LONDON – Sam Querrey’s stunning 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (5) win over No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the third round at Wimbledon on Saturday was a completely unexpected result. It had shades of Roberta Vinci at the 2015 U.S. Open.
As you watched, you kept waiting for the higher seed and better player to remember who he was and for the underdog to remember who they were. But top seed Djokovic never overcame the tightness that he displayed throughout the match. Even down two sets to love, I don’t think anyone imagined Djokovic—who won the past four major titles in a row and was halfway to the first calendar Grand Slam for a man since Rod Laver's in 1969—would lose this match. Most people still believed that he would find a way to regroup and come back to win and advance.
There were four turning points in the match. The first was in the second set: Anyone can play a hot set of tennis, especially a big server like Querrey, but in that second set, Djokovic just wasn’t there mentally and that must have sent a message across the net to Querrey that this was a winnable match.
Another key to the match was in the third set, when Querrey hung around with Djokovic. Despite losing the set, the American put up a fight, battled for breaks of serve and sent a message of his own to Djokovic. Querrey’s play on break point was also a turning point—he hit seven of his 31 aces on break point. After the rain delaey, Djokovic took the six of the first seven points and took a lead in the tiebreak, but then he made a series of sloppy mistakes. One minute you thought the match was going five sets and Djokovic was to survive; suddenly, he is out of the tournament.
The good news for Querrey is that he doesn’t have to play on Sunday. When he left the court after the match, he didn’t even know who he was playing in the fourth round, but his next opponent, Nicolas Mahut, sets up a winnable match. You can’t ask for much more than that in the fourth round of a major.
But Querrey has never been in this position before. Even though he’s been on the Tour and is a veteran in a lot of ways, this is a new experience for him. It was his first Top 10 win at a Grand Slam. It will be interesting to see how he handles it.
With the top seed out of the tournament, the complexion of the draw certainly changes. Federer fans are pulling muscles cheering. And No. 2 Andy Murray is the highest remaining seed right now and the new favorite to win the title. But think about what this also must do for guys like Nick Kyrgios or Steve Johnson. They see this result and say: If Sam Querrey can beat Novak Djokovic, who’s to say I don’t have a Wimbledon title in me? I think every player has to be invigorated by this, for different reasons.
I saw Patrick Mouratoglou after the match and he said this result will hopefully enable people to understand Serena Williams at the 2015 U.S. Open a little bit better. She got tight two matches away from the calendar Grand Slam. Djokovic was tight in the middle of Wimbledon. I don’t remember him looking tight at the French Open, which he never won. But he hadn’t looked great here. I think Djokovic will still be the favorite to win in New York; it’s still a tremendous year and he still may ultimately win more than 17 majors. I wouldn’t bury him on the basis of losing three sets, but this definitely reframes the stakes.
If you were to pick one player to take down Serena Williams, it wouldn’t have been Roberta Vinci. If you were going to pick one player to stop Djokovic’s 30-match win streak at the majors, it wasn’t going to be Sam Querrey. And in very different ways, between Marcus Willis’ story at the beginning of the tourament and Querrey’s result vs. Djokovic on Saturday, it’s all a good reminder that anything can happen. This stuff ain’t scripted.