winner and roar from the Centre Court crowd, the 24-time grand slam champion looked a little more mortal. As Fearnley broke to win the third set and Djokovic stumbled on that right knee, the champion appeared beatable.

Midway through the fourth set, with Fearnley hitting powerful forehands and Djokovic double-faulting, Centre Court sensed an upset. However, with two break points to go ahead, Fearnley provoked the real Djokovic. Locking in, Djokovic silenced the crowd after securing a crucial hold.

The closer Fearnley got, the more vulnerable he became. A costly double fault handed Djokovic the crucial break he needed. In exactly three hours, Djokovic advanced to the third round.

Despite the loss, Fearnley gave Djokovic a major scare, with the Serbian admitting he could have been pushed to a fifth set. Fearnley’s aggressive play and early shot-taking turned what was expected to be a one-sided clash into a thrilling contest. But at Wimbledon, winning the crucial points is key, and Djokovic did so ruthlessly, displaying a champion’s mentality that overcame Fearnley’s spirited fightback.

Fearnley’s journey to Centre Court had been extraordinary. A highly-ranked junior, he chose college over turning professional, studying at Texas Christian University. Three weeks ago, his team won the national championships, and upon returning to the UK, his fortunes changed.

After nearly losing in the first round of qualifying, he won his first title at the Nottingham Challenger, earning a wildcard for Wimbledon’s main draw. His straight-sets victory over Alejandro Moro Canas set up a second-round clash with Djokovic.

The experience was a reminder of how fine the line is between challengers and champions at the grand slams. As Fearnley settled into the match and expressed his natural attacking game, he enjoyed his best moment at 3-3 in the first set by hitting two consecutive backhand winners past Djokovic. Yet, from 30-15 up, he made consecutive errors, allowing Djokovic to break and win the set 6-3.

The key turning points fell in Djokovic’s favor. Fearnley maintained confidence into the second set, pushing Djokovic to stretch for forehands. A double fault from Djokovic and a bullet return from Fearnley brought break point, but Djokovic saved it with an ace. Denied, Fearnley found himself behind again, with further errors from his backhand allowing Djokovic to take the second set 6-4.

Djokovic was not overly convincing, with his movement appearing heavy and stunted at times due to the strapped right knee. After undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus just three and a half months prior, Djokovic’s balance was often off, particularly when Fearnley cracked a backhand winner crosscourt to break back and take the third set.

Fearnley seemed to fade after the first hour, with his previously free-swinging arms starting to make errors. However, his level improved midway through the third set. He saved two break points to lead 5-4, and as Djokovic pushed wide on the forehand, Fearnley forced a fourth set.

With momentum on his side and finding his best serving of the match, Fearnley had Djokovic on the ropes. However, Djokovic transformed after saving the first of two break points at 3-3 in the fourth. Outlasting Fearnley in a tense baseline rally and executing a classy volley, Djokovic shushed the crowd, signaling that despite Fearnley’s courageous battle, the upset was a step too far.

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