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Centre Court jeers bring best out of Novak Djokovic

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Djokovic: The fans were slightly unfair to me (1:50)

Novak Djokovic talked about the Wimbledon crowd in his win against Kyle Edmund, which heavily favoured British player. (1:50)

WIMBLEDON -- This Round 3 matchup between Britain's Kyle Edmund and three-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic was a tale of two poignant hand signals.

They came from Djokovic, back on Centre Court, emotion running over on occasion with an attitude like the world was against him -- but always on that baseline, in control, blocking the Brit's path to the second week by winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

The first gesture came in the second set, with Djokovic on serve, 5-3 up. Edmund started by returning serve with an ugly lob; the Serbian 12-time Grand Slam champion had all the time in the world to hit a winner but instead found the net. He turned his ire to his confidants in his corner of the court. But three points later, Djokovic was the beneficiary of luck, as his shot kissed the top of the net and dropped neatly over to give him a 40-15 lead. He turned to the sky, finger wagging, giving thanks to whoever helped out with that slice of fortune.

Gesture No. 2 was in the third set. Djokovic was 15-30 down on his own serve but leading 4-2. He was hit with a time violation by umpire Jake Garner; the Centre Court crowd lapped it up, playing the pantomime audience, booing and sarcastically clapping. Djokovic took his time, closed the game out and then cupped his hand to his ear, then beckoned to the crowd as if to say, "Is that all you've got?" The crowd did not meet the challenge.

There were times when Djokovic looked like he was going to boil over. There was a bizarre game in the fourth set in which Djokovic had a break point that he should have won four times over: Edmund touched the net, then let go of his racquet as the ball bounced twice before he returned it, only for the ball to be out when it bounced on Djokovic's side of the net. Djokovic protested -- he later said he was "100 percent convinced" of the double bounce, and he was right -- Edmund held serve, so the Serb responded with a service game of sheer dominance and would soon break the Brit. Job done for Djokovic, leaving Britain with their worst return in the men's and women's singles since 1998.

Edmund, 23, played well, he hit his forehand winners but just lacked the consistency and poise to beat Djokovic. It is still a learning process. His elevation into Britain's tennis consciousness is in part due to Andy Murray's absence but is also on his own terms. The run to the semifinals in the Australian Open earlier this year pushed his case onto the back pages; a new hope had emerged. But do not forget this was just his third match on Centre Court and this is the furthest he has been in this championship. Time is on his side.

As he finds his feet, so, too, does the Centre Court crowd. They are not quite sure how to take to him yet -- the chants of "Let's go, Kyle, let's go" soon burned out and were instead replaced by clapping. The abysmal attempt to turn the football anthem "Three Lions" -- which is having a renaissance propelled by England's run at the FIFA World Cup -- into a tennis-related song barely reached the runway, but there was no shortage of yelps of encouragement. But watching Edmund does not yet -- yet -- have that same feeling as a Murray match; there are no wigs yet, and a solitary flag of St. George was the lonely materialistic offering of patriotism for the young Brit.

Edmund played well, made some youthful errors -- his jackhammer forehand misfired on occasion, but when it clicked, wow -- but he was simply outthought by Djokovic. Edmund threw the kitchen sink and all three lions at Djokovic in the first set to win 6-4, but then the Serb kept on chipping away at Edmund, patrolling the court he knows so well, and wrapped himself around this match like a boa constrictor.

Djokovic kept on finding these new ways to move Edmund around -- either through his ruthless double-handed backhand, through his neat drop-shots or simply by grinding out the rallies, inviting Edmund to either hit a winner or hit a wayward shot. More often than not, it was the latter. Edmund's tally of 30 unforced errors underlines a frustrating performance, along with a first serve percentage of just 60. The talent is there, but the application, for one match, was just off.

For Djokovic, this will come as a helpful fillip. He knows Wimbledon oh so very well, but this is almost like a new version of Djokovic, one flying under the radar and looking thoroughly disgruntled with life.

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0:29

Djokovic fired up after advancing at Wimbledon

Novak Djokovic finishes off Kyle Edmund to move on to the fourth round at Wimbledon.

But he is seemingly embracing this new persona. After practice earlier on Saturday, he walked back to the home he hopes he'll need for the fortnight. He was untroubled by selfie-seekers, he strolled up from the courts and back to his sanctuary. In Round 2, he was on Court 2, the first time in nine years he wasn't on the box office courts of Centre and No. 1. It was almost like he was being nudged toward pasture.

But Edmund was under no illusions whatsoever. Earlier in the week, he was asked about the dangers Djokovic posed now that he was "good again."

"Good again?" Edmund responded with quiet incredulity before naming him as one of tennis' greatest players. This new Djokovic seems a little bit more aggressive, and he is just as competitive as he was before the loss of form -- his last Grand Slam title came at the French Open of 2016 -- and the elbow surgery at the turn of the year.

If ever there was a man to face the British hope on Centre Court, just minutes after England had booked their place in the World Cup semifinal, it was Djokovic. He was, quietly, in his element. Prodding, patrolling and pouncing.

There was time for one more gesture. As he gawped in astonishment at the umpire, who paused before confirming match point, Djokovic then channeled all that frustration into a fist pump sent to his nearest and dearest, three roars of, 'C'mon!' and then a finger point. Whisper it, but Djokovic might just have come home.