By Toby Davis
LONDON (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic remained firmly in cruise control on Monday to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals as he swatted aside France’s Ugo Humbert, the latest of tennis’s up-and-comers to show promise but ultimately fall short.
Djokovic, capable of jaw-dropping feats of agility when pushed to the brink, has barely stretched a sinew in reaching the last eight and the 21-year-old Humbert proved incapable of applying any real pressure in a 6-3 6-2 6-3 defeat.
The Frenchman had let it be known after his third-round victory over the much-heralded Felix Auger-Aliassime that he too was part of tennis’s “next generation”, yet in the current climate that appears far from a badge of honour.
It is said that youth is wasted on the young and tennis fans surveying the current crop emerging in the men’s game might be inclined to agree.
With the early Wimbledon exits of the game’s brightest starlets — Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov — the hunt for a worthy successor to Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer seems as futile as ever.
The trio, who make up tennis’s immovable oligarchy having won the last 10 Grand Slams and 53 between them, have dropped three sets in total in the opening four rounds and Djokovic is at a loss to explain why the younger generation cannot get a look in.
“I leave it to your creative spirit to understand why,” he said.
This is the first Wimbledon in the professional era when players aged 30 or over outnumbered 20-somethings and teenagers in the men’s round of 16.
The nine elder statesmen who reached this stage also equalled the record for the most men in their 30s to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam.
Significantly, that record was set at this year’s French Open when once again tennis’s old stagers remained stubbornly awkward to beat.
The top three, said Djokovic, have taken their rivalry to such a level that winning had become a lifestyle choice involving extraordinary levels of dedication.
“It takes hours of training, preparation, recovery. It’s a lifestyle really. Dedication truly pays off.
“We have high aims all the time. I don’t think any one of us plays for fun or to just be part of the tour. We play there to be the best in the world.”
Humbert was not among the most feted of the rising stars and was ranked only 66 in the world but, after dashing the hopes of Auger-Aliassime, he became the youngest player left in the men’s draw and a symbol of the future.
Humbert and the 23-year-old Matteo Berrettini, who also exited in the last 16, were the only players remaining in the draw under the age of 27, another statistic that paints as bleak a picture of the future of men’s tennis as Humbert’s performance on Court One.
Djokovic flashed a brilliant backhand return to break in the fourth game of the first set, which he took in 32 minutes, and broke again in the third and seventh games of the second set.
An opponent needs to be technically as solid as stone to trouble Djokovic but Humbert was occasionally ragged, gifting points to the world number one, who accepted them gleefully.
Djokovic, chasing a fifth Wimbledon title, broke serve twice more in the third set, sealing victory when Humbert netted a forehand to set up a last-eight clash with Belgium’s David Goffin.
Goffin overcame 35-year-old Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 7-6(9) 2-6 6-3 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
(Reporting by Toby Davis, editing by Ed Osmond and Clare Fallon)