It has been five years since Novak Djokovic lost a match at Wimbledon and he has stretched his winning streak to 26 with this quarter-final victory. But it was not made easy for the six-time champion as he lost the two opening sets to the 20-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner. Djokovic did not look himself as he missed multiple drop shots in those two sets, but he has a habit of coming back and in the end lost only seven games in the final three sets.
Some may argue that the status quo prevails in the men’s game with Djokovic coming out on top but he did look fallible and given how young Sinner is and the fight he put up, this is surely a positive sign for a player in his first Wimbledon quarter-final and another name to add to the list of young male grand slam challengers of the future.
He may have the reputation of being one of the fiercest competitors in world sport but Djokovic was also responsible for one of the most poignant moments of sportsmanship this Championships when Sinner took an awkward tumble and screamed with agony only for the 20-time grand slam champion to help the young pretender back to his feet with great care.
It was a scary moment in what had been a high-quality match, especially in the opening sets and there was a horrible sense of deja vu, recalling the moment when Alexander Zverev tore his ankle ligaments during an epic Roland Garros semi-final against Rafael Nadal last month. Thankfully for Sinner, the championships and the Centre Court fans who took very fondly to him, he was quickly back on his feet. But one wonders how much of an impact the fall would have taken on his game. Despite fighting fiercely, he was more tentative in the closing set.
Djokovic moved very comfortably on the grass in the opening games of the first set and Sinner looked slightly more awkward as he had thus far in SW19. The defending champion was 3-0 up but Sinner buoyed by the cheers of “Andiamo” and of course his own determination and talent, began to move much more naturally and he battled his way into the match. At 4-4 in that first set he showed his mettle to take a break point for Djokovic and clinched it in a tie-break.
Naturally Sinner had a spring in his step heading into the second set and looked very sharp at the rallies. He had rattled Djokovic and was winning over the crowd. As usual, despite the politeness of the Centre Court crowd, there is often a mild ‘anybody but Djokovic’ vibe and the fans got behind Sinner much in the same fashion they had supported his fellow Italian Matteo Berrettini who lost out to Djokovic in last year’s final.
During his comeback, however, Djokovic had enthusiastic high profile fans with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge cheering him on as he sealed the fourth set. The Duchess is patron of the All England Club and is known to be on friendly terms with the absent Roger Federer but it looked as if she was taking a real shine to Djokovic.
Djokovic joked that his lengthy comfort break after the second set or “toilet break” as he put it more bluntly in his on-court BBC interview was the changing point but the break of serve in the third set when he began to come out on top in the rallies was key. Djokovic did a times look weary between points, even when he was back on top, showing the 15-year age gap. However, his savvy and flexibility saw him manage the match well.
It became much more of a routine situation for Djokovic with a 64 per cent success rate on his service game in the fourth set and winning an impressive 94 per cent of his first service points. Sinner may have come back bravely after his fall, but he did look somewhat shellshocked.
The Italian had the crowd behind him in the fifth set up until the closing minutes when the crowd got behind a man on a mission towards another title. He closed out the match in style with an ace but before that he outclassed Sinner with a flamboyant backhand passing shot. And with that flourish Djokovic marches on towards a 21st Grand Slam title.
Djokovic v Sinner: as it happened
Djokovic on his love of Wimbledon
I feel happiness, fulfilment, pride. I love this court. I adore it. It’s the biggest tennis tournament in the history of our game. It’s the most important one in my life. It inspired me to take the racket in my hand at the age of five. It has always inspired me, this court.
Novak on ‘winning the internal fight’
I have been blessed to play professional tennis for 20 years but nevertheless I have the same doubts as everyone else. Winning the internal fight is the big challenge. If I can win the internal fight., the external fight follows. Whether it’s the experience, the toilet break, winning the internal fight.
On ‘reconstructing his game’
In these circumstances sometimes these things are necessary, a little break to try to regather the thoughts and reassemble everything you have.
I was fortunate to start the third set very well. It gave me a confidence boost and I sensed a little doubt from him.
Huge congratulations on a big fight for Jannik. He is so mature for his age. There is going to be plenty of opportunities on the big stage. Big tournament for him, I wish him luck.
He was the better player for two sets. I went out for a toilet break, had a little pep talk in the mirror – it’s actually true!
Djokovic 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 Sinner* (*denotes next server)
Djokovic ace sees him reach three match points. GAME SET MATCH DJOKOVIC.
Sinner forehand into the net and Djokovic completes the comeback.
What a player.
Djokovic* 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 5-2 Sinner (*denotes next server)
Tremendous kick second serve by Sinner, Djokovic just gets the ball back in play but Sinner hits a lovely inside out forehand.
WOW DJOKOVIC. On the full stretch, Djokovic comes up with an outrageous passing shot with his backhand. Djokovic lies flat on his chest with his arms outstretched. Jaw dropping shot.
Sinner overhead shank and Djokovic breaks again and will serve for the match.
Djokovic 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-2 Sinner* (*denotes next server)
Another routine service game for Djokovic. He’s faced just one break point since Sinner won the second set.
Djokovic* 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-2 Sinner (*denotes next server)
A must win game for Sinner to keep his dreams alive. Djokovic finally gets a drop shot all wrong and nets, 40-0.
And Sinner holds when Djokovic’s return flies long.
Djokovic 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-1 Sinner* (*denotes next server)
Sensational drop shot by Djokovic, world class, 30-0. And he holds with another stunning drop shot.
He’s played that shot beautifully today.
Djokovic* 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 2-1 Sinner (*denotes next server)
Huge forehand winner down the line by Sinner, 15-15. Deep Djokovic return to the feet of Sinner and the Italian nets his forehand, 15-30.
Sinner hits a deep approach shot, Djokovic stretches and gets the ball back in play then Sinner nets the volley, two break points.
Sinner saves the first when Djokovic’s backhand is millimetres out. Sinner drop shot into the net. Djokovic breaks.
Djokovic 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 1-1 Sinner* (*denotes next server)
No sign of the ankle troubling Sinner at the moment, which is good news for him.
But he can’t break his opponent in this game as Djokovic holds to 15.
Fifth Set: Djokovic* 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 0-1 Sinner (*denotes next server)
Sinner gets an incredible reception as he prepares to serve at the start of this set. Can he rise to the occasion?
Djokovic forehand into the net, 30-15. Wide Sinner first serve is unreturned, 40-15.
Sinner backhand into the net, 40-30. Sinner does get the set off to the right start but holding.
Djokovic 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 Sinner* (*denotes next server)
Djokovic opens the game with an ace then an unreturned serve. But Sinners pulls it back to 30-30 and Djokovic nets a drop shot, break point.
Great rally between the players, Djokovic hits a drop shot, Sinner scrambles to reach it, slips and holds his left ankle.
He looks in serious pain and the physio is called on immediately. Djokovic helps his opponent up and Sinner incredibly looks able to continue without the need for treatment.
Break point Sinner when Djokovic nets a forehand. Saved when Sinner puts a forehand long.
Set point Djokovic when Sinner’s return goes long. Blistering backhand down the line winner by Sinner.
Djokovic earns himself another set point and he takes it when Sinner’s return goes long.