WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — The quarter-finals without defending champion Novak Djokovic: Unthinkable.
The quarter-finals with Vasek Pospisil: Unprecedented. And frankly, unimaginable too just a week ago.
But the Serb dodged a 6-foot-8 bullet Tuesday and the Canadian riddled his opponent with buckshot serves the day before in a Round of 16 five-setter.
So for the moment they’re on the same SW19 plateau heading into Wednesday’s action.
To hear some tennis cognoscenti around here tell it, the 25-year-old from Vernon, B.C., might as well lie back and think of England while No. 3 seed Andy Murray has his way with him.
Not that the beloved Scotsman, Wimbledon victor a couple of years ago, is talking like that.
“He’s had a good run here,” Murray was saying the other night, just around the time his brother, Jamie, in tandem with Aussie John Peers, was taking out defending champions Pospisil and Jack Sock in their five-set doubles match. “Obviously won the doubles here last year. Can play well on the surface. He’s also played a lot of tennis here which is a positive for him in some ways.”
Ten sets of tennis on Monday for Pospisil in the back-to-back matches, 14 sets of tennis coming through the men’s draw.
“Maybe he’s a little bit fatigued,” Murray suggested. “So if that is the case, and I won’t bank on that being the case, but if that is the case, I’ll try to use that to my advantage.”
Enough qualifiers in that sentence for you?
Pospisil was a qualifier also, which seems like ages ago now, in his salad days as a Wimbledonian, before becoming only the second Canadian man in the modern era to get this far — he and Milos Raonic, the Canuck male tennis player who sucks up all the air and a loser to Roger Federer in the 2014 semifinal.
What Pospisil had to say about the imminent confrontation on Centre Court: “It’s going to be obviously a tough one. He’s had great results here over the years. He’s the big — one of the big — four, as they say.”
The Big Four: Murray, Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, though the Spaniard’s inclusion is waning.
“I know I will have my hands full. I have to go out there and play to the best of my abilities. And that’s what I plan on doing.”
The improbable would have been No. 1 seed Djokovic ousted in the Round of 16 by South African goliath Kevin Anderson.
In the gloaming on Monday night, it had looked very much like darkness descending also on the Serb’s defense of his title.
Two sets down to Anderson, the challenger from Johannesburg. But Djokovic gutted it out, tying the affair 2-2 before the match was suspended because of dimness on Court 1. If it were Centre Court, there would have been illumination.
So they called it a night, the tournament officials, and the men went home to think their separate thoughts.
Some 15 hours later, after a brief step-on and step-off the court because of one big black cloud overhead, they were back at it Tuesday morning, completing a hugely captivating encounter that had been in the palm of the South African’s hand.
But champions are made of strong stuff and they don’t concede easily.
The Serb broke Anderson in the 11th game of the fifth set, in a frame the underdog practically gifted the title-holder, on a couple of double faults and a return to his feet that he wasn’t quite able to reach down and get his racquet on.
Djokovic served for the set and the match, shaky himself to start at 0-30, but ultimately prevailing as Anderson’s forehand went long on match point. It ended 6-7(6), 6-7(6), 6-1, 6-4, 7-5.
Djokovic was the first to give his opponent — and near giant-slayer — chops for the effort.
“I find that this was one of the most difficult matches I’ve played in Wimbledon in my career,” said the 28-year-old, who had not failed to reach the quarters in his previous 25 majors.
“At times, I was really helpless in my return. He was very aggressive.”
Indeed, Anderson racked up eight aces yesterday morning and 40 in the entire Monday-to-Tuesday performance, with 83 per cent of first-serve points won.
Djokovic knew how close he had come to the early-exit fate that befell defending women’s champion Petra Kvitova.
“It wouldn’t be undeserved if he’d won this match,” he acknowledged.
An epic match fought over two days.
“Look, I was two sets down,” Djokovic said. “To come back and win in five definitely gives me great satisfaction and confidence for the next challenge.
Which will be against ninth seed Marin Cilic, the Croatian who surprisingly won the U.S. Open last year.
Djokovic is a career 12-0 versus Cilic.
But you know, in sports anything is Pospisil.