Sports

Novak Djokovic pays tribute as his opponent plays last Wimbledon match

In the midst of tough tennis competition Wednesday, with stakes incredibly high, two moments of human sensitivity stood out on the third day of the Wimbledon fortnight.

Novak Djokovic, the top seed and defending champion, cruised past journeyman Jarkko Nieminen of Finland on Center Court, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. As the crowd applauded the routine and expected ending, Djokovic paused for a longer-than-usual hand-shaking conversation at the net, then gave Nieminen a hug.

It turned out that Nieminen, who will be 34 in three weeks, was playing in his last Wimbledon. Coincidentally, it had been Nieminen who had dispatched Lleyton Hewitt to his last walk off the Wimbledon grass two days earlier.

Djokovic somehow knew, or had heard, and went out of his way to draw attention to Nieminen's departure. He stepped aside and applauded, letting Nieminen lead the way off and calling the crowd's attention to him. Neiminen bent and touched the grass one last time on the way out, then waved goodbye.

"I congratulate him on a terrific career," Djokovic said afterward, "and it was a pleasure to be his last opponent here."

A bit later, on an outside court, John Isner of the U.S. had his match interrupted when a ball boy collapsed. Temperatures reached to within a couple of degrees of 100 Wednesday.

In his news conference after his 6-2, 7-6 (8), 6-4 victory over Matthew Ebden of Australia, Isner seemed eager to talk about the incident.

"I'm not a doctor," Isner said, "but ... it was very scary. I heard that he is doing much better.

Cilic advances, barely

Last year's U.S. Open men's finalist had a challenging day. Champion Marin Cilic of Croatia had a battle on his hands before advancing past Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (8), 4-6, 7-5. And the man he beat in the final, Japan's Kei Nishikori, had to withdraw with an injury. He had been seeded fifth.

No. 7 Milos Raonic of Canada had a bit of a tussle against 37-year-old Tommy Haas of Germany, who lives in Los Angeles. It took Raonic until a fifth match point before he advanced, 6-0, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4).

Men's contenders Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria kept going. Wawrinka, seeded fourth, took out Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and Dimitrov, seeded 11th and the man who upset Andy Murray here last year, outhit former USC star Steve Johnson, 7-6 (8), 6-2, 7-6 (2).

Williams advance

Serena Williams kept waltzing along with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Timea Babos of Hungary, and her sister, Venus, also won, beating Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, 7-6, 6-4.

Another of Serena Williams' top challengers, Maria Sharapova, coasted through, 6-3, 6-1, over Richel HogenKamp of the Netherlands.

Three American prospects followed the Williams' sisters success. CoCo Vandeweghe beat Carolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 7-5 (5), 6-4; Sloane Stephens beat another U.S. player, Lauren Davis, 6-4, 6-4, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands took out former French Open champion, seventh-seeded Ana Ivanovic, 6-3, 6-4.

Three U.S. men left

Unseeded U.S. wild card Denis Kudla won his second match, leaving the U.S. men with three players still alive — Kudla, Isner and Sam Querrey. Kudla beat Alexander Zverev of Germany, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4.

Small fire reported

A small electrical fire broke out inside Wimbledon's Centre Court building on Wednesday, causing an evacuation after play had ended for the day.

The fire started inside a mechanical room in the east side of the building, All England Club spokesman Johnny Perkins said. There were no reports of injuries.

Emergency vehicles arrived shortly after the fire alarm went off, and a public address announcement told everyone in or near the stadium to leave the area.

Perkins said it was not immediately clear whether the incident would have any effect on Thursday's matches. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are both set to play their respective second-round matches in the stadium.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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