LONDON (AP) — The Centre Court match at Wimbledon featured only two service breaks, but wait, there was much, much more:
— Novak Djokovic giving away a point to Radek Stepanek that could have been replayed following an over-rule on a line call during a crucial time in the match, a move seldom seen in tennis.
— Stepanek cutting his right knee on one of his dozen or so falls on the grass during the 3-hour, 17-minute second-round match Wednesday.
— And on the final point of the match, a successful challenge by Djokovic on a call originally called out, with Stepanek getting down on his hands and knees in a prayer pose.
“Today in the challenges I was so unlucky, a millimeter here, a millimeter there,” Stepanek said. “I guess I hoped and I prayed that one time it will go with me.”
It didn’t. Djokovic’s forehand cross-court pass was ruled in after the video replay showed the ball landed on the line. Djokovic completed a 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5) win. The two players, good friends and frequent practice partners, hugged at the net.
The third-set tiebreaker featured each player winning five points in a row — Djokovic to take a 5-2 lead, only to have Stepanek come back to take it 7-5.
“I was two sets up, I had some break-point chances in the third and should have closed it out in the third-set tiebreak,” Djokovic said. “But credit to him for fighting. He’s 35 years old and still moving very well and surface wise grass is probably his most preferred. He loves to engage the crowd.”
That Stepanek did, with his give-it-all style of play swaying the Centre Court spectators his way late in the match. Stepanek repeatedly made unsuccessful challenges on line calls. When he finally got one right, he looked up to the skies in relief.
Stepanek said he couldn’t recall ever falling down so many times in a match.
“Maybe not, but that’s the way I play on grass, you have a little bit of comfort,” he said. “But that’s how I play anyway, with my heart.”
Stepanek said he was surprised by Djokovic’s gesture to give him the point. At 5-all in the third set, Djokovic had a game point on his serve when Stepanek hit a backhand that was called long. After Stepanek successfully challenged the call, Djokovic conceded the point even though it could have been replayed.
“That’s why I asked the whole crowd to clap,” Stepanek said. “It was incredible sportsmanship and it proves just what a great champion he is.”
Djokovic played down the move.
“For me it’s just natural, just something that is normal to do,” he said. “I felt like I had no chance to play that ball, (so) of course I would concede the point. I’ve done it a few times in the past. OK, yes, the point was very important. …
“Nevertheless, I think it’s fair play. It’s something that I would expect my opponent to do for me. It doesn’t happen very often, unfortunately.”
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