Wimbledon, England (AP) – This was the moment. If Novak Djokovic had to be stopped in the Wimbledon semifinals, if his diminutive but formidable opponent, Jannik Sinner, was about to change things on Friday, then it was necessary to start the required dramatic comeback immediately.
Djokovic knew it. Sinner knew it. The collective awareness of the estimated 15,000 individuals witnessing the spectacle from Center Court resonated undeniably.
Having secured triumph in the initial two sets, Djokovic encountered a momentary setback when he discovered himself behind, trailing 5-4 during the third set, as the power and precision of his forehand maneuvered the score to a precarious 15-40 while he assumed the role of serving. Ultimately, Sinner missed two opportunities. Two chances for him to truly make it a one-set affair. Djokovic hit a fault, which was followed by some voices of disapproval from the stands. Djokovic sarcastically used his racket and ball to acknowledge the fans who were creating a ruckus, then gestured with his thumb.
He can support any such courage. Djokovic has not lost in the All England Club recently. Or in any Grand Slam tournament, for that matter. Therefore, he gathered himself to claim that game, looking at the crowd, and theatrically pretended to wipe tears from his eyes. Twenty minutes later, the match was over, and a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over Sinner allowed Djokovic to reach the Wimbledon final, putting him on the verge of an eighth record title and a fifth consecutive championship.
Djokovic said, “The third set could have gone either way,” and on Sunday, he will face Carlos Alcaraz, the number one-ranked player for the trophy. “It was really, really close.”
Alcaraz showcased his many talents, including winning 17 out of 20 points with his serve and volley, as he secured his place by defeating number three Daniel Medvedev on Friday with a score of 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. It is his first final in a grass-court major tournament.
36-year-old Djokovic, representing Serbia, who is striving to become the 24-time Grand Slam singles champion, will face 20-year-old Alcaraz from Spain, who is vying for his second Grand Slam singles championship after winning the US Open last September.
“What can I say? Everyone knows how great of a player he is,” Alcaraz said about Djokovic. “It’s going to be really tough. However, I shall persevere and exhibit unwavering resolve. I shall nurture an unwavering faith in my abilities, a belief that I possess the prowess to conquer him on this very stage.”
Since 2017, no one has been able to defeat Djokovic at Wimbledon. And since 2013, no one has been able to defeat him on the Centre Court.
Against Sinner, Djokovic saved all six break points that came his way in reaching his ninth final at the All England Club, repeatedly extricating himself from possible trouble. In a remarkable feat that eclipsed the records of all past male and female tennis luminaries, this momentous occasion marked an astonishing 35th appearance by him in the finals of every Grand Slam tournament ever held.
As great as he is as a returner, his defense is equally magnificent – repeatedly, he runs quickly, bends, and stretches to reach a ball that barely lands in, until Sinner makes a mistake – a shot that Djokovic has improved the most in his career while playing against the serve.
He showed that on Friday, and he showed that throughout the entire week: in his half-dozen matches, Djokovic has won 100 out of 103 service games and saved 16 out of 19 break points.
“In moments of pressure, he played really well. No panic,” Sinner said. “He’s the one.”
The age difference between Djokovic and Sinner in the Wimbledon men’s semifinal was the biggest among any pair of players at that stage in the Open Era that began in 1968. Djokovic will become the oldest champion at Wimbledon, as professionals were first allowed to compete that year.
With a conviction that resonated in his words, Djokovic confidently asserted, “In my perception, the age of 36 carries the vibrance and vitality reminiscent of one’s prime at 26.”
Merely a year ago, Sinner’s proximity to achieving such a caliber at the All England Club was evident as he grasped a commanding two-set advantage in the quarterfinals against Djokovic, only to witness the resolute resurgence of the latter, who orchestrated a remarkable comeback to win in five. There was no need for such drama this afternoon. Djokovic never let that possibility arise.
Computerized tennis rankings – men’s and women’s – have never seen anyone spend more weeks at No. 1 than Djokovic in the past half-century, who currently sits at No. 2. But that number does not reflect his current form.
This was Djokovic’s 46th major semifinal and Sinner’s first, and it appeared to be the most important moment on the big stage.
Sinner was quite close to reaching that level at the All England Club a year ago: he took a two-set lead against Djokovic in the quarterfinals before Djokovic made a comeback to win in five sets.
Today, there was no need for that kind of affair. Djokovic never let it come to that.