Rod Laver figured Novak Djokovic might very well be the player, and this might very well be the year, that would finally end his distinction as the last man to win a calendar-year Grand Slam.
“It’s a tough road,” Laver said on Saturday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his home in California. “Certainly, I thought he could be the guy to do it.”
Laver tuned in on TV to see some of the match that ended Djokovic’s bid, a 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (5) loss to Sam Querrey of the United States in the third round of Wimbledon.
Winning all four major tennis tournaments — the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open — in a single season has only been accomplished by two men. Don Budge, an American, did it in 1938, and Laver, an Australian, pulled it off twice, in 1962 as an amateur and in 1969 as a professional.
Djokovic came to the All England Club after collecting four consecutive major titles, something no man had achieved since Laver all those years ago. But Djokovic did it over the past two seasons, not all in one.
So the Serb was halfway to the true Grand Slam.
“When he won the French Open, I thought: ‘Wimbledon, he’s won it twice in a row, why wouldn’t he come in confident and be able to win again?’ So I put him down as the favourite to win Wimbledon,” Laver said. “And then it’s a matter of controlling nerves and being healthy when you get to the last one.”
As he watched the match against Querrey, Laver said, he was struck by Djokovic’s lower-than-usual level of play.
“I don’t know whether it was the pressure or whether he wasn’t feeling up to power. I don’t know what his situation was health-wise, but it didn’t look like he was ready to play a big match. The rain didn’t help. But he wasn’t playing his best tennis, and Querrey kept the pressure on with that serve.”
Laver was particularly caught off-guard by the way Djokovic meekly fell into a two-set deficit before play was halted Friday night because of rain.
“He looked like he was hardly trying,” Laver said. “I was a little critical of his second set.”
Laver said he was impressed by Querrey’s play and wonders whether this could springboard the American to bigger things.
Querrey, 28, never has been to the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament.
“He’s gone and taken himself to another level. When you start beating the No. 1 player, you jump into another level and maybe his confidence will start to soar and drive him into a lot of new things.”