Third seed Novak Djokovic crashed out of Wimbledon in the second round today, beaten by a man known for his “mental instability".
In fairness Marat Safin is also a man known for winning two grand slam titles and a former world number one, but Djokovic was also expressing what everyone was thinking after slumping to a shock straight-sets defeat on centre court.
Safin’s mental strength was as impressive as his crunching groundstrokes as he dominated from the outset against an off-key Djokovic, powering to a 6-4 7-6 (7/3) 6-2 victory that will not have gone unnoticed by Roger Federer.
Defending champion Federer was scheduled to face Djokovic in the semi-finals, but would now appear to have an easier passage to a sixth consecutive Wimbledon final after the Serbian’s unexpected demise.
“It was certainly a very bad day for me. I didn’t do anything that I was supposed to do,” admitted the 21-year-old world number three.
“I was serving a lot of double faults (including consecutive ones on the final two points of the match), which is unusual. I was just not finding my momentum, that’s all. What can I do? I mean, it’s a straight-sets win. I didn’t expect it.
“I’m tired mentally, it’s been a long season, even though it’s only halfway through. But physically I wasn’t tired, and that was not the explanation why I lost today. He was just better than me on the court.
“He’s known for his mental instability in some ways. But he’s still a great player. He’s still not too old. He wants to get back, step it up again and try to get far in a major. This is a good way to start.
“When I was a junior I looked at him as one of the greatest players, one of the idols. I used to practice with him because we had then, and still we have, the same manager. I have a lot of respect for him. Maybe that played a role today in the match.
“It was mostly down to me. I wasn’t doing anything to hurt him. Yes, he was playing well today. He didn’t play extremely well, but he was playing enough to win.”
The pair had met once before, when Safin thrashed the 17-year-old Djokovic 6-0 6-2 6-1 in the first round of the Australian Open in 2005 on his way to the title.
The Russian’s world ranking has been on the slide ever since through a combination of injuries and bad form, and he came into the championships 75th in the world and with just two instances of back-to-back wins on tour in 2008.
But the 28-year-old was on top from the start in bright but blustery conditions and thoroughly deserved the victory and a place in the third round of the only grand slam in which he has never reached a semi-final.
He reached the quarter-finals in 2001, losing to eventual champion Goran Ivanisevic.
“I didn’t play great for a long time, I don’t remember how it feels,” Safin joked. “I played well because I think the courts have been getting slower and slower throughout the years.
“I just had to do serve well and try to stay with him. He didn’t impress me with his game today. I could read his serve. I could return. I could stay with him from the baseline, and that’s it.
“I had to take my opportunities and go for it because he is under pressure, trying to be number one in the world, and for me nobody expects anything.”
Safin admitted he had not looked as far as the third round in the draw once discovering he would play Djokovic, and revealed he thought he would be on tonight’s 8:30pm flight to Moscow.
“There is one every night, it’s just one phone call,” he joked when asked if he had actually booked a ticket for this evening.
“You have a second round match against Djokovic, the guy won the Australian Open, semi-finals of French Open, winning the tournaments left and right and the last time I won two matches in a row was I don’t remember when.
“So what do you expect? Of course you are not really in a position to look anything after the second round.
“I’ve been fit since November last year, but the results are not coming. I’m surprisingly happy that it finally came because I started to get a little bit desperate because I’ve been working really hard week after week, practising and putting myself together.”