But when 35-year-old
As the match became more hotly contested, Stepanek lunged all over the court, falling about every third or fourth point. On the
"The Czech bounced again," he said.
When Stepanek wasn't falling, he was challenging line calls and failing. He finally got the Hawkeye camera to agree with him and raised his arms in gratitude. The crowd loved it and the tide of emotion and affection seemed to be turning Stepanek's way.
There was something for everybody in this match. At one key point late in the match, in a show of sportsmanship, Djokovic had the opportunity to replay a point when the Hawkeye reversed a baseline call. Instead, he conceded the point to Stepanek, which is his option, and said later that he will do that if it is clear he had no play on the ball.
Djokovic, who doesn't normally play lead-up tournaments on grass before Wimbledon and didn't this time, started to look like a man in wingtips on an ice rink. Somehow, he got it to match point and served at 6-5 of the tiebreaker.
But the dramatics weren't over.
In the stands, pulling hard for Djokovic, was the last top-seeded men's player to lose in the second round. That was Boris Becker in 1987. Becker is now Djokovic's coach.
On his 6-5 match point, Djokovic got the ball in play and Stepanek worked his way to the net. Djokovic cranked a cross-court forehand passing shot and it was close, but called out.
Now, it was Djokovic's turn to put his fate in the hands of Hawkeye. He challenged the call. If the camera showed his shot touching the line, he had won the match. If not, the Stepanek show would continue, possibly even for a fifth-set of agony for the top-seeded star.
Stepanek, perhaps playing his last match on Wimbledon's Centre Court, or at Wimbledon, knelt near the line and put his hands together in prayer.
Again, the crowd loved it. Djokovic appreciated it later.
"He's an entertainer," the Serb said.
He was also defeated. Hawkeye showed the ball touching about a half an inch of the line. Game, set, match and deep sigh of relief for Djokovic.
The final score was 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5).
"I was aware of his abilities," Djokovic said, probably hoping that no one noticed he had won 10 of their previous 11 meetings. "He is a quality player on grass and he was reading my passing shots well.
"I'm just glad I hung in there mentally."
The British crowd would not have been that entertained had it been Murray undergoing the squeeze from Stepanek. Murray had no trouble advancing, as he looks for a second straight Wimbledon title that would trigger semi-delirium here. He beat Blaz Rola of Slovakia, 6-1, 6-1, 6-0.
One top men's player, No. 7
In women's singles, former No. 1 and two-time