Novak Djokovic beats Marton Fucsovics to reach 10th Wimbledon semi-final
From the very moment that all eyes and attention switched from Novak Djokovic’s historic second French Open title to the fortnight of Wimbledon to follow, it has been hard to think of a more overwhelming favourite here in recent years.
Despite Djokovic arriving with no singles grass court preparation beforehand, minimal rest and a 34-year-old body that surely feels the aches and pains of quick surface transitions far more than a decade ago, little has really changed in the five matches that have followed.
Since losing the opening set of his first match of the grass season in the first round against Britain’s Jack Draper, Djokovic has not dropped a single set since and only once has it been particularly close. He reached his 10th semi-final at Wimbledon on Wednesday with a performance that was not without its flaws but decisive at all the right times, beating Marton Fucsovics of Hungary 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Djokovic has now reached 41 grand slam semi-finals, second on the all-time list behind Roger Federer’s count of 46. He will be back on court on Friday to try and make his seventh Wimbledon final.
The latest challenger standing before Djokovic in his maiden grand slam quarter-final has a story to be heeded. After triumphantly lifting the junior boys’ trophy 11 years ago at Wimbledon in 2010, for long spells of his senior career he was stuck between 150 and 250 in the rankings. It seemed like he would be one of the dozens of top juniors who failed to make the cut on the main tour.
Only at the age of 25 in 2017 did he reach the top 100 but since he arrived among the elite, Fucsovics has thrived and found this is exactly where he needs to be. A big grand slam result had been coming. Fucsovics had compiled four top-20 wins in his previous five grand slam tournaments until his breakthrough this year and he has beaten the world No 23 Jannik Sinner, the No 11-ranked Diego Schwartzman and the No 7 Andrey Rublev here this year. His career trajectory is a satisfying reminder that every player can find the right path in their own time.
Early on in the match, however, Fucsovics was overwhelmed by the depth and consistency across the net. The Hungarian overhit a few too many groundstrokes to start, which Djokovic quickly zoned in on. Throughout the early exchanges, the Serb deliberately drew Fucsovics into a series of long, attritional rallies, mixing in numerous slices to his opponent’s backhand as he constantly broke it down. Despite still being in third gear, Djokovic immediately breezed to a 5-0 lead.
It was an ominous start, but Fucsovics slowly began to show the Centre Court crowd his skills. For as much as a 40-minute period, Fucsovics served well under pressure, he unloaded on his forehand and peppered Djokovic with delicate touches in the forecourt that so effectively complement his muscular game. He saved four set points in a mini fightback to 5-3 and then, after Djokovic took the first set, he held on to his serve until 4-4 in the second.
The world No 1 responded to Fucsovics’s run of games by increasing the pace in his forehand and drawing for more drop shots. But he returned to basics by landing numerous returns, consistently maintaining his depth and in the long game that followed he drew out the groundstroke errors he was seeking.
After taking a two-set lead, the writing was on the wall for all. Fucsovics lost his opening service game with a series of impatient errors and Djokovic held on with the single break. Although Djokovic won emphatically and performed well in all of the important moments, he surely departed the court conscious of the fact that there is ample room for improvement.
After the mentally exhausting semi-final against Rafael Nadal at the French Open, then having to return two days later to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas from two sets down, there have been suggestions that Djokovic’s draw at Wimbledon has been particularly kind to him.
The sole top-20 player he has faced so far, Cristian Garín in the fourth round, is far more comfortable on clay, and Djokovic has faced three sub-top-100 opponents on his way to the semi-final. But in the form he has developed and with the canyon-sized gap he has created between himself and the rest of the field, there are few draws that would actually qualify as especially difficult. It remains to be seen if any of the players left at Wimbledon can change that.