December 7, 2022

Two sets less, Djokovic extends his streak

byHowardFendrich AP Sports Writer

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — It says a lot about Novak Djokovic that a two-set zero hole at Wimbledon on a day when he was barely at his best never seemed insurmountable. Not to him. Not to anyone watching.

Says a lot about his story of overcoming this kind of deficit. Much about his ability to adjust, adapt and recover. Much on his pre-eminence at the All England Club in recent years.

Djokovic scouted 10th-seeded Italian Jannik Sinner the huge lead on Tuesday and then battled his way to win 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 at Center Court, securing an 11th place finish in the semi-finals at Wimbledon with his 26th straight Grand Slam victory on grass.

“I always believed,” said Djokovic, who next faces ninth seed Cam Norrie of Great Britain, “that I could turn things around.”

On the men’s side, only Roger Federer has made more semi-finals at Wimbledon with 13 and won more championships (eight) than the seven Djokovic could achieve by lifting the trophy on Sunday for what would be a fourth consecutive year.

“He makes you play differently — well, not differently, but in a way that he likes,” Sinner said.

Djokovic was responsible for just one of Wednesday’s comebacks: In all four singles quarterfinals on a sunny day, the player who lost the opening set was victorious. Norrie edged David Goffin of Belgium 3-6, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5; #3 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia beat Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 3-6, 6-1, 6-1; Tatjana Maria beat Jule Niemeier 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in an all-German game.

Norrie, Jabeur and Maria have all earned the right to make their Grand Slam semi-final debuts.

“I can’t enjoy it too much now,” said Norrie, 26, who was born in South Africa to British parents, grew up in New Zealand and played college tennis at Texas Christian University. “Get ready for Novak in a few days.”

Maria, ranked 103rd, is, at 34, the oldest female semi-finalist for the first time in a major and only the sixth woman at least that age to go this far at Wimbledon in the professional era. which started in 1968. The others? A whole list: Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.

“I always believed I had something inside,” said Maria, who had only reached the third round once. “That I can do this.”

Djokovic, a 35-year-old Serbian, pulled off his seventh career comeback in a match in which he trailed by two sets – he last did so in the 2021 Roland-Garros final against Stefanos Tsitsipas – and improved to 37-10 in five sets. That includes a 10-1 mark in matches that go the distance at Wimbledon, including nine straight wins; the only loss came in 2006.

“He’s been in this situation many times,” said Sinner, 20. “That certainly helps.”

Tuesday’s game brought Sinner’s total of major quarter-final appearances to three, exactly 50 less than Djokovic’s.

Sinner has shown huge potential, reaching the quarter-finals at the 2020 French Open before losing to Rafael Nadal and the 2022 Australian Open before losing to Tsitsipas. As for the grass? Sinner was 0-4 until last week. But he won No. 1 at Wimbledon by knocking out three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka and then beating two seeds: No. 20 John Isner and No. 5 Carlos Alcaraz.

With his wide wingspan and a Djokovic-style ability to slide into shots, the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Sinner reaches balls that seem out of reach and is able to respond with considerable power. This allows him to lengthen rallies and make even an accomplished baseliner like Djokovic do the extra work to earn a point.

On Tuesday, Sinner won a set and a break when Djokovic delivered a long backhand then dropped his head. Sinner broke again for 5-2, and soon enough, 1.5 hours later, was one set of the biggest triumph of his fledgling career.

Before the start of the third, Djokovic headed to the locker room for a bathroom break, just like he did at Roland Garros against Tsitsipas 13 months ago.

“You approach those particular situations when you’re two sets a little more calmly, a little more confident,” Djokovic said, “with more self-confidence.”

When play resumed, Djokovic was so much better than he had been.

“Two different games,” he said.

After 19 unforced errors in the first two sets, he committed 14 in the last three. After being broken four times in straight sets, he won his 13 service games until the end.

It also became more and more lively. Djokovic clenched his fist and screamed after being broken twice to move to a 3-0 advantage after 20 minutes in the third set.

“He was dictating more,” Sinner said.

After landing on his stomach following a slide that turned into a split on a backhand in the fifth set, Djokovic spread his arms like a kid pretending to be an airplane – or a baseball umpire calling a runner in security.