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Aged in tennis: Djokovic and Wawrinka play at Centre Court 19 years of battles

Djokovic and Wawrinka
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LONDON – The first time Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka played a professional tennis match, the sport was very different. It was played on a different surface. On one that is now forbidden. That’s how old the Swiss rivalry with the Serb is: the oldest one between active tennis players after Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet.

In 2004, Djokovic and Wawrinka played in the Challenger of Aachen (Germany) on the fast indoor carpet. That floor was banned in professional tournaments at ATP level in 2009. It only survives in two Challengers events on German soil.

“You play against Djokovic”, he was told in the on-court interview after his victory against Argentine Tomás Etcheverry. By the way, first time at Wimbledon, first time on grass. “Please don’t remind me the score (head to head),” Wawrinka joked and the crowd laughed. The record vastly favors Djokovic by 20-6. But what Wawrinka does have to remember, though, is that he was the one who dominated in the most important instances.

In fact, he knows it well, but he does not want to show it off. In Wawrinka’s peak years, when he won three Grand Slams in back-to-back years between 2014 and 2016, he made the Serb suffer. The most relevant statistic , the one in major finals, is Wawrinka’s. And he is undefeated. Victory against Djokovic in the final of Roland Garros 2015, and US Open the following year.

Wawrinka admits he has “zero” chance of winning Wimbledon, the only major he lacks. “I’m happy because I’m playing better every time, and it’s an honor to face Djokovic. I hope to have a competitive match, but if you look at the records, I have no chance,” he says.

“Have you seen Djokovic play? He’s the perfect player,” describes Wawrinka, who says he will play this Friday and then follow the outcome of the tournament on television.

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Mental game to take the pressure off and bet on, perhaps, the small percentage in his favor? There are plenty of arguments to believe that Wawrinka’s thinking is totally sincere and there is no hint of reverse psychology.

“Stan needs to feel inside that he is playing good tennis. With that feeling and a good preparation he can beat any of the top players any day. What is gonna be difficult is to make that for seven matches. But we don’t put any ranking goals, any preassure of reaching certain level. I’ve told him: you have to play tennis when and where you want it. You don’t go chasing points, just try to be happy. He has to enjoy his last years on the tour, because he already has had an amazing career, ” his coach and friend Magnus Norman told CLAY in an interview in December, after they begun working together again.

If he has any at all, the chances are minimal. This Friday, Novak Djokovic completed a decade without a loss on Centre Court, the theater where he amassed a 41-match winning streak. The longest among men and women, in the 101 years of the stadium’s life.

“He took two Grand Slams away from me. That was the role he played in my career (…) It will be a duel of tour veterans,” said Djokovic.

A vintage duel. Unmissable.

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