Underdog ready for confrontation with Djokovic

It’s certainly the stuff of movies: An oft-injured man who is outside the top 100 and making his Grand Slam debut thanks to a wildcard, knocks out two seeded players en route to a fourth-round matchup at Wimbledon against none other. then No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the three-time defending champion.

We can guess what Hollywood might do with that script. Tim van Rijthoven, a 25-year-old Dutchman, deserved the chance to see what will happen in real life over Djokovic’s net after both men won in straight sets at the All England Club on Friday.

“Before the tournament started, it was actually a dream for me to play against him. So to get that chance, and maybe even play on Center Court or Court 1, is beautiful and magical,” said Van Rijthoven after beating 22 Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 on Court.12, with a capacity of 1,736, to become the first wildcard entry since 2015 to reach the round of 16 at Wimbledon.

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“I go into every game thinking I can win the game,” said Van Rijthoven, whose baseline-based style knocked out No. 15 Reilly Opelka earlier this week. “I will also go into that game against Djokovic with the idea that I can win that game.”

In fact, the backwards cap-wearing Van Rijthoven had never won a match on the ATP Tour until June. He has since lost none, 8-0, including a win over current No. 1 Daniil Medvedev to claim the trophy at a grass field event in the Netherlands.

‘It’s a long time ago. I’ve had my ups and downs, injuries here and there. Also struggled mentally,” says Van Rijthoven, whose health problems include wrist surgery, surgery on a vein in his right arm for a thrombosis and nine months of healing from “golfer’s elbow”, which he noted with a smile he got from playing tennis.

“I’m just happy to be where I am now,” he said. “I hope to be there for a few more years — or many more years really.”

If he’s unknown to most, he’s not to Djokovic, who took the first seven games and then six out of seven in a strong piece later, in a 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 win at number 22 Miomir Kecmanovic on the nearly 15,000 seat Center Court.

That is partly because Djokovic is friends with Van Rijthoven’s coach, Igor Sijsling. And partly because he was watching the man.

So Djokovic offered a bit of a scouting report.

“His playing, from what I’ve seen, is very suitable for this surface. His big serve, one-handed backhand. Make good use of the plaque. He is an all round player. He can play fast, he can also stay in the rally and come to the net,” said Djokovic, who seemed to enjoy the sunny, windy conditions in the afternoon, giving him a 36-13 lead against his Serbian Davis Cup team-mate. . “I’m sure he’s excited to play on a big stage. He doesn’t have much to lose. He is on his dream flight. He’s a young player just starting out, so I’m sure his career will be very good.”

Other men’s fourth-round matchups set up for the middle Sunday — traditionally a day off, which is now a scheduled match day for the first time in the tournament’s 145-year history — include No. 5 Carlos Alcaraz vs. No. 10 Jannik Sinner, No. 23 Frances Tiafoe vs. No. David Goffin, and No. 30 Tommy Paul vs. No. 9 Cam Norrie.

Djokovic is aiming for a seventh title in his career at Wimbledon and the 21st major championship overall. Only one other man in the top half of the bracket has made it to the fourth round of the All England Club in the past: Goffin.

And Djokovic is the only man still around who reached last year’s quarter-finals.

“I’m playing better as the tournament progresses,” said Djokovic. “I always expect the highest of myself.”

Women’s fourth round Sunday are No. 3 Ons Jabeur vs. no. 24 Elise Mertens, No. 12 Jelena Ostapenko vs. Tatyana Maria, Marie Bouzkova vs. Caroline Garcia, and Heather Watson vs. Julie Niemeier. One of those players is going to play for the championship; the only one to have ever competed in a Grand Slam final in singles before is Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion.

Watson, a 30-year-old from Great Britain, made her Grand Slam debut in 2010, and this is her 43rd appearance at one of the sport’s four major tournaments. It’s her first time reaching the fourth round (the same goes for Niemeier, whose only previous big show was a first-round exit at this year’s French Open).

“Yeah, I was just waiting for it to happen,” Watson said. “I’ve waited long enough, I guess.”

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