The clothing laws of the All England Club proved to be only the second biggest irritant of Novak Djokovic’s day. The greatest came from an unheralded nuisance called Hubert Hurkacz in a match that was more thrilling than anyone predicted.
Indeed, for two hours thoughts of a monumental upset hovered around Court One, not least in the mind of a talented 22-year-old who genuinely believed he could pull it off.
The only issue is that there is a difference between wounding Djokovic and finishing him. And so all the promise of a staggering result that emerged when Hurkacz levelled at one set apiece disappeared in the space of the next hour as Djokovic raised his game.
That is what champions do, of course, but the top seed proved with his chest-pumping frenzy at the close that this was no routine third-round win.
Not just for the fact that he was frequently beaten at his own rallying game by the world No 48, but also because it featured a moment where he got in a flap about a cap.
It was at 3-2 in the first when he was told by the umpire that the black lining of his hat did not comply with the club’s all-white rules. Djokovic pointed out he had worn it earlier in the competition but the official was not for budging and so a bit of groaning on court followed.
‘In the second round on Centre Court they checked whether or not I’m able to play with it and I got the permission so I played with the hat,’ he later said.
‘The same hat I took out now, I was not able to play with it. That’s why I was just questioning that call. I mean, no one has approached me before the match to tell me.’
A small storm in a small tea cup, perhaps. And certainly the bigger issue came from the other side of the net.
Djokovic only got his nose ahead at 5-5 in the first set, before the real challenge of the second, in which Hurkacz truly dazzled in his array of winners and diving volleys.
The Pole twice drew standing ovations in winning the tiebreak 7-5, but the inevitable concern was for the reaction it might incur.
Severe, as it turned out. Djokovic broke Hurkacz twice in taking the third 6-1 and then broke early in the fourth to close 6-4.
Djokovic, who had not previously dropped a set, said: ‘It’s great we have a new group of young players challenging the best players.
‘The shift is happening. Hopefully not too soon – but it’s great for the sport.’
Djokovic will next face the winner of Canada’s Felix Auger Aliassime or Ugo Humbert of France as he attempts to defend his title and take his 16th Slam.
Fate is evidently on his side given no other member of the top 10 remains on his side of the draw.
He said: ‘It’s a surprise not to have any top-10 player left in my side. But my attitude towards every opponent is not going to change.’