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Djokovic two sets down, rallies for 26th straight at Wimbledon
The three-time defending champion erased a two-set deficit against 10th-seeded Jannik Sinner to reach the Wimbledon semifinals for the 11th time.
Published Jul 05, 2022
A lot about his history of overcoming that sort of deficit. A lot about his ability to adjust, adapt and to right himself quickly. A lot about his preeminence at the All England Club in recent years. A lot about what might happen if—or, rather, when—he got back into the match and it eventually went to a fifth set.
Djokovic spotted 10th-seeded Jannik Sinner of Italy the huge lead Tuesday, then worked his way back to win 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 at Centre Court, earning an 11th semifinal berth at Wimbledon with his 26th consecutive victory at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.
"I always believed," Djokovic said, "that I could turn the match around."
Among men, only Roger Federer has made more semifinal appearances at Wimbledon with 13 and more championships (eight) than the seven Djokovic could reach by lifting the trophy Sunday for what would be a fourth year in a row.
Djokovic managed his seventh career comeback in a match in which he trailed by two sets—he last did it in the 2021 French Open final against Stefanos Tsitsipas—and improved to 37-10 in five-setters. That includes a 10-1 mark in matches that go the distance at Wimbledon, including nine straight victories; the lone loss came in 2006.
In the semifinals Friday, the top-seeded 35-year-old Serbian will meet either No. 9 Cameron Norrie of Britain or unseeded David Goffin of Belgium. The men's quarterfinals Wednesday: No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain vs. No. 11 Taylor Fritz of the U.S., and Nick Kyrgios of Australia vs. Cristian Garin of Chile.
The first player into the women's semifinals was 103rd-ranked Tatjana Maria, who defeated Jule Niemeier 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in an all-German matchup. Maria is 34, making her only the sixth woman at least that old to get this far at Wimbledon in the professional era, which began in 1968.
The others? It's quite a list: Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.
This is Maria's 35th Grand Slam tournament; only once had she made it as far as the third round.
She'll take on No. 3 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia or Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic for a spot in Saturday's final. The other women's quarterfinals: 2019 champion Simona Halep of Romania vs. No. 20 Amanda Anisimova of the U.S., and No. 17 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan vs. Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia.
Of the women's quarterfinalists, only Halep owns a major title (she has two).
That sort of edge in experience certainly aided Djokovic, who is seeking his 21st Grand Slam trophy. Tuesday's match brought Sinner's major quarterfinal appearance total to three, which is exactly — checks notes — 50 fewer than Djokovic's.
Djokovic is 14-plus years older than Sinner, 20, which made for the third-largest age gap in a Wimbledon men's quarterfinal.
Sinner has shown enormous potential, reaching the quarterfinals at the 2020 French Open before losing to Nadal and the 2022 Australian Open before losing to Tsitsipas.
As for grass? Sinner was 0-4 until last week. But he got win No. 1 at Wimbledon by eliminating three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, and then beat a pair of seeded foes: No. 20 John Isner and No. 5 Carlos Alcaraz.
With his wide wingspan, and a Djokovic-style ability to slide into strokes, the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Sinner gets to balls that appear out of reach and is able to reply with considerable power. That allows him to lengthen exchanges and make even a consummate baseliner like Djokovic put in extra work to earn a point.
On Tuesday, Djokovic led 4-1 and held a break point at 30-40 to move ahead 5-1 and serve for the opening set. But Sinner erased that with a 122 mph service winner, generating a run that quickly made it 4-all. After Djokovic held to lead 5-4, Sinner put another string of games together to claim that set.
Djokovic sailed a backhand long early in the second set then bowed his head, and Sinner was up a break. He broke again for 5-2, and soon enough, 1 1/2 hours in, was a set from the biggest triumph of his nascent career.
Before the start of the third, Djokovic headed toward the locker room for a bathroom break, just like he did at Roland Garros against Tsitsipas 13 months ago.
"Sometimes in these kind of circumstances, where not much is happening positively for you on the court in terms of tennis, and the other guy on the court is dominating the play, sometimes these things are necessary. Little break. Little pep talk," Djokovic said. "Try to recuperate and, I guess, re-gather the thoughts and re-assemble everything that you have."
When play resumed, Djokovic was so much better than he had been.
"Two different matches," he said.
After 19 unforced errors over the initial two sets, he made 14 over the final three. After getting broken four times over two sets, he won all 13 of his service games the rest of the way.
He became increasingly animated, too. Djokovic shook a fist and yelled after breaking twice to move out to a 3-0 edge after 20 minutes in the third set.
"I saw a little bit of a doubt in his game, in his movement," Djokovic said. "I guess the experience of playing on this stage for many matches helped me a little bit to deal and cope with the pressure."
After landing on his stomach following a slide that turned into the splits on a backhand in the fifth set, Djokovic spread his arms out wide like a child pretending to be an airplane — or a baseball umpire calling a runner safe.
Sinner's play, meanwhile, dipped. His form at the net, so good early, faltered: He was successful on 14 of 17 trips forward over the first two sets, but 8 of 18 in the last three. He caught a toe in the grass and turned his left ankle on one push forward, falling and immediately clutching his left ankle; Djokovic climbed over the net to help Sinner get up. That did not seem to affect Sinner's footwork, though.
Djokovic was simply a lot to deal with.