August 20, 2022

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — That, of course, is the stuff of movies: An oft-injured guy ranked outside the top 100, making his Grand Slam debut thanks to a wildcard, knocks out two top seeds on his way to a fourth-round match at Wimbledon against none other than No. 1 Novak Djokovicthree-time defending champion.

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

“Before the tournament started, it was a dream for me to play it, basically. So to be able to have that chance, and maybe even play on Center Court or Court 1, is beautiful and magical,” said said van Rijthoven after beating number 22 Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 on court 12, with his ability of 1,736, to become the first wild-card entry since 2015 to qualify for the round of 16 at Wimbledon.

“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 in the week. “Also, against Djokovic, I will go into this game thinking that I can win this game.”

In fact, until June van Rijthoven, wearing a backwards cap, had never won a match on the ATP Tour. He hasn’t lost one since then, going 8-0, including a win over current No.1 Daniil Medvedev to lift the trophy at a grass-court event in the Netherlands.

“It was long. I had ups and downs, injuries here and there. Also struggled mentally,” said van Rijthoven, whose health issues included wrist surgery, surgery on a vein in his right arm due to thrombosis and nine months of healing from the “golfer’s elbow” he noted with a smile that he contracted while playing tennis.

“I’m just happy to be where I am right now,” he said. “I hope to be here for a few more years – or many more, in fact.”

While he is an unknown for most, he is not for Djokovic, who won the first seven games and then six of seven in a row later in a 6-0, 6-3 win. 6-4 over the No. 22 Miomir. Kecmanovic on the center court of nearly 15,000 seats.

This is partly because Djokovic is friends with van Rijthoven’s coach Igor Sijsling. And partly because he was watching the guy.

Djokovic therefore offered a small scouting report.

“His game, from what I’ve seen, is very suitable for this surface. His big serve, one-handed backhand. Use the slice well. He is a versatile player. He can play fast, he can also stay in the rally and come to the net,” said Djokovic, who seemed to be enjoying the sunny and windy conditions in the afternoon, compiling a 36-13 advantage against his Serbian team-mate. Davis Cup. “I’m sure he’s thrilled to play on a big stage. He doesn’t have much to lose. He is on his dream run. He’s a young player starting out, so I’m sure his career will be very good.

The other men’s fourth-round clashes scheduled for middle Sunday – traditionally an off day, which is now a scheduled playing day for the first time in the tournament’s 145-year history – are No. 5 Carlos Alcaraz vs. No. 10 Jannik Sinner, No. 23 Frances Tiafoe against David Goffin and No. 30 Tommy Paul against No. 9 Cam Norrie.

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

And Djokovic is the only man still present to have reached the quarter-finals last year.

“I’m playing better and better as the tournament progresses,” Djokovic said. “I always expect the best from myself.”

The fourth-round women on Sunday are No. 3 Ons Jabeur against No. 24 Elise Mertens, No. 12 Jelena Ostapenko against Tatjana Maria, Marie Bouzkova against Caroline Garcia and Heather Watson against Julie Niemeier. One of these players will play for the championship; the only one to have ever appeared in a Grand Slam singles final is 2017 Roland-Garros champion Ostapenko.

Watson, a 30-year-old Briton, made her Grand Slam debut in 2010 and this is her 43rd appearance at one of the sport’s four most important tournaments. It’s the first time she’s reached the fourth round (same for Niemeier, whose only previous major performance was a first-round exit at this year’s French Open).

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

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