Novak Djokovic had to dig deep, real deep, to earn one of his best wins in a very long beating, besting rival Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(9), 3-6, 10-8 today in a tight, gripping Wimbledon semifinal that was in doubt until the very end, just like it should have been.
“It really could have gone either way,” Djokovic said following the five hour, 15 minute battle. “It was very clear that very few things separated the two players. Basically, until the last shot I didn’t know if I’m going to win. I believed it but I knew that he was very, very close and he had some chances. These kind of matches you live for, you work for.”
The match was resumed with Djokovic up two sets to one. Last night, following the epic Anderson win over Isner, Djokovic and Nadal didn’t begin until after 8pm. And even with the roof closed, the two couldn’t finish before the 11pm country curfew deadline. And sure enough, the momentum Djokovic had at the end of last night, didn’t carry over to today.
Nadal began on serve and wow, what a first game. The two fought for 15 minutes with Nadal saving two break points to hold. A deflated Djokovic was broken at 15 right after, but more breaks would follow. A double fault to open Djokovic’s 3-4 game cracked the door and Rafa capitalized to break, then saved two on his own serve en route to taking the fourth.
On to the fifth. Another fifth.
And in the decider, the guys cruised on serve early until they each saved break chances in the second and eighth games. The tension was mounting. At 6-7, Nadal had to dig out of a 15-30 hole, then Djokovic was down 15-40 but survived. At 7-8, Djokovic held a match point on the Rafa serve but the Spaniard came up with a ridiculous drop shot to thwart it.
It only put off the inevitable. With Djokovic serving better and forcing the issue off the ground, he served out for 9-8 then Rafa broke at love for the win.
“I’m really, really pleased. I was very emotional after the match, as well, because it’s been a long 15 months for me, trying to overcome different obstacles,” Djokovic said. “To be where I am at the moment is quite satisfying.”
Nadal did himself well, but just couldn’t convert those break chances in the end.
“Normally I am very critical with myself,” Nadal said. “I hit great shots. I played aggressive. I missed balls, not too many, but I missed some ones. When you play with that intensity, with that level of risk, that level of passion, sometimes you go over.
“I think I played a great match. I have not much more inside me. I gave it my best, and that’s it. It’s fair to say that was a great match and he beat me. Well done for him.”
And the roof being shut probably didn’t Nadal’s cause. But you play the conditions. The Wimbledon Club does some weird things – 11pm curfews, doubles play five sets, day off on Saturday – and now this roof thing which today dictated that even though there’s not a cloud in the sky, the roof will remain shut unless both players agree to open it.
Well, I guess to that I would say why let them decide when the Club should. Players have little say in anything else – schedules, times, etc. – why change now? Does that mean in the future if on a perfectly sunny day both players could request the roof to be closed and they would?
Anyway, it probably didn’t help Rafa and I don’t blame Djokovic for requesting it to stay closed.
Now to the final…
Djokovic hasn’t won a title in over a year. And now against Kevin Anderson he will be the big favorite to win his 13th Grand Slam and 4th Wimbledon.
So will he?
Novak Djokovic v Kevin Anderson
I know Kevin Anderson is playing some of the best tennis of his career. To beat Roger Federer on grass, then somehow hold his nerve again and knock out John Isner 26-24 in 6 hours, 36 minutes, he’s doing a lot of things right. Djokovic, though, has won five of six though in their last meeting in the 2015 Wimbledon fourth round, Anderson led by two sets before losing in five.
“I don’t know if I’ll be the clear favourite in that one. I think we’re quite even,” said Djokovic. “He played the US Open final last year. He’s definitely playing the tennis of his life. He’s coming off from two epic marathon five-set wins. I don’t think he has much to lose really tomorrow. He’s going to come out with big serves and big tennis. Hopefully I’ll be able to weather the storm.”
The problem is two-fold. First, he’s playing Djokovic who has one of the best return games and is solid off the ground. Federer should have put Kevin away, he didn’t. Djokovic is better against the serve and off the ground than Roger.
Two, he just played back-to-back marathon matches and there’s no way he’s fit fresh. Not after 4 hours, 14 minutes against Federer, then the 6:36 against Isner. That’s too much. And too much for a guy who’s 32. Even with a day off, I’m sorry, he’s going to be feeling it.
And it’s going to be warm on Sunday with temperatures into the upper 80s. It’s not cement, but warmer weather isn’t going to help Anderson.
I know Djokovic played 5 hours, 15 minutes himself, but that was split over two days like a normal Masters type of event. Plus, has the Serb ever been fatigued of late? Hardly.
So I just expect Anderson to be at 75% and that means he’s slower afoot with some loss of speed and placement on his serve. And that should spell a whole lot of trouble for the big guy.
Even if he was 100%, I still don’t think Anderson wins. He would keep it closer, but I’d still go Djokovic. Novak is too close to come this far and blow it. A loss would be devastating – a la Cecchinato at the French. And I have to think he learned from that stunner. Plus, things have broken right for a win here for him.
The Pick: Djokovic in 3
Could we see an upset? After a crazy Wimbledon, why not one last surprise? And as I said, who saw Cecchinato beating Novak at the French? No one. So perhaps Novak gets nervous – and I think he will at times – while Anderson plays freely with almost no expectations. But Djokovic has won 12 Slams before, he just beat Rafa in a grinder so I just don’t think he gets derailed now.
Yup, he’s back. For now…
ESPN will have live coverage of the men’s final at 9am ET.
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