Novak Djokovic paid a classy tribute to the great Billie-Jean King after advancing to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon on Sunday.
The six-time champion overcame a mid-match blip and narrowly avoided the dreaded curfew to defeat Dutch wildcard Tim van Rijthoven and reach his 13th quarter-final at the All England Club.
The top seed, looking to equal Pete Sampras as a seven-time champion at Wimbledon, downed his 104th-ranked opponent 6-2 4-6 6-1 6-2.
And Djokovic was left counting his blessings that the match finished before the 11pm curfew, otherwise he would have had to come back on Monday to finish the job.
“Thanks for stating this late to watch tennis,” Djokovic told the crowd in his on-court interview before also thanking American legend King.
“Thank you Billie-Jean for staying, I know it’s been a long day but thank you.
“I appreciate it. It’s an honour to play in front of you.”
Sitting in the front row, King appeared chuffed by the shout-out from the 23-time grand slam champion.
King had been at Wimbledon since Sunday morning after taking part in the traditional parade of champions.
Those in attendance gave Djokovic a huge ovation for the classy act, as did fans on social media.
Really nice to see Djokovic celebrating the legendary Billie Jean King in his victory speech.
“It’s an honour to play in front of you” 👏🏼 #bbctennis #Wimbledon
— Georgie Heath (@GeorgieHeath27) July 3, 2022
This Djokovic Interview turned into a monologue about tennis history and a tribute to Billie Jean King ….and it is lovely…
— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) July 3, 2022
— Tomás (@tomas_padez) July 3, 2022
Novak is a Gentleman a Champion and a superbly beautiful human inside and out 😇 A privilege to watch him play. I seriously hope USA rethinks their rule of forced vaccination?? What is the rule for when all these players have played together in Europe for the whole season? 🤔
— Dusty B (@dustystweets) July 3, 2022
Such a lovely moment between two legends. Novak always acknowledges female athletes’ achievements and legacy, as well as their impact on the game. Never afraid to admit being inspired by woman. I love it ❤️
Djokovic suggested he was not entirely aware of the deadline, and that only increased his relief after clinching victory with 22 minutes to spare.
Speaking on court afterwards, Djokovic said: “I don’t know if there was a curfew, 11pm? Is that still on? Okay, phew!
“I am lucky, I am lucky. It’s only 20 minutes, too, so I’m lucky. I have had some previous experience of playing a match over two days under the roof against [Rafael] Nadal some years ago, and it’s never really pleasant if you can’t finish the match the same day.
“I am glad I did and now I am just looking forward to the next challenge.”
Novak Djokovic to face Jannik Sinner at Wimbledon
In the last eight for the 13th time, Djokovic will meet one of the game’s next superstars on the hallowed turf in London.
Carlos Alcaraz has been the sport’s young rocket man this year but the Spanish teen met his match on Sunday in the shape of the equally brilliant 20-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner, who’ll be the next to try to derail Djokovic.
Sinner prevailed 6-1 6-4 6-7 (8-10) 6-3, before declaring that he hoped a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry might end up developing between him and his friend Alcaraz.
“Hopefully, this is going to be the case, but we never know,” Sinner said after a match played in a superb spirit.
“There are still so many other players who are playing incredible tennis … but it’s just great for tennis to have also some new names, new players.”
Djokovic reminded everyone he’s still the man to beat at SW19 with his win over the gallant Van Rijthoven.
The big-hitting Van Ritjhoven prompted some concern for the champion when he hit back to level the match, but after that the only question was whether Djokovic could seal the deal under the roof before the 11pm curfew.
“He was a very tough opponent. I’ve never faced him before, kind of a new face on the tour, he was on a streak so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy with that serve and a lot of talent. It took me a bit of time to get used to his pace,” Djokovic said.