This was his time. If Novak Djokovic had been stopped in Wimbledon semifinals, if his smaller and more difficult opponent, Jannik Sinner, is to turn things around on Friday, the necessary comeback should begin immediately.
Djokovic knew. The sinner knew it. The 15,000 or so spectators at Center Court knew.
After taking the first two sets, Djokovic trailed 5-4 in the third, and his forehand made it 15-40 when he served. Two opportunities for the Sinner to break. Two opportunities to actually get organized. Djokovic hit a foul, which drew official voices from the stands. Djokovic defiantly used his backhand and the ball to applaud the noisemakers, then flashed a thumbs-up.
He can support any such courage. Djokovic hasn’t lost at the All England Club recently. Or at any Grand Slam tournament, for that matter. So he calmly collected the next four points to take the game, looked at the crowd and mockingly pretended to wipe away tears. Twenty minutes later, the match was over, and Sinner’s 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory allowed Djokovic to seal his eighth Wimbledon title and fifth in a row.
“The third set would have gone,” said Djokovic, who will face No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz at the title on Sunday. “It was really hard.”
Alcaraz showed many of his skills, including winning 17 of 20 points when he served-and-volleyed, while hitting No. 3 Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 on Friday to make his way to the final for the first time at a major grass court tournament.
While Djokovic, 36, of Serbia, is chasing his 24th Grand Slam title, Alcaraz, 20, of Spain, is seeking his second after winning the US Open last September.
“What can I say?” Everyone knows the legend he is,” Alcaraz said of Djokovic. “It will be very difficult. But I will fight. … I believe in myself, I believe that I can beat him here.”
No one has beaten Djokovic at Wimbledon since 2017. And no one has beaten him on Center Court since 2013.
Against the Sinner, Djokovic repeatedly rescued himself from trouble, saving six break points he faced, to reach his ninth final at the All England Club. It is her 35th Grand Slam final, more than any other man or woman in tennis history.
Although he is great as a returner, as is his defense – again and again, he can run and lean and stretch to go to the ball that went on until the Sinner made a mistake – Djokovic has a job that could be part of his game he did the best in his career.
This was shown on Friday, and it is shown in the two days: In his half-match, Djokovic has won 100 of his 103 matches and saved 16 of 19.
“Under pressure, he played very well. Never lost,” Sinner said. “That’s the one.”
The age difference between Djokovic and Sinner, 21, was the largest among Wimbledon men’s semifinalists in the Open era, which began in 1968. Djokovic would have been the oldest Wimbledon champion since professionals were allowed to compete that year.
“I feel 36 is the new 26, I guess,” Djokovic said. “Sounds good.”
Sinner is a hitter serving up to 132 mph and hitting one foul that hit the scoreboard in the corner of the court with such force that it felt like he broke the thing. Biggest concern for Sinner: It was followed by another failure in the service game to fall behind 2-1 in the second set.
Indeed, as talented as Sinner, he did not disappoint Djokovic any more than the president’s referee Richard Haigh did.
In the one match where Djokovic would face – and clear – a break, he protested to no avail after losing a point because Haigh called him out for stopping him from making a long shot while the ball was still in play. Moments later, Haigh issued a warning to Djokovic to let the clock run out.
Former British tennis player Tim Henman, told the BBC, said: “I’ve never seen this before”.
Former doubles major Todd Woodbridge said: “I feel like (the umpire) has been waiting for that call for a while.”
“It’s unbelievable,” John McEnroe said briefly on ESPN.
Djokovic spoke to BBC radio after the match and said it “could have changed the match” because he was “very nervous after the call”.
“It’s never happened to me, I don’t usually have a lot of complaints,” he said.
“Maybe it was a leak from the roof or something like that,” he added to laughter from the crowd.
“I don’t feel like I’m creating any obstacles for my opponent, but that’s fine. But it’s a call that I have to respect.
“It was a very stressful match to survive and get through the storm. It was very important,” added Djokovic, who thought the stoppage call was wrong after watching the replay and Haigh should have “realized the moment a little bit.” instead of giving a time warning. “Lucky for me.” , I remained silent.”
Indeed he did, continuing his quest to join Roger Federer as the only men to win eight Wimbledon titles. Martina Navratilova won the women’s championship six times.
Djokovic earned major title No. 22 at the Australian Open in January, and No. 23 at the French Open in June – his Wimbledon shoes have a small “23” printed on the side – after beating Alcaraz in the semifinals at Roland Garros.
If Djokovic wins on Sunday, he will go into the US Open in August with a chance at the first year’s Grand Slam by someone since Rod Laver in 1969.
With the stadium’s main roof closed due to rain outside, the grass was slick and slippery during the Djokovic vs. Sinner. The sinner slipped on the first principle; Djokovic third. And it continued to happen to both of them. They beat the soles of their shoes repeatedly to try to dislodge the grass and dirt stuck in them.
Taking on Djokovic represented a huge step up in the Sinner’s competitive streak. Until Friday, he had not faced a single player, but he rose against the opposition with the following rankings: 79th, 85th, 98th and 111th.
No one in the half-century history of computer tennis – men and women – has spent more weeks at number 1 than Djokovic, who is currently number 2. But the number does not reflect his current form.
This was Djokovic’s 46th major semifinal and Sinner’s first, and it was evident at the crucial moment.
Sinner was close to reaching the same level a year ago at the All England Club: He led two sets in the quarterfinals against Djokovic, who came back to win five.
Such work was not necessary this evening. Djokovic didn’t let it get to that point.
For daily updates and exclusive news from the Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter and click here!