Wimbledon fans got an entertaining show from a tennis senior citizen and a big sigh of relief from their top-seeded men's player here Wednesday.
Novak Djokovic, who won here in 2011 and lost in the final to Andy Murray last year, was cruising on Centre Court with a two-set lead against an aging opponent.
But when 35-year-old Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic got the third set into a tiebreaker, things got dicey for the Serb star. He held a 5-3 lead in the tiebreaker and squandered that. He held a 5-2 lead, and had two serves, in the fourth-set tiebreaker and nearly did the same.
As the match became more hotly contested, Stepanek lunged all over the court, falling about every third or fourth point. On the BBC broadcast, one commentator couldn't resist the stock line, each time Stepanek sprung back to his feet.
"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 David Ferrer was ousted in five sets by Russia's Andrey Kuznetsov. The Spaniard had reached the quarterfinals the last two years.
No. 6 Tomas Berdych advanced, as did No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov.
In women's singles, former No. 1 and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, seeded No. 8, was stunned by Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia. No. 2 Li Na, No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 6 Petra Kvitova, a former Wimbledon champion, and No. 30 Venus Williams, a five-time winner here, all got through to the next round in straight sets.
A match between France's 14th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Southern California's Sam Querrey was called because of darkness at 9:24 p.m. They had been on the court for 3 hours 21 minutes and were tied at 8-8 in the fifth set.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times