LONDON – 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 may 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.
"Wimbledon historically for many players and me included has been a special tournament that has motivated me throughout my life," Djokovic said. "I try not to take things for granted. We keep on going."
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, however, that record was set at this year’s French Open when once again tennis’s old stagers remained stubbornly awkward to beat.
Humbert was not among the most feted of the rising stars and was only ranked 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 23-year-old Matteo Berrettini were the only players in the last 16 who were under the age of 27, another statistic that paints as bleak a picture for 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.
You need to be technically solid as stone to trouble Djokovic, but Humbert was occasionally ragged, gifting points to the world number one, who accepted 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.