Wimbledon, England – Novak Djokovic has done some great escape work in Central Court.
Roger Federer serves with two match points for the championship in Group E of the epic final in 2019? Not a problem. Djokovic pooled and won the tiebreak.
Add Tuesday’s quarter-finals to Djokovic’s roster, reigning champion and six-time winner of singles titles in the sport’s most prestigious tournaments, including the last three. His victory, 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, over Yannick Sener, the 20-year-old Italian, was a little lesson in killing a king – when you come to kill a king, do it fast or don’t Absolutely.
“I always think I can turn the match,” he said when the match ended.
Djokovic, who has won 20 singles titles at the Grand Slam, entered the match after winning 25 consecutive matches at Wimbledon. The last time Djokovic lost at Wimbledon was 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 the quarter-final against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. He is now 10-1 at Wimbledon when the match goes five sets.
The last time he lost a match here that he played until the end was in 2016, when he lost to American Sam Querrey in the third round in four sets.
Early on, it looked like Djokovic would spend another afternoon on Central Court, the site of several iconic victories in his career. He’s been very good in his first three games, and his movement, feel for the ball and drive the place feels as strong as ever. An unusual sign was the fall of the second set to the unknown Dutchman Tim van Reethoven on Sunday evening.
With William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, in the front row of the royal box, Djokovic won the first seven points of the match. A roar of congratulations erupted from the crowd when Sinner made it to the scoreboard, but Djokovic continued to lead 3-0.
Sener, who appeared for the second time in Central Court in three days, quickly found his marine legs. Each year, early in the second week of Wimbledon, the grass near the center court baseline turns brown and bumpy. Sener began delivering a powerful forehand, flat, and powerful backhand in that area, often hitting his target, beating Djokovic in his own game and pushing him back off the field point by point.
Sener equalized mid-set and went ahead into the eleventh game, breaking Djokovic again with a forehand twisting across the field, then finishing the first set with a series of heavy serve and chopping shots that remained low to the turf. .
The second set brought in more of the same, with Sinner getting an early serve break and a late one to take the set 6-2. After 93 minutes, Sinner was a set from the finish line.
But then Djokovic, the most dangerous player in the game when in two sets, woke up, and the scale of the moment and the task seemed to grow in Sener’s mind. Djokovic left the field for a break – a snack and a pep talk in the bathroom mirror.
Over the next 70 minutes, he sends a message to everyone who ends up holding a bat on the other side of the net from him in the closing days of this tournament – and his refusal to vaccinate against Covid-19 may prevent him from playing another game. Grand slam for 11 months, and he’s not going anywhere easily.
“I saw a little bit of doubt in his game and his movement,” Djokovic said.
He tied up a 123 mph transmission which sent chalk dust from the lines flying into the air. Run fast to catch short balls and drop shots. He fired shots inches off the top of the net that pushed Sinner back as if he had an 80-foot pole jammed into his chest.
At his best shot, Djokovic put a finger to his ear or flanked his hands in the sky asking for more noise from the crowd. He even grinned as he spewed a cork of champagne before serving late in the fourth set, breaking the silence and forcing him to stop and reload. This was his idea of fun.
Three hours after they started, Djokovic fired another into midfield and Sener rushed in. The ball sailed long, and they headed into a playoff set, an ear-cutting roar soaring across the center court as Sener settled for serve.
It was over in a few minutes.
Djokovic grunts and makes his way through the points he wants and needs. In the third match, with a chance to decisively break Sinner’s serve and soul, Djokovic spread shots back and forth across the baseline, causing Sinner to take one shot and then another until the young Italian curled a shot into the net. After five matches the result was official. Elapsed time – 3 hours 35 minutes.
“I’m glad I finished,” he said.