Issued on: Altered:
Just as Novak Djokovic’s troubling year looked set to hit a new low, he saved his bid for a fourth consecutive Wimbledon title by coming back from two sets behind to beat Italian Jannik Sinner on Tuesday.
The Serbian league-leader had looked in all sorts of trouble against the inspired 20-year-old after being knocked out in two sets, but stormed back to win 5-7 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-2.
Ultimately, there was an air of inevitability about the outcome as the battle-hardened 35-year-old seized control to reach his 43rd Grand Slam semi-final and 11th at Wimbledon.
He also extended an undefeated streak at Wimbledon that stretches back to 2017 and now stands at 26 games.
Djokovic failed to add to his 20 major titles this year after being deported from the Australian Open following a COVID-19 standoff and then losing to longtime opponent Rafa Nadal in the quarter-finals of the French Open.
He could even be banned from the US Open for his decision to shun a COVID vaccine, but kept alive the prospect of meeting Spaniard Nadal in Sunday’s Wimbledon final with a seventh career comeback from two sets behind.
After receiving acclaim from the crowd on Center Court, Djokovic explained how he turned it around.
“The first two sets compared to the last three were like two different games,” said Djokovic, who is now tied for second with Jimmy Connors on 83 Wimbledon wins.
“He (Sinner) was the better player for two sets, then I went out and had a toilet break and had a little pep talk with myself in the mirror, it’s actually true.
“I broke early in the third set and that gave me a boost of confidence and I saw a little bit of doubt in him.”
Sinner, the 10th seed, looked poised for the biggest win of his career to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Matteo Berrettini who reached the showpiece of the match last year.
But he withered under an attack from Djokovic.
When Djokovic produced a prodigious winner down the slide to earn a break point for a double break in the seventh game of the fifth set, landing on his stomach in a superman stance, Sinner knew he was faced with an impossible task.
The Italian hit a volley long on the next point and then Djokovic held on to love to seal the win and set up a clash with either David Goffin or Britain’s Cameron Norrie.
Sinner anxiously started his third Grand Slam quarterfinal, losing the first seven points and then trailing 4-1.
But he then produced an astonishing level of tennis to give the world number three the run-around.
He sent a forehand whistling past an outstretched Djokovic to break the serve at 5-5 and took the opener after a drop shot gave him a second set point.
Sinner radiated confidence and dominated the second set, while Djokovic didn’t know how to keep the Italian at bay.
The Serb’s team, which includes wife Jelena and former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, looked pensive.
But they needn’t have worried, because after Djokovic’s face-to-face in the mirror, their man came back defiantly.
A stunning volley helped him break the serve for a 3-1 lead in the third set and after dropping a shot to win a point at 30-30 in the next game, Djokovic led the fans’ cheers.
Two of Sinner’s double faults in the first game of the fourth set were a gift to Djokovic who rode to a 4-0 lead.
Sinner clenched his fist as he held the serve at the start of the decider, but Djokovic was relentless and once he got his nose up front he was unstoppable.