LONDON (AP) — Facing yet another critical point during a match he never controlled, Novak Djokovic stretched for a half-volley drop winner, held up his right index finger — reminding the world, “I’m No. 1!” — then threw an uppercut and bellowed.
Perhaps this was the moment everyone kept expecting as he tried to dig himself out of a daunting deficit against 41st-ranked Sam Querrey in the third round at Wimbledon. Perhaps this was a sign that Djokovic was rediscovering the consistency, efficiency and excellence he maintained for more than a year on tennis’s most important stages.
To wit: Djokovic had won 30 consecutive Grand Slam matches, carrying him to four consecutive Grand Slam titles, the longest such run by a man in nearly a half-century. He didn’t just appear to be unbeatable at the majors. He was.
No longer. His magical streaks are gone, including two successive titles at the All England Club and 28 Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances in a row, all brought to a sudden, stunning end by a player who has never participated in a major quarterfinal. With 31 aces against as good a returner as there is, Querrey did what no one else could for so long, beating Djokovic 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (5) in a match interrupted Saturday by three rain delays after being suspended in progress because of showers a night earlier.
“He just overpowered me,” was Djokovic’s simple assessment.
Djokovic was stopped halfway to the first calendar-year Grand Slam by a man since Rod Laver’s in 1969.
“I believe in positive things in life, and I managed to win four Grand Slams in a row — two different seasons, though. I want to try to focus on that,” Djokovic said, “rather than failure.”
His last loss at any major came against Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final in June 2015. Since then, Djokovic won Wimbledon last July, the U.S. Open in September, the Australian Open in January and the French Open last month, raising his Slam total to 12.
Late in Djokovic’s second-round victory Wednesday, he slipped and fell to his back, but he appeared to be OK at the time. Against Querrey, he rarely seemed to be himself, and afterward, was asked whether he was 100 percent healthy.
“Not really,” Djokovic replied, “but it’s not the place and time to talk about it.”
Only Laver, in 1962 and 1969, and Don Budge, in 1938, won all four major championships in one year.
“That was sort of quite a surprise, seeing Novak getting knocked out. I thought he was going to get the title,” Laver said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know whether it was the pressure or whether he wasn’t feeling up to full power. … It didn’t look like he was ready to play a big match.”
Things certainly looked bleak for Djokovic when he dropped the first two sets Friday against Querrey, the first American in 14 years to beat a man ranked No. 1 at a major.
“I’m not going to lie and say going into it I thought I was going to win,” Querrey acknowledged afterward.
Djokovic woke up Saturday — if he’d been able to sleep at all — knowing he needed to win three straight sets to extend his Grand Slam bid.
“He’s on his way to possibly being the best ever,” Querrey said, “and so you know he’s mentally tough, and he was going to come back.”
Djokovic did. Sort of. He took the third set, then went up a break in the fourth at 5-4 by pounding a forehand winner that brought coach Boris Becker to his feet. But serving to even the match at two sets apiece, Djokovic faltered.
That game included two calls against Djokovic which, according to the BBC broadcast, were incorrect — but he was out of challenges and couldn’t ask for a review. Querrey, 0 for 6 on break points in the set until then, converted No. 7 when Djokovic’s poor forehand volley found the net for 5-all.
In the closing tiebreaker, Djokovic led 3-1, but Querrey hung in there, and a stray forehand by the big favorite sailed wide to end it.
“Probably not the best he’s ever played,” said Querrey, who plays France’s Nicolas Mahut next, “but not the worst he’s ever played.”
Until now, the 28-year-old Californian was best known for unusual off-court episodes. In Thailand for a 2009 tournament, he cut two muscles in his right arm when he sat on a glass table that shattered. Last year, he appeared on the reality TV show “The Millionaire Matchmaker.” There’s a popular Vine on social media of Querrey — sunglasses and hat on, shirt unbuttoned — dancing with friends wearing horse-head masks.
“That’s just Sam,” said No. 9 Madison Keys, who reached the fourth round Saturday.
Now Querry has a signature victory, fueled largely by a serve Djokovic called “brutal.”
The drenched tournament cleared a backlog of matches and finally closed the second round Saturday, when two-time champion Petra Kvitova lost to Ekaterina Makarova 7-5, 7-6 (5). Among the men into the fourth round: No. 2 Andy Murray and Querrey’s fellow American and doubles partner Steve Johnson.
Nothing resonated, of course, like Djokovic’s defeat.
In the Open era, which dates to 1968, he’s the second No. 1-seeded man to lose in Wimbledon’s third round: Coincidence or not, the other was Jim Courier in 1992, when he was halfway to a true Grand Slam.
Asked how much the pursuit of history was a burden, Djokovic said: “I don’t think it played (that) big of a factor, to be honest.”
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