More than halfway to becoming the first man since Rod Laver to complete a Grand Slam, Novak Djokovic is determined to kill off any hopes Jordan Thompson might have of pulling off a miracle on grass.
The Serbian, who is seeking to equal Roger Federer’s record of eight Wimbledon titles, declared there is no way he will underestimate the Australian in their clash at Wimbledon on Wednesday afternoon in London.
Shortly after setting up a second round encounter against the 23-time major champion, the Australian pondered whether Djokovic would remember him.
Thompson practised with the all-time men’s grand slam record holder at Melbourne Park as a junior and is well aware of the enormity of the challenge confronting him.
In short, it would be one of the greatest upsets in tennis if the Sydneysider was to deliver a knock-out blow to Djokovic's dream of completing a calendar year Grand Slam.
The four-time defending champion has won the last 40 matches he has played on Centre Court and his winning streak at the All England Lawn Tennis Club now stands at 29.
As Thompson said of the challenge of confronting Djokovic on Centre Court at Wimbledon; “It could be a dream. Or (it) could be a nightmare.”
But Djokovic, who finished one match shy of completing the Grand Slam two years ago when beaten by Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final, is determined not to be derailed again.
The No.2 seed acknowledged the rich grass court heritage of Australia when saying the Sydneysider has all the attributes necessary to pose a threat in the second round clash.
The Davis Cup stalwart reached the final of a grass court tournament in the Netherlands last month and has beaten players including Andy Murray on the surface.
“Thompson is a very good player on quick surfaces, particularly on grass where he has a lot of experience,” Djokovic said.
“We’ve never played before on grass, but I know his game very well. He is Australian and Aussies tend to be really skilful on grass. They know how to move here, how to block returns nicely and they are efficient at the net.
“Thompson has got an excellent serve. He has played some great matches on grass this year, so there is no chance I will underestimate him. It is a good test (and I am) looking forward to the challenge.”
Craig O’Shannessy, the Australian analyst who advised Djokovic between 2017 and 2019, suggested Thompson should dig into the YouTube archives before the match for inspiration.
While the odds heavily favour the Serbian, O’Shannessy reiterated there are no sure things in sport, noting Sergiy Stakhovsky’s famous upset of Roger Federer in 2013.
“He should go and watch that match because that was Mission Impossible as well until Sergiy made Roger unbelievably uncomfortable,” O’Shannessy said.
The world No.70 made a critical tactical adjustment when trailing Brandon Nakashima by two sets that proved the catalyst to changing the momentum of their opening match on Monday.
While the Serbian is in a different class to the promising American, and arguably to anyone else in the men's draw on grass, O’Shannessy said there are elements of Thompson’s strategy that might “rattle Novak’s cage on centre court”.
“There was one tactic in particular that he was extremely good at,” O’Shannessy said.
“It was hitting the backhand slice … deep and hitting it slowly. And because of the depth of the ball, Nakashima could not do anything with it.
“Because it was so slow through the air, Jordan could sneak in behind it and park himself at the net. And he won all of those points. So I thought that was extremely clever.
“The next was hitting the short slice, to bring him into the net, and then lobbing him, and he won all those points as well.
“So Jordan should be looking to do the exact same tactics against Novak because it’s going to pull Novak out of his comfort zone. Novak's not great at hitting overheads, historically.”
O’Shannessy said it was critical Thompson “threw the kitchen sink” at Djokovic in the opening set and then “the neighbour’s kitchen sink at him” early in the second.
“It is almost Mission Impossible. There is a 99.8 percent chance he will lose. So he has to think, ‘You know what? What have I got to lose?’,” O’Shannessy said.
“He has to go out there and just make Novak as uncomfortable as he possibly can.”
Thompson is no stranger to a daunting task, having faced Rafael Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier at Roland Garros last year in the Spaniard’s run to a 14th French Open.
The Australian has his coach Marinko Matosevic and Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt, who defeated Djokovic once in seven outings, in his corner and is renowned for his fight.
Thompson also planned to contact Nick Kyrgios, who he trained with at Aorangi Park on Saturday, for advice given his friend’s good record against the champion.
“I wouldn’t go out onto the court if I didn’t think I could do damage. As silly as it sounds, I’ve got to believe that I can win, otherwise there is no point going out there,” Thompson said.