Wimbledon, England. Novak Djokovic pulled off some masterful escapes on center court.
Roger Federer serves two match points for the championship in the fifth set their epic finale in 2019? No problem. Djokovic pulled himself together and won in a tie-break.
Add Tuesday’s quarter-finals to Djokovic’s roster, the reigning champion and six-time singles title winner in sport’s most prestigious tournament, including the last three. His triumph, 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, over Yannick Sinner, a rising 20-year-old Italian, was a simple lesson in regicide – when you came to kill the king. do it quickly or don’t do it at all.
“I always believe that I can flip a match,” he said when the game was over.
Djokovic, the holder of 20 Grand Slam singles titles, entered the match winning 25 consecutive matches at Wimbledon. Djokovic last lost at Wimbledon in 2017 (the tournament was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic), when he retired with an elbow injury in the middle of the second set of his quarter-final match against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. He is now 10-1 at Wimbledon when the match is five sets long.
The last time he lost a match here, which he played to the end, was in 2016, when he lost to American Sam Querrey in the third round in four sets.
Initially, it looked like Djokovic was in for another easy day on Center Court, the site of so many iconic victories in his career. He was so cool in his first three matches, his movements, his sense of the ball and his command of the situation looked as strong as ever. An unusual scrape was the second set dropped against the unknown but hot Tim van Rijthoven of the Netherlands on Sunday night.
With William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seated in the front row of the royal box, Djokovic won the first seven points of the match. Congratulatory roars from the crowd rose as Sinner managed to get on the scoreboard, but Djokovic still took a 3-0 lead.
Sinner, appearing on Center Court for the second time in three days, quickly found his sea legs. Every year, at the start of the second week of Wimbledon, the grass at the base of Center Court turns brown and uneven. Sinner began targeting his powerful topspin forehand and flat hard backhand in that area, and most of the time he hit the target, beating Djokovic at his own game as he pushed him off the court point by point.
Sinner tied in the middle of the set and took the lead in game 11, once again knocking Djokovic’s serve down with a massive, twisting right hand, and then ended the first set with a series of powerful serves and shots that stayed below the grass. .
The second set brought the same, with Sinner getting an early service break and a late one to take the set 6-2. After 93 minutes, Sinner was one step away from the finish line.
But then Djokovic, who is the most dangerous player in the game when he’s down two sets, woke up and the size of the moment and the challenge seemed to grow in Sinner’s mind. Djokovic left the court for a break to eat and chat in front of the bathroom mirror.
For the next 70 minutes, he sent a message to whoever ends up holding the racquet on the other side of the net from him in the last days of this tournament – his failure to vaccinate against Covid-19 could very well prevent him from playing another Grand Slam for 11 months, and he won’t go anywhere.
“I saw little doubt in his game and movement,” Djokovic said.
He recorded a 123 mph pitch that sent chalk dust off the lines into the air. He ran to catch short balls and drop shots. He landed punches inches from the top of the net that sent Sinner back as if an 80-foot pole had been pressed into his chest.
In his best shots, Djokovic put a finger to his ear or waved his hands to the sky, asking for more noise from the crowd. He even smiled when a champagne cork popped right before he was served at the end of the fourth set, breaking the silence and forcing him to pause and recharge. That was his idea of entertainment.
Three hours after they started, Djokovic threw another pitch down the center line and Sinner lunged. The ball flew for a long time and they headed for the deciding set, a deafening roar rising up center court as Sinner prepared to serve.
Everything was over within minutes.
Djokovic chuckles and scores the points he wants and needs. In the third game, with a chance to decisively break Sinner’s serve and his spirit, Djokovic fired back and forth across the baseline, forcing Sinner to throw another shot and then another, until the young Italian volleyed into the net. Five games later, the result became official. The elapsed time is 3 hours 35 minutes.
“I’m just glad I finished,” he said.