WIMBLEDON – If you saw the first few games of Novak Djokovic’s third-round match against Ernests Gulbis, you saw some long-lost Djokovic fire.
The former Wimbledon champion overcame an early surge by the former top-10 Latvian to win 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (2) and move into the second week.
Djokovic’s task on Manic Monday should prove less dangerous.
Rather than the danger of the shotmaking Frenchman Gaël Monfils, Djokovic instead has to get through Monfils’s unseeded countryman Adrian Mannarino.
If he does, he’ll reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
On paper, he would take that in a heartbeat.
Good grass fun for Mannarino
That’s not to take anything away from Mannarino, a tricky lefty who did yeoman’s work to get this far.
The 29-year-old defeated Borna Coric and Fernando Verdasco, to name two, before losing to Yuichi Sugita of Japan in the final of Antalya, a new grass-court event in Turkey.
He then had to find a way to get to London in a hurry. He took an overnight flight, landing in the early morning with little time to adjust. He caught a break with an injured Feliciano Lopez in the first round, but still played nearly four sets. Then he ran into Sugita again. That took five sets, and he was down two sets to one.
Monfils? Also five sets.
Djokovic and Mannarino played in the second round here a year ago, with the Serb winning in three reasonably competitive sets.
Is Tiger Nole back in the house?
It’s far too soon to conclude that Djokovic has the eye of the tiger back. But he likes his form, and he likes his team. Andre Agassi, who made a cameo appearance at the French Open, is here for the duration. And former world No. 7 Mario Ancic, now a lawyer and an investment banker in New York City, has joined up.
“So far it’s fantastic. I mean, not just this tournament, but also in Paris. We spent a lot of quality time together on and off the court. It’s a bit different now in Wimbledon because both Mario and Andre are staying with me as far as I go in the tournament, where Andre in Paris had to leave earlier. I’m glad to have them both. I think they contribute in their own way to my game. But most of all, there is great chemistry, great synergy, great understanding, respect for each other,” Djokovic said.
‘Mario has been my friend for very long time. I feel very relaxed next to him. And Andre, as well, is someone that has a personality that is very, very friendly, very kind, and at the same time very committed and professional. It didn’t take us too much to really connect. Everything so far is working great.”
The trio looked as though they’d all been friends for years, during one of Djokovic’s first practices here as the tournament began.
Nothing signed, nothing committed
The arrangements are still, to be sure, being made on the fly. Djokovic’s two advisors are not career coaches thrilled to be working with a former No. 1 and12-time Grand Slam titlist at the exclusion of everything else.
“We don’t have anything formal. We don’t have any contracts. And we don’t have any long-term agreements. First of all, I spoke to Andre. Andre absolutely agreed with Mario being that second person who might potentially be spending a little bit more time with me on the road,” Djokovic said.
Then, he contacted Ancic.
“We had a friendly talk. He was a bit surprised. He wasn’t expecting that. But he was already prescheduled to be in London. I asked him if he would like to spend a time with Andre and I during Wimbledon, while you’re there, if you have time. He was, anyway, planning to be a part … of the Legends tournament doubles,” Djokovic added. “So he accepted. That’s all we have for the moment. There is no really long-term agreements or planning, what’s going to happen. Obviously he’s got his commitments with his companies.”
Djokovic said there was a possibility Ancic might be able to make one or two of the Masters 1000 events in the summer, leading up to the US Open.
But all that will wait until this Wimbledon run is done.
It may have plenty of legs left.