Novak Djokovic's knee is pain-free at Wimbledon but his movement is not quite where he wants it

Serbia's Novak Djokovic falls during his second round match against Britain's Jacob Fearnley at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Thursday, July 4, 2024.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic falls during his second round match against Britain's Jacob Fearnley at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Thursday, July 4, 2024. AP Photo

LONDON — The good news, Novak Djokovic said, was that his surgically repaired right knee was pain-free at Wimbledon on Thursday.

The bad news, he knows, is that his movement, such a big part of his success, was not yet back to normal during a 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 victory in the second round over Jacob Fearnley, a 22-year-old from Scotland who played college tennis in the United States — and that'll need to improve if Djokovic is going to contend for the title, the only reason he is back competing so soon after tearing his meniscus.

“The more matches I have, the better the chance I’ll have to feel more comfortable moving around and gain that speed, agility, change of direction — that freedom that I’m looking for, really. I had it in certain moments today, certain moments in the first match, but then it’s still not there,” said Djokovic, who has won seven of his 24 Grand Slam trophies at the All England Club. “In a way, it’s expected and normal when you come back from surgery. The body’s trying to understand what’s going on.”

When Fearnley, a wild-card entry ranked just 277th and participating in his first major tournament, grabbed the third set, a roar arose at Centre Court.

“I noticed they were probably more towards me in the crowd,” Fearnley said. “That was pretty obvious.”

Similar sounds came when he went ahead 5-4 in the fourth, particularly from a cheering section that included four teammates from his days at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas.

“It was really emotional,” said Tomas Jirousek, who played with Fearnley on the Horned Frogs tennis team and was wearing a school sweatshirt.

Might this really turn into a tight contest? Might Djokovic, who hasn't reached a final of any tournament this season, really be forced to a fifth set? Of course not. Djokovic is too savvy, too superb at the biggest moments, and grabbed 12 of the last 17 points to reel off the final three games.

Still, the 37-year-old from Serbia, who has been wearing a gray sleeve on his knee, plans to watch some video of this match, the way he usually does, to get a sense of where he can get better for his next match, which will be against Alexei Popyrin on Saturday for a spot in the fourth round.

“I do watch specific moments where I thought I’ve done well or moments where I haven’t done so well, and just try to analyze that myself. Then, of course, with my team members,” Djokovic said. “Draw some conclusions, take it to the practice court and work on it.”

Fearnley, meanwhile, smiled while discussing the way his follower count on Instagram doubled to about 5,000. But he also vowed that whatever surge in popularity this performance on a much grander stage than he's used to, and against a much greater opponent than he's used to, is not “going to really affect me.”

It was a big day for the locals, all-in-all, with several attention-grabbing matchups involving British players at the All England Club and national election going on around the U.K.

“A great day for British tennis," Fearnley said, "and there’s no better place to do it than at home, at Wimbledon.”

That included Andy Murray, a two-time singles champion at Wimbledon, teaming with his brother, Jamie, during a loss in men's doubles that began a farewell tour of sorts.

Murray, 37, has said he plans to head into retirement after playing at the All England Club — in men's and mixed doubles, but not singles, on account of recent back surgery — and the Paris Olympics.

In one all-British matchup won by the unseeded player, Harriet Dart came back to eliminate No. 32 Katie Boulter 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (10-8). In another, Cam Norrie defeated No. 28 Jack Draper 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (6).

“He sort of knew all my patterns of play. I felt like his backhand was incredible today. Just wasn’t allowing me to do the things that I wanted to do,” said Draper, who recently overtook Norrie as their country's highest-ranked man. “I felt like I wasn’t able to be brave enough.”

No. 5 Jessica Pegula became the highest-seeded woman to lose so far, dismissed by Wang Xinyu 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-1, and No. 7 Hubert Hurkacz exited the men's bracket when he needed to stop playing after injuring his right knee while diving to hit a shot late in the fourth set against Arthur Fils. Play was delayed for several minutes while a trainer examined then taped up Hurkacz's knee; when action resumed, Hurkacz immediately tried to dive for another volley, then couldn't continue.

Seeded winners included No. 1 Iga Swiatek — whose current unbeaten streak reached 21 — No. 4 Elena Rybakina, No. 10 Ons Jabeur, No. 11 Danielle Collins, No. 13 Jelena Ostapenko, No. 9 Alex de Minaur, No. 10 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 13 Taylor Fritz and No. 14 Ben Shelton, who won his second consecutive five-setter. (AP)

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